Nursing Careers

Careers in Nursing

So, you think you want to be a nurse?  Good for you!  There is no profession in the world that is more trusted than nurses.  In the United States in 2015, there were approximately 3.6 MILLION nurses.  If you include the Certified Nursing Assistants/Aides (CNA), the number jumps to over 5.1 million professional and paraprofessional individuals.  

One of the wonderful things about nursing is that you can choose among a huge variety of roles and educational levels to do exactly what you want to do.  Job opportunities in nursing are growing much faster than for most other roles due, in large part, to aging baby boomers who are leaving the job market and requiring more health care.  

How do I know what level of education I need?

There are several nursing degrees that you can pursue depending on what path you want to take and what you ultimately want to do with the degree.  These include:

Education Paths Minimum Degree Certification/ Licensure Time to Degree
Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) High School Diploma or GED State certification exam Typically, 70-80 hours in a vocational course
Licensed Practical/Vocational Nurse (LPN/LVN) LPN/LVN state program State certification exam One Year
Registered Nurse – ADN Associate degree in nursing NCLEX RN examination leading to state license Two Years
Registered Nurse – BSN Bachelor’s degree in nursing NCLEX RN examination leading to state license Four Years
Advanced Practice RN (APRN) Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) RN license plus credentialing exam for specific credential 4 years plus advanced practice requirements
Nursing Instructor/ Professor MSN or Doctorate RN license plus CNE credential Variable

Table 1: Education Career Paths in Nursing

What factors should I think about when determining what I want to do in nursing?

There are a number of factors that will determine what education you will need – or what your next step should be if you are already in practice.  These factors include your interests, the amount of time you are willing to spend on education, the amount of money you have to invest in your education, and your general or specific career goals.  Check the statements below to see which ones might apply to you:

Factors to Consider CNA LPN/LVN ADN BSN MSN Doctorate
I want to teach. X X
I want to do direct patient care. X X X X X X
I don’t want to do direct patient care. X X X
The less time I spend in the classroom, the better! X X
I don’t have a lot of money to spend on my education. X X
I need to start working as quickly as possible. X X
I know I want to be an RN, but I don’t want to do advanced practice. X X
I am a practicing LPN/LVN and want to advance my career and make more money. X X
I am a CNA and want to advance my career and make more money without spending a lot of money and time. X X
I want to be an Advanced Practice Nurse or clinical specialist. X X
I want to be in charge on a clinical unit. X X X
I eventually want to hold an executive nursing position in my organization. X X
I would like to work independently and be my own boss. X X

Table 2: Factors to Consider

What job opportunities are available for specialization in nursing?

The good news is that, no matter what area of nursing you are interested in, there is probably a certification available!  In addition, nurses can also be employed in areas outside of specialization.  The list below provides just a partial listing of what is available.  Of course, this is not a definitive list of nursing specialties.  Areas of nursing specialization are being developed as needs are identified.  Click on any of these links to get more information about the specific certification  – what the specialty does, where you can work, and how much you might expect to earn in the specialty:

What are the salary ranges for each of the educational levels – how much can I expect to make?

The answer to this question is: it depends.  Obviously, the more education you have, the more you can usually expect to make – but the more time and money you can expect to pay to obtain the education.  Where you live will also make a difference – medically underserved areas may offer higher wages and areas where the cost of living is high will typically offer higher wages.  The median annual wage is probably a better predictor of salaries since this is the exact middle of the salary range – half of the salaries are above this figure and half are below. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report the following:

Role Average Annual Wage Median Annual Wage
Nursing Assistant (May 2015) $26,820 $25,710
LVN/LPN (May 2015) $44,030 $43,170
RN (May 2015) $71,000 $67,490
NP (MSN or higher) (May 2015) $101,260 $98,190
APRN (MSN or higher) (May 2015) (Depends on specialty) $93,610 – 160,250 $92,510 – 157,140
Nursing Instructor (May 2012) $68,640 $64,850

Table 3: Accessed from Bureau of Labor Statistics July 2016