Nursing Degrees and Programs
As nursing becomes more specialized and technologically advanced, nurses are becoming more prevalent in the healthcare industry[i]. If you plan on pursuing a career in this field, earning a nursing degree may be the first step. There are many different types of nursing degrees and programs that may fit your career and life goals.
Licensed Practical Nursing Programs: You could pursue a career as a licensed practical nurse (or licensed vocational nurse) through an accredited program, either on campus or online. Passing a certification test and state licensing are required to work as a licensed practical nurse.[ii]
Associate's Degree in Nursing: Earning an associate’s degree in nursing could be a great first step if you want to jumpstart your career as a registered nurse. Your course load will likely include science and social science courses, as well as your school’s liberal arts requirements and clinical experience. Most associate degree programs can be completed within two to three years.[iii]
Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing: You may wish to consider pursuing a bachelor’s degree in nursing to widen your career options. In these programs, you will get more instruction in social sciences, communications and critical thinking. You can also look into online BSN programs.[iv]
Master of Science in Nursing: If you’re a registered nurse looking to move into a specific career path, you may want to consider pursuing a master’s degree. Some examples of nursing careers that, for the most part, require a master’s degree are clinical nurse specialist[v], nurse midwives[vi], and nurse practitioners[vii]. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, finishing a master’s degree requires 18 months to two years of full-time study or more if a student does not study full-time[viii].
Doctorate in Nursing: There are several types of nursing degrees you may pursue at the doctoral level. One is a traditional doctorate degree, either a Ph.D., doctorate of nursing science (D.N.S. or D.N.Sc.), or a doctorate of education (Ed.D.). The doctorate degree is generally for nurses who wish to pursue a career in clinical research, administration or education, while a doctor of nursing degree is more practice-focused and may be better suited for someone looking to pursue becoming a specialized nurse.
Accelerated Nursing Programs: If you already have a college degree in another major and are wondering how to pursue a career as a nurse, you may want to consider an accelerated nursing program. Whether you’d like to pursue your bachelor’s or master’s degree, these programs generally take into account your previous learning experiences as you transition into nursing. Students in accelerated nursing programs also typically receive the same number of clinical hours as those in traditional entry-level nursing programs[ix].
Are online nursing degree programs for you?
Here are some things to consider when choosing an online nursing program:
Make sure that the school is accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing[x] and/or the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. They are the two recognized by the U.S. Department of Education[xi].
Find out if the state in which you plan to work will accept an online nursing degree from the school for your state nursing license.
Ask how clinical experience requirements are handled in online nursing schools. Will clinical work be done through the school, or will you need to arrange clinical rotations on your own?
Nursing Careers and Potential Salaries
When embarking on a career path in nursing, you’ll find there is a wide variety of nursing career paths and different nursing careers to pursue. Whether your interest turns toward children, the elderly, emergency care or working in a hospital, there may be careers in nursing that fit your passion. Here are some salary and job growth figures for nursing careers and specialties that will help you make your decision:
Registered Nurse (RN)[xii]
When considering nursing careers, a job as a registered nurse likely comes to mind. A registered nurse takes cares of patients in hospitals, emergency rooms, doctor’s offices or rehab clinics and manages follow-up care.
Median annual salary: $65,470
Job growth through 2022: 19% (faster than average)
Entry-level education: Associate’s degree
Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses[xiii]
Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) administer basic nursing care to patients. They usually work under the management of registered nurses and doctors in several medical facility settings, including hospitals, physicians' offices, nursing homes and extended care facilities.
Median annual salary: $41,540
Job growth through 2022: 25% (much faster than average
Entry-level education: Post-secondary non-degree award
Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners[xiv]
The duties of these nurses (also referred to as advanced practice registered nurses, or APRNs) vary but they tend to provide specialty care, as well as coordinate typical nursing care.
Median annual salary: $96,460
Job growth through 2022: 31% (much faster than average)
Entry-level education: Master’s degree
Advance Practice Psychiatric Nurse[xv]
Advanced Practice psychiatric nursing is a challenging field where you could be working with patients with mental illnesses including depression, schizophrenia and dementia. Job growth in this specialty is projected to be between 20 and 28 percent between 2010 and 2020.
Career requirements: If you want to become an advanced practice registered nurse, you may need a master’s of science degree in nursing.
Clinical Research Coordinator[xvi]
A clinical research coordinator assists in planning and coordinating research projects, and supervises to make sure research standards are met.
Career requirements: Most require a bachelor’s degree, although a bachelor of science degree in nursing is optional for job consideration.
[ii] bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/licensed-practical-and-licensed- vocational-nurses.htm#tab-4
[iii] bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm#tab-4 Vonetonline.org/link/summary/29-1141.04
[iv] bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm#tab-4 Vonetonline.org/link/summary/29-1141.04
[viii] aacn.nche.edu/education-resources/msn- article