Which nursing roles offer the most autonomy?

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Although nurses are often thought of as working under or with physicians, there is still a great deal of autonomy they can realize in their careers. While gaining this type of personal agency will take years working in the profession and the right type of nursing job, nurses are increasingly seeing autonomy as a key career benefit.

Nurse looking through microscope

As the overall world of healthcare changes, autonomy becomes possible and more important for nurses. Whether this means taking the lead on reaching out to underserved populations through telemedicine or going into independent practice as a licensed advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), the routes to career autonomy have become more numerous and less obstacle-laden for nurses with an online Master of Science in Nursing.

However, autonomy isn’t guaranteed. For nurses who seek autonomy in their professional lives and decision-making, it’s important to consider the careers in nursing most likely to make such aspirations possible. While it may take time to earn an advanced degree or obtain APRN certification, there’s no substitute for feeling empowered and in control when on the job.

Autonomy a big factor in job satisfaction

Understanding the push for more autonomy among nurses begins with grasping how important it has become. A number of studies from across the globe have pointed to the fact that autonomy is a primary indicator of job satisfaction.

For instance:

  • A survey published in the Journal of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners found while work setting was “only marginally related to job satisfaction,” autonomy was more indicative of satisfaction. Specifically, nursing respondents who said their skills were being fully utilized reported satisfaction scores nearly a point higher than others.
  • The International Journal of Nursing Studies published the results of a pilot study deployed at a Brisbane, Australia, teaching hospital that found autonomy was “the most important job component to satisfaction.” Although respondents reported only average satisfaction with the actual amount of autonomy they enjoyed, nurses noted it was highly important to them nonetheless.
  • In a report looking at the nature of relationships between nurses and physicians, a Canadian research team concluded that “quality nursing work environments have been consistently linked to having more autonomous practice and more positive interactions between nurses and physicians.”

Here’s a look at some of the career paths nurses with an online MSN may want to pursue if they value autonomy.

Family nurse practitioner (FNP)

Because FNPs are certified as APRNs, professionals in this role often enjoy a high degree of autonomy that is commensurate with the extensive levels of education and qualifications they possess. Earning an online MSN is a key step toward becoming an FNP, and can open up a range of possibilities for students interested in the role.

For instance, FNPs are often found in independent practice (as long as the state they practice in legally allows for nurse practitioner autonomy) or become partners in an established practice. Although such nurses are also commonly  found in hospital settings, working in a private clinic can afford FNPs the autonomy they desire in advancing their careers. The major daily responsibilities of being an FNP also carry within them a sense of autonomy. For instance, FNPs are relied on to diagnose conditions and interpret medical results, which are core patient care tasks. With such central responsibilities falling under their purview, FNPs must act with expertise, conviction and accountability — all of which suggest a high degree of career autonomy.

The basics of being a family-focused nurse practitioner also point to job autonomy, although in perhaps a different context. FNPs can be involved in the care of the families they see from an infant’s birth to a senior’s progression into aging. Having the power to stay active in family well-being and forge meaningful relationships is a perk of the job not all other types of nurses can enjoy.

Forensic Nurse

Sometimes autonomy manifests in different ways than sheer independence from oversight. Autonomy can mean different things to different people. Take the example of forensic nursing. While these nurses often work in close collaboration and coordination with others, their sense of autonomy may come from the care they’re giving to help victims of crime and their contributions to justice.

Forensic nurses specialize in providing trauma-informed care to victims, as well as collecting forensic evidence that helps in investigations and can be used in court proceedings. In addition to working on cases with legal specialists, forensic nurses may also serve as expert witnesses.

Within the overall scope of forensic nursing, students can become nurse investigators, forensic psychiatric nurses or forensic corrections nurses. While each position comes with a high demand for skills and knowledge, the payoff in forensic nursing comes with the autonomy that can be gained in such positions that hold such crucial importance in the legal and healthcare industries. Straddling both spheres can help nurses gain further experience and skills that help them practice with greater self-determination.

Home health nurse

Sometimes, autonomy is less about having the lateral ability of a leader, and more about the freedom to get work done without feeling like you’re under the microscope. This is the situation nurses who enter home health can expect to encounter. Without constant supervision, nurses feel more empowered to complete their daily duties, which translates to better job satisfaction and closer relationship with patients.

Many nurses transition to home health or senior caregiving because they may be burned out by the wear and tear of a hospital job. After making the switch, some may feel liberated by the fact they don’t need to punch a timecard. However, the more relaxed atmosphere of home health certainly does not mean the job itself is any easier. Caring for seniors and others who are homebound can come with its own unique set of challenges. However, when considering becoming a home health nurse, individuals need to weigh the pros and cons of each arrangement, including autonomy.

Earn your MSN at Duquesne University

When searching for a career that comes with a good deal of autonomy, it’s important that nurses first assess their own professional preparedness for such positions. Aside from requiring certification for an APRN role, the jobs that usually offer the most autonomy are high-level positions that require nurses to have at least a master’s education.

If you’re looking to bolster your education, consider Duquesne University’s online MSN program. Contact us today to learn more about our curriculum and how our program might fit your needs.