Careers in nursing
Why become a nurse?
Becoming a nurse provides a daily opportunity to work with people in meaningful ways. Nurses understand the human condition. They see people at their most vulnerable, and have the skills to intervene and assist. Even when an individual is dying, the presence of a skilled nurse to care for the person and provide knowledge and support to the family members can make this dark situation substantially better.
From a practical aspect, nurses can look forward to a broad range of employment options due to the growing demand for nursing professionals. There is also considerable room to expand into specialist roles or advance into leadership positions.
A career in nursing is for those with compassionate hearts, capable hands, and sharp minds. Entering the profession can take as little as 12 months of education, although nurses have the opportunity to grow their education to the doctoral level if this is what their career goal requires.
In a 2022 Gallup Poll, nursing was rated the most trusted profession for 20 years in a row.
How hard is it to get into nursing?
Nursing program admissions are competitive, with data indicating that nursing programs turn down about 56,000 applicants a year. From the pool of successful students, about 20% drop out with most leaving in the first semester. But for those who complete their education, job offers for graduating nurses are higher than for other professions.
Bachelor-level nursing programs seek applicants who have completed math, chemistry, and biology subjects – and have a good GPA score.
How long does it take get started in nursing?
Most nurses can start working immediately after graduation. In a survey by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), 76% of new Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) graduates and 75% of entry-level Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) graduates had job offers at the time of graduation. By comparison, just 58% of new college graduates with different degrees had a job offer at graduation.
Types of nursing jobs
A nurse often provides both direct and indirect care. Examples of direct patient care include taking vital signs, administering medications to patients, helping patients transfer from the bed to a chair, and counseling. Indirect care involves documenting information in the patient’s charts, reviewing orders, completing checklists, collecting data, and transporting equipment, supplies and sometimes patients.
» Read: Career options within nursing
A registered nurse assesses the health problems and needs of ill, injured, convalescent, or disabled patients, maintains medical records, and develops and implements nursing care plans. Job titles include Certified Operating Room Nurse (CNOR), charge nurse, emergency department RN, oncology RN, operating room RN, psychiatric RN, school nurse, staff nurse.
District of Columbia
Projected growth (2018-2028)
Nurse practitioner or nurse anesthetist
Nurse practitioners assess, diagnose, order and interpret lab and imaging tests, prescribe medications, and collaborate with physicians to provide patient care.
Nurse anesthetists, also known as a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA), administer anesthesia, monitor patients’ vital signs, and oversee patients’ recovery from anesthesia. CRNAs may assist anesthesiologists, dentists, surgeons or other physicians. Nurse anesthetists must be RNs who have undergone specialized graduate education.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics groups salary and career projection data for these 2 careers together.
District of Columbia
Projected growth (2018-2028)
Licensed practical nurses and vocational nurses provide care for ill, injured, or convalescing patients or people with disabilities in hospitals, group homes, aged care facilities, or private homes. LPNs and LVNs often work under the supervision of a registered nurse. Job titles may include home health LPN, office nurse, pediatric LPN, and private duty nurse.See more
Median salary: 90K US$
A neonatal intensive care nurse provides care for seriously ill or premature infants by monitoring their vital signs, administering medication, recording their progress and recovery, changing their diapers, and calming babies in distress.
Median salary:: 111K US$
Clinical nurse specialists direct nursing staff in providing patient care in hospitals, clinics, hospices, or in patient’s homes. A CNS may be employed in cardiology, critical care, emergency, ICU, pediatrics, psychiatry, and trauma ICU, among others.
Net salary: 31K US$
A certified nursing assistant helps patients perform activities of daily living, such as bathing, getting dressed, and eating. It is an ideal entry position towards a career in medicine. A CNA can work in hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and home health care.
Net salary: 76K US$
Obstetrics and gynecology (OB/GYN) nurses are RNs who provide prenatal, postpartum, and reproductive healthcare to female patients during and after pregnancy, from the age of puberty through menopause. Obstetrics and gynecology nurses work alongside OB/GYN physicians and nurse practitioners.
Net salary: 74K US$
Pediatric nurses provide specialized care to newborns, children, and adolescents. They record patient histories, observe the progress and recovery of pediatric patients, assist physicians during examinations and procedures, administer medications, perform certain diagnostic tests, and develop pediatric patient care plans. A pediatric nurse also teaches patients and their families about conditions, medications, and self-care.See more
Psychiatric nurseNet salary: 75K US$
Psychiatric nurses assess, diagnose, and treat patients with mental health or substance abuse disorders. Also known as Psychiatric Clinical Nurse Specialists or Psychiatric Mental Health Nurses, they administer medications and lead therapeutic activities. Psychiatric nurses have special expertise in the principles, procedures, and methods for the diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation of physical and mental dysfunctions.See more
Adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitionerNet salary: 96K US$
Adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioners (AG-ACNP or AGACNP) provides advanced nursing care to older adults who have acute, chronic or critical conditions. To work as this type of practitioner, the nurse must first must complete a graduate-level advanced practice education program as an adult-gerontology ACNP at a nationally accredited school of nursing and pass the ANCC Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AGACNP) board certification examination.See more
Emergency nurse practitioner (ENP)Net salary: 118K US$
An emergency nurse practitioner (ENP) manages acutely ill or injured patients in in busy emergency rooms and other urgent care facilities. To become an ENP, a nurse must complete an accredited master’s degree (MSN). ENP programs generally require approximately 55 credit hours, so MSN nurses can finish in 4 to 7 semesters, depending on whether they are fulltime or part-time students.See more
How to become a nurse
Entry-level jobs in the nursing sector are for certified nursing assistants, licensed practical or licensed vocational nurses. These positions have their own specific training programs and licensure requirements. Programs for CNAs typically take 4-12 weeks to complete. LPN/LVNs training is commonly a 12-month commitment. These positions are supervised by registered nurses.
Option 1: Earn an associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing
Many nurses enter the profession after earning an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), which can be completed in 18 months to 2 years. There has been a push to require nurses to obtain a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). New York State recently enacted the ‘BSN in 10’ law, which requires nurses with an ADN to obtain at least a BSN within 10 years of their initial licensure to continue practicing. BSN programs generally take 4 years to complete.
» Read: Tips and strategies to ace your nursing school interview
Common courses in BSN programs
- anatomy and physiology
- emergency care
- family, community, and population-based care
- public and global health
- health assessment
- nursing ethics
- nursing research
- nursing theory
After graduation, nurses must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN), administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. Further certifications allow nurses to specialize in certain fields in nursing. These include Certified Addictions Registered Nurse (CARN), Cardiac Medicine Certification (CMC), and critical care certifications.
Nurses who are fresh out of school can work in a number of entry-level positions that help them gain experience in nursing. BSN-holders can start out in educational services to teach nursing students, in nursing and residential care facilities, ambulatory healthcare services, and in hospitals.
Option 2: Complete a master’s degree
A master of science in nursing (MSN) is an advanced level post-graduate degree that allows students to specialize in different areas of nursing.
The length of time needed to obtain an MSN degree depends on the student’s prior nursing experience and completed coursework. The specific nursing specialty the student studies also affects the length of the program. Getting an MSN may take as little as 18 months for a master’s as a general nurse practitioner, or more than 3 years to become a certified registered nurse anesthetist.
Students can earn an MSN online and take clinical courses at nearby healthcare institutions. Internships may be required, depending on the program.
MSN positions can include:
- Certified Nurse Midwife
- Clinical Nurse Specialist
- Nurse Administrator
- Nurse Consultant
- Research Nurse
- Nurse Educator
An MSN degree allows nurses to work in highly specialized roles, such as an Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner and Emergency Nurse Practitioner (FNP/ENP).
» Read: Demystifying nurse management and leadership for the new nurse
Option 3: Doctorate in nursing
The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree is the highest level of education available for practice-based training in nursing. Some nurses who complete a doctoral degree hope to enter academia in a teaching or research role; others obtain this degree to provide a higher level of care or to advance their career. DNPs work in administration or in Advanced Practice Nursing (APRN) directing patient care.
DNP programs typically have several specialties, such as family medicine, emergency medicine, adult acute/primary care, pediatric acute/primary care, women’s health, psych, neonatal, and nurse anesthesia. Programs can be completed in 3 to 5 years.
Nurses with a DNP degree can work in a variety of roles, such as:
- DNP Adult-Gerontological Health Clinical Nurse Specialist
- DNP Adult-Gerontological Critical Care Clinical Nurse Specialist
- DNP Adult-Gerontological Acute Care Nurse Practitioner
- DNP Nurse Anesthesia
- DNP Family Primary Care Nurse Practitioner
- DNP Adult-Gerontological Primary Care Nurse Practitioner
- DNP Pediatric Critical Care Clinical Nurse Specialist
- DNP Pediatric Dual Primary/Acute Care Nurse Practitioner
- DNP Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner
DNPs salaries generally reflect the additional training and are therefore higher than other nurse salaries. Nurses with a DNP earn an average base salary of $105,000.
ADN vs BSN
In its 2010 publication, The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, the Institute of Medicine (IoM) had set a goal of 80% of the nursing workforce holding a BSN by the year 2020. By 2019, though, only 56% of nurses held a BSN.
The healthcare industry is also pushing for more BSNs. The reason being that BSN nurses are better prepared to provide patient care with better outcomes – compared to their ADN colleagues. According to a 2015 study, nurses with a BSN may enjoy a greater number of opportunities because of the diverse set of skills provided to them in the nursing program.
You can be a nurse with an ADN, but the healthcare industry encourages nurses to complete a BSN at some point in their career.
FAQs about careers in nursing
Is nursing a good career?
Nursing is an opportunity to make a positive difference in people’s lives while earning a good living. Nurses are highly respected members of their communities. They can also choose their own specialty, work the shifts they prefer, advance their roles, and pursue advanced degrees.
Why should I study nursing vs medicine?
Nurses practice on the front lines of patient care and serve as the caregivers, innovators, and champions of patients and their families. Patients hold nurses in high regards – in fact, respondents to the Gallup Poll rank nurses higher than doctors when it comes to ethics and honesty.
Do nurses make good money?
Yes. In 2020, the median pay for nurses was $75,330. Nurses with advanced degrees and certifications can make significantly more money.
Are nurses in high demand?
Nurses are already in high demand, and the demand will grow. BLS expects the employment of RNs to grow by 9% until 2030, adding 194,500 openings each year. An aging population, growing number of diabetes, obesity and other chronic conditions, and a large number of retiring nurses is driving the demand.
Which nursing specialty is for me?
The nursing specialty you choose depends largely on your interests. If you like children, for example, you may choose pediatrics. You may prefer working with older adults in geriatrics, surgical patients, or female patients. You might choose a specialty based on where you would like to work, such as hospitals, clinics, schools, or research facilities.
Interview with a nurse
American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN)
The AACN establishes quality standards for nursing education and helps schools implement these standards.
American Association for Men in Nursing
This organization shapes the practice, education, research and leadership for men in nursing.
American Nurses Association (ANA)
The ANA represents the interests of the 4 million registered nurses in the United States
American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)
As a subsidiary of the American Nurses Association, the ANCC offers credentialing programs to nurses across the country.