Nursing Career Center
With strong demand for nurses in the rapidly growing healthcare field, nursing can be a fulfilling and rewarding career for individuals interested in health care. There are several different types of nursing careers that nurses have the option of specializing in, so you should choose an area of nursing that is the best fit for your interests, strengths, and preferred work environment.
Top 5 Reasons to Start a Nursing Career
A career in nursing is attractive for several reasons including high job demand, the opportunity to help people in need, and competitive compensation. It can be an excellent fit for individuals who have an interest in medical topics, enjoy interacting with people, and gain satisfaction from helping others and making a difference. Nursing is not right for everyone and requires a strong work ethic, compassion, attention to detail, and the ability to cope with stressful situations. Nurses must be comfortable being on their feet for long periods of time and possess strong time management skills in order to effectively treat several patients simultaneously in a hospital or clinic setting. They must also be resilient to overcome the adversity that can be caused by working with the general public: angry family members, demanding doctors, and the worsening health or death of their patients.
1. You can help people recover from illness and injury.
As a nursing professional, you will have the serious responsibility of helping people who require skilled medical attention. The quality of care provided to patients is highly dependent on the ability of nurses to effectively deliver prescribed treatments and medications. Helping vulnerable people recover from illness and injury can be personally fulfilling and rewarding. The compassion and skill of caring nurses can make a tremendous difference in patient outcomes.
2. There is a strong demand for nursing professionals.
The healthcare industry is one of the fastest growing sectors of the US economy and is expected to continue to grow quickly as the 70 million baby boomers reach retirement age. The United States is projected to have a nursing shortage due primarily to the increasing healthcare needs of baby boomers and the inability of nursing schools to expand to meet this growing demand.
- In 2012, the healthcare sector accounted for one in every five new jobs created.1
- The BLS projects 16% job growth for licensed practical nurses and licensed vocational nurses from 2014 to 2024, which equates to about 117,300 new jobs during the decade.2
- The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects job growth of 16% for registered nurses from 2014 to 2024, with an estimated 439,300 new jobs created.3
3. The pay is competitive.
According to the latest data from The Bureau of Labor Statistics from May 2016, the median annual wage for registered nurses is $68,450.3 The highest-paid 10% of registered nurses earned more than $102,990 and the lowest-paid 10% earned less than $47,120.3 For licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses, the median annual wage was $44,090 in 2016.2
4. You get long weekends and time off during the week.
Many nurses at hospitals work 12-hour shifts, which can allow for three or four day weekends. For example, you may alternate between a four-day work week (48 hours) and a three-day work week (36 hours). Or you may work three 12-hour shifts per week (36 hours) and take four days off every week. If you prefer a typical 9-5, 40-hour work week, working at a clinic may be a better fit for you.
5. You get to learn on the job with a nursing career.
The rapidly changing landscape of medicine provides a great backdrop for individuals who have an affinity for constant learning. The medical field is broad and contains many specialties through which you can always expand your knowledge and expertise. New research and discoveries in the medical field provide constant changes to nursing best practices and generate a need for continuing education.
My advice for those who are starting in the nursing profession- think about where you would like to see yourself in five or 10 years. I thought I did this but didn’t have a specific goal of anything but becoming a ‘nurse.’ Get really specific about your career goals and work towards them. If that involves stair-stepping your career because you don’t have time to go directly through school or want to minimize student loan debt, do so. If you have the opportunity to get your BSN as your starting point in your career, do so.”
-Nachole Johnson, FNP, float nurse practitioner, prolific author, and business owner who is well-known in the nursing field.
Levels of Nursing Careers
There are several levels of nurse careers that you can pursue if you want to become a nurse. Higher levels provide greater earning potential, a wider scope of practice, and greater responsibility. Acquiring your license at more advanced levels of nursing typically requires more formal education and passing the required national exam. Understanding the different levels and the training required for each will help you determine which nursing career path is right for you.
Nursing Careers Training and Salary Information
|Nursing Career||Length of Formal Education||# Employed in US||Median Annual Wage||Job Outlook (avg. 7%)*|
|Certified Nursing Assistant||2-3 months||1,564,300||$26,590||11%|
|Licensed Practical Nurse||12-24 months||724,500||$44,090||12%|
|Registered Nurse||2-4 years||2,955,200||$68,450||15%|
|Nurse Practitioner||6-7 years||150,230||$100,910||36%|
|Nurse Midwife||6-7 years||6,270||$99,770||21%|
|Nurse Anesthetist||6-7 years||39,860||$160,270||16%|
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of 2018.1,2,3,4,5,6
*Job outlook based on BLS projected growth, 2016-2026. Average outlook for all jobs, 7%.
Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)
Certified nursing assistants help patients with daily tasks such as bathing, personal hygiene, dressing, and eating. They also may take vital signs of patients; record and chart that information to evaluate trends; and report unusual findings or areas of concern to registered nurses or doctors. CNAs spend time transporting patients from room-to-room or rotating them in their beds. CNAs work at hospitals, nursing homes, or clinics. For more information on the CNA profession, check out the National Network of Career Nursing Assistants.
Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) / Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN)
Licensed practical nurses (or licensed vocational nurses in some states) are licensed nurses who perform nursing tasks under the supervision of a registered nurse. Depending on state regulations, LPNs are not allowed to perform certain tasks such as patient assessment or intravenous drug administration but they do perform some of the same tasks as registered nurses. The job duties of an LPN or LVN vary depending on whether they are working in the hospital, clinic, or a nursing home setting. For more information on the LPN profession, check out the National Association of Licensed Professional Nurses (NALPN) website.
Registered Nurse (RN)
Registered nurses are the most common type of nurse at hospitals and provide the majority of direct patient care under the supervision of a physician. RNs perform a wide variety of treatments, perform patient assessments, conduct patient education, administer medications, write patient care plans, and may manage other nurses. They can work in a wide range of settings including hospitals, clinics, senior care facilities, and schools. Read more about registered nurses on the American Nurses Association (ANA) website.
Nurse Practitioner (CRNP)
Nurse practitioners, or certified registered nurse practitioners (CRNPs) are nurses with additional training and education who have additional responsibilities beyond the scope of practice of a registered nurse. They can perform physicals, make diagnoses, and write prescriptions. Nurse practitioners can own their own practice or work in a variety of medical settings from hospitals to clinics. NPs are in especially high demand in rural areas of the country where they are helping to fill the shortage of primary care professionals. For more information on nurse practitioners, visit the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) website.
Nurse Midwife (CNM)
Nurse-midwives, or certified nurse midwives (CNMs), primarily care for women, providing gynecological exams, prenatal care, and assisting in labor and delivery. Some nurse-midwives act as primary care physicians for their patients and may provide family planning services and wellness care. Nurse midwives typically work in hospitals or clinics, but some have their own private practices. The American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM) is an organization dedicated to supporting people in this career.
Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)
Nurse anesthetists, or certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs), provide anesthesia to patients who are entering surgery or surgical procedures, monitoring the patient’s progress and vital signs, administering more anesthesia as needed during or after the surgery or procedure and ensuring that the patient maintains normal breathing patterns and heart rate. Nurse anesthetists also provide emergency services and may help other patients with pain management. They typically work in hospitals or clinics. Read more about nurse anesthetists on the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA) website.
As advanced practice registered nurses, CRNAs practice with a high degree of autonomy and professional respect. They carry a heavy load of responsibility and are compensated accordingly. That being said, in order to become a CRNA you must be in the top 1% of your nursing class. The competition is intense to be accepted into an anesthesia program but the rewards far outweigh the sacrifices.”
-Sharon Pearce CRNA, MSN is President-Elect of the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists
Types of Nursing Careers
Below are descriptions of several specific careers in nursing that you might focus your efforts on as you embark on your new nursing career. If one sounds especially interesting to you, you might decide to specialize in that area of nursing and choose corresponding electives in your nursing program.
A school nurse works with children to assess individuals with complaints, administer treatments, handle medical emergencies, and educate students. Most states require at least a BSN for the position of school nurse and some school nurses may be responsible for multiple schools.7
School nursing is considered a specialty field of nursing. As such, we do not recommend anyone work as a school nurse until they have at least three years of experience in the field. School nurses must be prepared to function independently, have excellent assessment skills, organizational skills, and be good communicators. These skills are acquired over time with job experience – not in nursing school. School nursing is a wonderful career for those who like practicing independently and the excitement of never knowing what will walk through the office door. People interested in going into school nursing should get as much experience as possible with pediatrics, community health, and emergency care. Any registered nurse may apply to work in a school. In Illinois, a nurse must also have school nurse certification to work with special education evaluations, an important function of school nursing. School nurse certification programs are graduate level programs, so a BSN is required for entry. In general, I would encourage people interested in pursuing a career in nursing to do some work/volunteer work in a hospital to see what this profession is about. With the trend towards only hiring BSNs, individuals going into nursing should give serious consideration to attending programs that lead them towards a BSN. These can be two-year programs that have an agreement with a local university to continue on to get their BSN or starting at a four-year college. For nursing students/recent graduates wanting to explore some of the many diverse settings where nurses work, I encourage arranging to spend a day shadowing a nurse in a setting they might be interested in.”
-Linda Kimel, RN, BSN, MS, PEL-CSN is President of the Illinois Association of School Nurses.
Public Health Nurse
Public health nurses serve several roles to promote the health of communities. They are an advocate for improved health services, an educator, and a direct provider of care to underserved citizens without access to healthcare. They may give presentations at schools, senior centers, and to local groups about nutrition, safety, and disease detection. Typical employers include the government, non-profits, or community health centers.
A psychiatric mental health nurse (PMHN) works with individuals to assess their mental health needs, provide treatment, and evaluate treatment effectiveness. Psychiatric Mental Health Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (PMH-APRNs) can provide primary care services including diagnosis and prescription of medication. In addition to the clinical setting, PMH-APRNs can own their own private practice.11
Pediatric nurses work primarily in children’s hospitals, pediatric wards, and clinics to provide care for children from infants to young adults. Their role includes preventative care such as providing families with health education and promoting healthy living. Typical tasks include developmental screenings, administering vaccinations, and treating common childhood illnesses. Pediatric nurses can apply for advanced certification once they have earned the necessary experience and education.
Parish nurses serve parishioners in a variety of ways like providing health education, conducting health screenings, and leading support groups. They may hold workshops to teach the church community about healthy living through good nutrition and fitness or council members individually. An aging population and changes in the healthcare landscape like shorter hospital stays have led to an increase in parish nursing as churches attempt to better serve their members’ health needs.12
An oncology nurse provides care for cancer patients including administering chemotherapy, prescribing medications, and performing treatments. Oncology nurses have the challenging job of helping patients face a deadly disease that takes the life of about a third of patients within five years.14 After accumulating the necessary oncology experience registered nurses can apply to become an oncology certified nurse through the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation.
Occupational Health Nurse
Occupational nurses provide services and help design programs for the prevention and protection of employee illnesses and injury. Companies have a strong incentive to hire occupational nurses to improve employee productivity and lower costs by reducing injuries, absenteeism, and disability claims. Occupational nurses may also work on emergency preparedness and provide emergency care. Typically, having a BSN degree and experience in community health, critical care, or emergency nursing can help you qualify for this job.
These specialized nurses provide care to premature infants and newborns with issues from birth defects to infection. They also provide treatment for the approximately 40,000 low-birth-rate babies born each year in the United States.12 After working as an RN in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for several years, nurses can apply for the critical care neonatal nursing certification through the American Association of Critical Care Nursing.
Legal Nurse Consultant
Combining subject matter expertise in the legal and medical field, legal nurse consultants provide guidance to lawyers and courts about matters relating to health care. They help lawyers understand and interpret medical records and provide their opinion on medical issues involved in a case. They can work for a variety of companies from hospitals to insurance companies to law firms and can also run their own consultancy business.
Home Health Nurse
The aging population is producing more opportunities for home health care which involves nurses traveling to patients homes to administer treatments. Typically the patients are elderly individuals who require regular medical care and elect to live at home instead of a skilled nursing facility.
This interesting niche in the nursing field involves traveling to a different part of the country temporarily to fill nursing positions. Travel nurses typically work for a staffing agency that finds assignments around the country on behalf of its nursing workforce. Travel nursing can be a great way to combine a nursing career with travel.
Geriatric nurses focus on helping elderly individuals who face chronic diseases and the effects of aging. Geriatric nurses commonly work in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, or with home health care agencies. After obtaining the required hours of clinical experience and continuing education credits, these nurses can apply for the gerontological nursing certification through the American Nurses Credentialing Center.
Additional Resources for Nursing Careers
- Nursing Career Interviews – Learn about the typical day and career advice from current nursing professionals.
- How to Become a Nurse – Find out more information about how to become a nurse, and read advice from experienced nurses in the field.
- American Nurses Association – A professional organization that represents the interests of the over 3 million registered nurses in the United States.
- National Student Nurses Association – A 60,000 member organization that provides resources, mentorship, and opportunities for new nurses entering the nursing field.
- National League for Nursing – The National League for Nursing sets standards for nursing education and provides the Certified Nurse Educator certification.
- American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) – Provides certification to nurses that allow them to demonstrate their speciality expertise and knowledge.
- American Psychiatric Nurses Association – The largest membership organization for psychiatric and mental health nurses.
- American Association of Colleges of Nursing – The AACN works to establish quality standards for nursing education and improve health care. The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) provides accreditation for nursing programs.
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, Nursing Assistants: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nursing-assistants.htm
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/licensed-practical-and-licensed-vocational-nurses.htm
3. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, Registered Nurses: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm
4. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, 2016, Nurse Practitioners: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291171.htm
5. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, 2016, Nurse Midwives: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291161.htm
6. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, 2016, Nurse Anesthetists: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291151.htm
7. Turner, Susan Odegaard. The Nursing Career Planning Guide. Burlington: Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2007. Print.
8. Explore Health Careers: https://explorehealthcareers.org/career/nursing/registered-nurse/
9. National Student Nurses Association: https://www.nsna.org/career-planning-guides.html
10. National Association of Neonatal Nurses: http://nann.org/professional-development/career-center
11. American Psychiatric Nurses Association: https://www.apna.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageID=3292
12. Johnson & Johnson Nursing: https://nursing.jnj.com/specialty/oncology-nurse
13. American Cancer Society: https://www.cancer.org/cancer.html
14. Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation: https://www.oncc.org/about-oncc