Nursing programs and careers
Nursing is the largest medical profession in the U.S., comprising over 3.8 million registered nurses. Nurses touch people’s lives by providing care to those who need it most. Positions tend to be hands-on and patient-facing, making nursing highly meaningful but sometimes stressful.
Nursing degrees allow for clear advancement pathways that lead to well-paid careers. Graduates of bachelor’s nursing programs earn an average salary of $62,888, much higher than the $46,450 bachelor’s average. The job outlook is positive, with the need for registered nurses projected to grow 9% from 2020 to 2030.
Nursing degree levels
There are multiple levels of nursing, from providing basic care as a nursing assistant to conducting in-depth research at the Ph.D. level. A common strategy among aspiring nurses is to earn the minimum educational credential and then accept an entry-level healthcare position.
Taking this approach provides an inside look at the profession to see if it is indeed a good fit. Thanks to the flexibility of most nursing schedules, it is usually possible for nurses to continue working while they return to nursing school to earn more advanced credentials. Combining work with school is definitely manageable, especially when students choose to complete most of their nursing program online.
- Non-degree certificates: offer entry-level opportunities in nursing support functions.
- Associate degrees in nursing (ADN): is the minimum requirement to become a registered nurse.
- Bachelor of science in nursing (BSN): expands the responsibilities and career opportunities available as a registered nurse.
- Master of science in nursing (MSN): requirement for advanced practice registered nurses, opening doors to a variety of different nursing specializations.
- Doctor of nursing practice (DNP): a professional, or applied doctorate, DNPs can step into executive roles at hospitals or other healthcare facilities, and/or work as an educator in nursing school.
Types of nurses
Registered nurses have completed their undergraduate and state certification requirements and are licensed to practice nursing. They are supported by licensed practical nurses and / or certified nursing assistants. Registered nurses have the option to move into advanced nursing specialties through postgraduate study.
Entry-level nursing careers
Certified nursing assistants and licensed practical nurses (a.k.a. in California) licensed vocational nurses are entry-level nursing positions available after completing certificate programs.
A certified nursing assistant provides basic patient care, which includes helping patients with activities of daily living. They rarely provide any direct medical care because of their limited training. Approximately 78% of CNAs work in hospitals. Like nurses, CNAs spend most of a shift on their feet.
A licensed practical nurse (LPN) or licensed vocational nurse (LVN) provides basic medical care to patients under the direct supervision of a registered nurse (RN).
Registered nurses work under the supervision of the patient’s physician to coordinate and deliver care. They are often the first point of contact for family members, and they are instrumental in providing patients with instruction on managing their injury or health concerns at home.
Nursing career specialties with BSN
Graduates of BSN programs can specialize in a specific nursing area through further on-the-job training. These careers generally require you to be a registered nurse first.
- Neonatal intensive care unit (NICU)
- Obstetrician and gynecology nurse
- Pediatric nurse
- Labor and delivery nurse
- Hospice nurse
- Travel nurse
Advanced nursing specialties
Nurses who want to practice advanced medicine or focus on a specialty area need a master’s degree and additional credentials. There are various RN to MSN education programs which cater to working RNs. Exam requirements and certifications vary by state and specialty.
MSN programs are aimed at nurses who want to specialize clinically. It can lead to careers such as nurse educator, nurse administrator, and clinical nurse specialist. Those who opt for a DNP usually want to move into more leadership-based roles.
What is an advanced practice registered nurse?
The most common specialties among healthcare professionals with the Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) credential are nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist, nurse midwife, and clinical nurse specialist.
Best MSN programs by state
Nursing bridge programs
Bridge programs allow nurses to acquire the necessary qualifications to make the next step in their career. They focus on teaching students additional skills and do not spend a lot of time on general nursing education.
These programs are mostly aimed at people who have already worked in nursing for some time. They offer flexibility so that nurses can continue to work while studying. Lab work and clinical hours can often be completed at the nurse’s current place of work.
Nursing salaries and demand
The table below shows the nursing salaries and predicted demand for some key roles in the field.
|Median salary||Average annual openings||Percentage change (2020-2030)|
|Registered nurses (also clinical nurse specialists)||$75,330||210,400||9%|
|Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses||$48,820||66,300||9.3%|
Becoming a licensed nurse
To become a licensed nurse, you need to:
- Complete the requisite nursing education. This may include nursing degrees or certificate programs, depending on the position sought.
- Apply for a state-issued nursing license. Requirements can differ between states.
- Pass the necessary examinations. RNs and LPNs need to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). APNs take an exam in the chosen specialty area, which leads to national certification. The content of the CNA exam varies between states.
Is nursing a good career?
As well as the prospect of meaningful work, students of nursing degrees can expect plenty of job opportunities upon graduation. There is a high demand for nurses, so these positions tend to be well paid.
You can pursue a variety of careers in nursing, from entry-level positions to registered nurses, with the option to step into advanced positions for those who want to progress further. These clear and achievable pathways make nursing an excellent sector to work in.
This is the site for the main body that provides accreditation for all levels of nursing programs across the U.S.
The site for national accreditation for degree-level nursing courses in the U.S.
Website for the national licensure for RN qualification. Provides information on preparation and organization for examination.