If you are stuck choosing between different career paths, there are specific elements to assess when narrowing down your choice. You will want to consider things like what the job will realistically entail on a daily basis, what the pay is like over a long-term career, what types of skills and upgrading are required to stay current in the field, and the overall benefits of each field in terms of the level of fulfillment you will receive.
Another important consideration is the demand for each field. Is there going to be a continuous supply of jobs that need skilled workers? Or is the field changing, and jobs will become less available due to technological advancements or changes in society?
Two careers that are often compared against each other are nursing and paralegal work. At first glance, they may seem like totally different career choices, but in reality, they have similar demands, and they play a similar role within their respective organizations. Additionally, there are many crossover skillsets required in both jobs.
Nursing vs. Paralegal
Nurses and paralegals are both expected to play a caring, professional, and supportive role on their teams. They are both essential parts of their workplaces, offering their services as professionals and specialists. They lend their ongoing assistance and support to doctors or lawyers. Often times they are called upon to fill in whenever needed. This means they can end up working longer hours as required.
Both careers offer plenty of opportunities to specialize in a number of different areas and work in different facilities, institutions, and environments. Both nursing and paralegal work provide opportunities for continuous learning, skills development, and further training.
Overall, nursing and paralegal work can each be fulfilling and rewarding careers. However, there are some differences to take into consideration if you are deciding between the two for your own career choice.
Nursing Career Overview
In the nursing field, your primary role is to provide ongoing care to patients who are ill, injured, or disabled in some capacity. You will also have the opportunity to work in a variety of environments as a nurse, including hospitals, extended care facilities, or directly in patients’ homes administering medical support.
Nurses working in hospitals can have plenty of different roles as well. There are several different hospital units requiring nurses, such as the emergency room, operating room, Intensive Care Unit, neonatal, pediatrics, and ambulatory care. Throughout your career as a nurse, you may even find yourself moving between units and floors and experiencing new job duties.
Nursing Job Description
Nursing is one of the most important jobs in our society. As health care professionals, they are responsible for the treatment and care of individuals with various medical conditions. Nurses safely administer medications, treat wounds directly, ensure patient comfort, and prevent injuries and illness of patients in their care. As a nurse, you will also work directly with a variety of other healthcare staff and professionals and ensure a positive, safe, and cooperative team environment.
Nursing first requires the appropriate certification, which is accomplished in different ways. Many nurses choose to start out as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), with the option to become a Registered Nurse (RN) afterward. Both options require you to pass a form of the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX).
Depending on the selected training, LPN certification can take one to two years to complete, and RN designation can take up to four years or more to complete if a Bachelor’s Degree is pursued. While RNs only need an associate’s degree, getting a bachelor’s degree can make you more marketable to prospective employers. If you want to specialize, further certifications are available.
As a nurse, you will often find yourself in stressful situations that require calm and attentive behavior. Many situations also require that you be flexible and take initiative immediately.
To be a nurse, you must always be professional and compassionate, as you will be caring for a vulnerable population. Other skills include teamwork, critical thinking, and the ability to work well under pressure and in fast-paced, dynamic environments. Nurses also need to be detail-oriented and have excellent communication skills.
Benefits of a Nursing Career
There are many advantages to pursuing a career in nursing. Some of the most common benefits include:
- Options to specialize: Nursing offers a lot of versatility in terms of finding a specialization you enjoy. Today’s nursing is not just limited to directly providing patient care in traditional health facilities. Nurses have highly specialized skills and experience, which make them excellent for management and administration roles and other specialized work. Nurses are also employed in policy-making, health advocacy, occupational health, psychiatry, midwifery, and dozens of more areas.
- Rewarding work: Providing care to those who need it is an honorable and rewarding profession. Being able to see the difference your care is making in the lives of your patients is fulfilling and keeps you engaged in your work.
- Dynamic and interesting: Nursing is not a mundane job. It is high-energy and fast-paced, and you will find yourself doing very different things from day to day. You will treat all different types of people and conditions — which means you are always learning and developing.
- Supportive work environment: For the most part, nursing offers you the opportunity to build bonds with your co-workers as you all have the same beliefs and experiences. Working together in such an important field can create lifelong friendships with your co-workers.
- Flexibility: Many nursing jobs offer flexibility in terms of the number of hours and types of shifts you choose to work. This can be especially beneficial to parents with young children who want to work around school schedules.
- Continuous learning: Healthcare science and research aim to improve the way care is delivered. This means nurses will undergo regular learning and development to improve their roles as care providers.
Nursing offers an array of diverse options and focuses to choose from. If you are interested in particular fields but do not want to spend the next eight years in medical school, nursing could be an excellent way to participate.
Here are a few popular nursing options outside of the traditional approach:
- Travel nurses: If you like exploring new places and don’t mind a change in environment every so often, travel nursing can be an attractive option. They are typically employed by an independent staffing agency and travel to locations where hospitals need temporary help filling a gap in labor. Plus, experience does not factor into salary as much, so beginning nurses can earn more.
- Nurse practitioners: A nurse practitioner is one of the most advanced paths a nurse can take. They have many decision-making responsibilities and sometimes can stand in for physicians. A nurse practitioner generally has a Master of Science in Nursing or a Doctor of Nursing Practice.
- Informatics nurse specialists: If you want to combine nursing knowledge and information technology, becoming an informatics nurse specialist might be the path for you. These nurses might work with information technology professionals to improve health systems. They could focus on improving patient outcomes, reducing errors, or boosting efficiency.
Of course, different medical specialties also offer unique job environments. You could work in cardiology, surgical units, oncology, the emergency room, psychiatric units, and many other locations.
Nursing Career Outlook
Nursing is a necessary field that will always be in-demand. In fact, because of our advancements in medical research, we know now — more than ever — about the importance and dynamics of health in its many forms. New ways of providing care and support will only continue to develop as we seek to learn more about the best options for healthcare.
The number of nurses in the U.S. is expected to grow to 3.4 million by 2028 — a 12 percent growth rate from 2018. This rate is much faster than average, making nursing an exceptionally stable field to enter.
Paralegal Career Overview
Like nursing, paralegals often find themselves in supportive roles in fast-paced environments. As a paralegal, or Legal Assistant, your primary role is to work behind the scenes as the assistant or support person to one or more lawyers. The types of support services that paralegals provide to lawyers are essential in helping lawyers prepare cases to represent the firm’s clients. A paralegal must be flexible and able to adapt quickly to new priorities and duties that come up in legal situations.
Paralegal Job Description
As a paralegal, you are expected to perform a number of different job duties, which can change each day. Depending on the firm, you may find yourself answering to several different lawyers who each require unique duties. Paralegal work generally entails conducting legal research, preparing documents, assisting in trial preparation, and performing general administrative duties.
To become a certified paralegal requires the completion of a Paralegal AAS Degree, which can take as little as 18 months depending on the program.
Some of the important skills needed in paralegal work include teamwork, attention to detail, organization, and planning. An analytical approach and staying up-to-date on current technology can help, too. Due to the nature of legal work, paralegals are required to conduct themselves in a professional manner and maintain discretion and confidentiality.
Benefits of a Paralegal Career
If you are considering a career as a paralegal, consider these most common job advantages:
- Specialized work: Being a paralegal gives you the opportunity to work in many different areas and specializations. Certain firms specialize in Real Estate, corporate law, or bankruptcy. Otherwise, there are opportunities to work in advocacy or family law and within immigration or other government agencies.
- Exciting work: While not all cases will be like those we see on TV, working in a legal capacity does present opportunities to work on important, interesting, and exciting cases. Knowing you have been part of the justice process is a satisfying feeling.
- Challenging work: Preparing for cases requires a lot of research and problem-solving. There are many challenges that can present themselves, and so legal teams — including paralegals — must react positively in the face of potential obstacles. Overcoming these can be fulfilling and rewarding.
- Supporting others: As a paralegal, you are providing an integral and supportive role to lawyers and helping clients directly. Answering their questions and proactively assisting them in difficult situations is important. It provides you with the satisfaction of knowing you are making a difference.
- Regular hours: While lawyers themselves may put in all kinds of overtime hours, many law firms do not expect or require this of their paralegal staff. You can generally expect a standard 40-hour workweek with overtime required in certain cases and as needed.
- Salary and medical benefits: While most paralegals earn a modest salary when starting out, the medical benefits, as well as profit sharing, can be quite attractive in many private law firms. Paralegals who are dedicated to their careers can work their way up to earning a substantial salary over time.
Like nursing, paralegal career paths can branch out into specific areas. These specialties include:
- Corporate: Corporations consistently deal with legal issues every day. They need paralegals to help gather information, collect and file paperwork, and understand the ins and outs of the business.
- Litigation:Both general and civil litigation involve some investigation tactics. A paralegal might depose witnesses, write pleadings, research the case, and collect and organize evidence.
- Family law: A family law paralegal will work with issues of divorce, marriage, child support, adoption, and other aspects of family legality. They will need to be conscious of their interactions with clients, who can sometimes be in a stressful situation.
- Immigration: Immigration lawyers work with visa and green card applicants and help potential and current U.S. citizens with a variety of documents and problems. A paralegal might help with the application process and information gathering.
- Labor: Labor paralegals work with employers and workers on issues relating to fair work practices, unions, and other work-related aspects. Strikes and salary negotiations may also be involved.
Paralegal Career Outlook
The role of a paralegal is vital in supporting lawyers and clients. For this reason, a career as a paralegal will continue to remain in demand. In fact, the demand for paralegals may continue to rise as companies look to delegate certain tasks to paralegals and avoid the higher costs of having lawyers perform those duties.
As paralegals become more in demand, new opportunities for further specialization will continue to present themselves. It is even possible to venture out on your own and provide paralegal work as an independent contractor. The many opportunities for growth make for an exciting, challenging, and long-term career for those wanting to pursue paralegal work.
Nurse Paralegal Career Overview
A typically unknown and often overlooked career is the role of a nurse paralegal. These professionals possess the training and qualifications of both the healthcare and the legal fields. Their varied skills, work experience, and education equip them to work as advisors on legal issues in the medical field. A nurse paralegal’s professional opinion is highly valued in situations of potential medical malpractice, insurance, workers’ compensation claims, and personal injury cases.
Nurse Paralegal Job Description
Nurse paralegals have a unique career and specialized role in the legal and medical communities. Generally, nurse paralegals work directly with insurance companies, attorneys, and private organizations to assist them in investigating different types of medical-based legal claims. Nurse paralegals also have an opportunity to work as self-employed contractors, or they can work in-house in specialized firms and agencies.
There are a variety of job duties that nurse paralegals perform, including examining medical records, interpreting medical terminology, and editing medical journals to ensure the legal language of healthcare practices.
Nurse paralegals, sometimes referred to as nurse consultants, can be called upon in courtroom settings as expert witnesses as well. They can interview parties involved in insurance claims and malpractice suits. They can also help review and prepare for a number of different legal cases.
Education Requirements for Nurse Paralegals
Becoming a nurse paralegal requires an educational background in nursing and can also include a background in paralegal work. Most nurse paralegals are Registered Nurses (RNs). Specialized certification is required through the American Legal Nurse Consultant Certification Board in order to become an ABA-approved (American Bar Association) nurse paralegal. Healthcare law and ethics, legal terminology, contracts, and writing are some of the specialized courses that are required within the certified program.
Career as a Nurse Paralegal
A career as a nurse paralegal is engaging and challenging. It requires the development of a unique skill set and ongoing learning to keep current on the latest medical and legal practices. With a career as a nurse paralegal, you will enjoy the satisfaction of knowing you are helping both patients and businesses. It is a valuable role and will continue to be in demand due to its specialized nature.
Nurse paralegals can generate an excellent salary, including medical benefits. They usually enjoy standard business hours and the opportunity to work in varied environments. The number of different cases that nurse paralegals will work on makes for an interesting and dynamic lifelong career.
Things to Consider When Selecting Your Career
As you become more familiar with the career opportunities of nurses and paralegals, there are some specific things to consider about your own personality and experience that can help you choose between these two paths.
You may want to ask yourself:
- Which of the required skillsets do I already possess? Do your skillsets lean more toward planning and organization? Or are you excellent at communication as well as providing care and service? Depending on your answers, you may be more inclined to become a nurse or a paralegal.
- Which skills am I willing to learn and develop? If you are less experienced in any required skillset, decide which ones you’d enjoy and be willing to learn. This can add tremendous value to your career over time.
- How much schooling am I willing to invest in? This is often a determining factor as many people may not have the resources to go to school for longer than two years. Weigh the pros and cons of each career’s education requirements. Seek career counseling to help make an informed decision.
- Which past jobs have brought me the most satisfaction? When you reflect on the types of jobs you have performed in the past, determine which ones brought you the most satisfaction and fulfillment. Perhaps it was the environment, the colleagues, or the specific job duties themselves that you enjoyed best.
- Do I prefer being on my feet all day, or do I prefer working in an office environment? Nursing is a much more physically active job than paralegal work. If you have any physical constraints, this could prevent you from performing nursing duties. Also, consider if you would find a desk job boring or if you would enjoy the office setting of paralegal work.
- How will each career impact my family or future family plans? Paralegals generally keep more regular hours than most nurses. Therefore, the lifestyle is typically more suitable for those with young families. However, nursing jobs can offer flexible hours, and working night shifts may allow some flexibility to spend time with your children after school.
Now that you have a clearer picture of each job’s requirements and the opportunities of careers as a nurse, paralegal, or nurse paralegal, which one is right for you? Take into consideration all the questions above to help you decide. If necessary, seek out career counseling and discuss the options with those closest to you.