Nursing Degrees, Careers, and Education Guide
Nursing careers offer a wide variety of challenges and specializations; students interested in health and medicine can find some application of nursing to suit their interests. There are four levels of nursing; they are the nurse’s aide, the nurse assistant, the Registered Nurse, and the Advanced Practice Registered Nurse. At every level, nurses help educate patients and the public, diagnose patients, care for their medical treatment, and offer emotional support to patients and their families.
Students can enter the profession with education. They can use a nursing certificate program to start as a nurse's aide or assistant, and they can get an associate degree in nursing to become a licensed practical nurse. If students attain a bachelor’s degree, they can become a Registered Nurse. Nurses can grow into the advanced nursing opportunities and leadership positions by education and experience. The Master of Science degree, when combined with clinical education, can qualify nurses as leaders, educators, and experts in their fields.
Nurses work in many settings such as hospitals, clinics, schools, and doctor’s offices. Nurses serve in public health facilities and the military services. They can work in research facilities, in specializations such as pediatrics( children), gerontology (older persons), and surgical settings like nurse anesthetists that monitor patients under anesthesia during surgery.
Nursing Degrees & Career Paths
Components of A Successful Career In Nursing
Nursing is a broad field, and it covers at least four levels, from nurse’s aides to master’s degree specialists. Some broad ideas apply to every level of nursing and nursing education as components of a successful career in nursing.
Dedication to Healing
Nursing is a high paid profession because it carries many serious responsibilities. Patients rely upon nurses for a range of care that includes critical illnesses and life-threatening conditions. The job requires a deep sense of dedication to helping people when they may be in severe distress.
Communications and Interpersonal Relationships
Communications and personal engagement are critical skills in a profession that can frequently operate in severe emergencies and urgent conditions. Nurses must work well with colleagues, doctors, patients, and patient families. They must listen carefully and communicate clearly and precisely about findings, observations, and facts.
Nurses must be problem solvers. They must sometimes assemble pieces of information and develop plans of action. They must also follow instructions and use knowledge and experience as required by the circumstances.
Compassionate Patient Care
Compassion is an essential part of the duties of a nursing professional; they must demonstrate this trait when dealing with patients, patient families, and the public.
How to Earn a Degree in Nursing
- Decide that nursing is the right field as a Nursing Assistant, LPN, RN, or APRN.
- Decide whether to attend online, on-campus, or a mix of both.
- Select candidate programs from accredited schools, colleges, and universities.
- Apply for admission to an associate, bachelor’s, or master’s level program.
- Apply for financial aid and scholarships if needed.
Typical Nursing Degree Requirements
Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)
The associate degree in nursing requires between 65 to 70 semester hours of courses and laboratory work. Students can complete the degree in two to three years with full-time attendance. The coursework includes about one-third in general education and two-thirds nursing education and lab work.
Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing (BSN)
The traditional BSN requires a total of 125 to 130 hours or about eight semesters for completion. The prerequisite general education courses typically consist of about 28 hours of coursework. The nursing education consists of six semesters of nursing, laboratory, and general medical education.
Master’s Degree in Nursing (MSN)
The MSN requires a bachelor’s degree in Nursing or a degree in a related field plus additional coursework. The post-graduate coursework consists of about 40 to 45 semester hours, and specialization takes hundreds of additional hours of study under clinical supervision.
Typical Nursing Certifications Needed
All nurse practitioners must pass the NCLEX-PN or NCLEX-RN, the licensure examination for eligibility to become a registered nurse. It consists of written and practical examinations for state licensure along with any state-specific licensing and registration requirements. Specialists will frequently require additional certifications and licenses. Certifications are legal processes for practice in some areas such as anesthesia. Certifications require special education and passing a practical and written examination.
The trend in nursing is towards greater use of certifications. For example, in the period of 2006 through 2010 the percentage of nurses with certifications grew from about 16% to about 42%. Some of the most widely achieved certifications were in HIV/AIDS, Certified Pediatric Nursing, Advanced Ontology Certified Nurse, Nurse Family Practitioner, and Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA).
At the other end of the spectrum, the Certified Nursing Assistant or CNA test consists of a written exam followed by a skills test. The practical phase requires candidates to demonstrate some basic elements of patient care and bedside approach.
Academic Standards for a Nursing Degree
The general academic standard is that when the nursing graduate completes the Registered Nursing Program, then they will be able to function knowledgeably, safely, and effectively in nursing environment. They will have training sufficient to ensure competence within a variety of healthcare settings and will be qualified for the licensing examination.
The ADN prepares a graduate to transfer to a four-year institution to complete a bachelor’s degree. The BSN degree prepares students to enter specializations in advanced nursing, certifications as specialized nurses, or a master’s degree program with one or more specializations. Cultural competence is an important nursing academic standard. Nurses must perform their duties with a sense of respect for every person
Exam/Experience Needed for a Nursing Degree
The National Council Licensure Examination also called the NCLEX is the national examination administered by the Council on behalf of the fifty states and the territorial governments that must license nurses for the practice of nursing in their jurisdictions. The exam exists to protect the public by ensuring that nurses have the knowledge and skills needed to administer medicines and other prescribed treatments safely.
There are two types of NCLEX; they are the NCLEX-PN and the NCLEX-RN. The NCLEX-PN applies to vocational grads and associate degree holders that have qualified for the Practical Nursing exam under state law. The NCLEX-RN is for students that have qualified for the RN exam by earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing or by having an LPN license and the further education or experience required under state law.
Important Questions to Ask
How long does it take to earn a Nursing bachelor's degree online?
The Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing is a four-year program that students can complete with four to five years of full-time attendance. The curriculum for a Bachelor of Science in nursing has general education courses meant to provide a background of knowledge and sound basic skills in math, science, English, and communications. Today, the broad experience should include some computer science and an understanding of operating systems.
RN to BSN is a shortcut version of the four-year BSN program that takes advantage of the associate degree and RN nursing experience that an applicant may have. The RN to BSN path can be two-to-three years in length which can save time and finances when compared to a four-year BSN program at an accredited school.
Please note that almost all nursing programs which are meant to prepare you for a career in nursing require classes for practical skills. These will not be accessible in an online format.
How much does a Nursing bachelor’s degree cost?
Estimates for the costs of a nursing degree run from $40,000 to $100,000 per year depending on the university and its tuition charges. Community colleges and public universities charge lower rates for in-state students than out-of-state students. The difference can be remarkable.
Based on all schools and all majors, some estimates can help guide the student. Data from the College Board and the NCES provide ranges for costs that add tuition, living expenses, and fees into price ranges. Based on 2017 data, the costs of a four-year degree at a public school is in the range of $85,000 for in-state students, $150,000 for out-of-state students, and $190,000 for private school students. When projected to the year 2019 through 2020 one can anticipate an increase in the area of three to four percent.
Does the school have the major(s) you’re considering?
University HQ considers the choice of major to be an important decision for students when selecting nursing education schools or programs. Nursing is a broad field, and it has a wide potential for developing specializations and expertise. The student should pause and study the situation carefully. It is important to connect the choice of school with the career goals and employment objectives. Students should be sure that the school is well-equipped to provide high-quality education in the subject areas of greatest interest.
Students must look at the curriculum to determine if the subject will be covered thoroughly and in the areas of study that will be most beneficial. Laboratory work and clinical supervision are important features. Students can look at the number of lab-based courses. Medical services work environments have become computerized, and students must be sure that their training meets the standards of the types of environments they will encounter in the real world of healthcare delivery.
How many students graduate “on time,” in four years?
The graduation rate is an important piece of information. It measures the performance of the entire student body, and it is a good predictor of the experience each applicant can expect. Time is money when it comes to education. The longer time for completion means more tuition and fee payments. Each year in addition to the expected four years, adds about 25% to the total costs of a degree.
National statistics measure on-time degree completion using four-year and six-year marks. Private schools across the US and for all majors have a range of 53% on-time graduation and 65.6% within six years. In these schools, students can expect to finish on time if they attend full time and within six years with some part-time attendance. Public schools show a 35% on-time rate at four years and 59% at the six-year mark. Students at these schools must plan carefully to ensure that they can complete requirements for on-time graduation.
What kind of accreditation does the program hold? How is it regarded in the field?
There are two major types of accreditation. The national accreditation typically applies to specialized and vocational schools, and this includes nursing schools. Regional accreditation agencies provide assessments of the entire institution (institutional accreditation) or a specific school or program (programmatic accreditation).
The US Department of Education designates accreditation agencies for colleges and universities. These regional agencies perform a robust assessment and a continuous monitoring of the quality of instruction and education. In the field of nursing, the technical and medical requirements are important, and specialized education of this type also must have specialized accreditation. The leading program accreditation agency for nursing programs is the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing.
The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) was formerly known as the NLNAC. ACEN has authority and recognition through the Council on Higher Education and the Department of Education. This organization accredits all levels of nursing programs including diploma or certificate programs, associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees, and master’s degrees. ACEN can accredit schools that do not have regional accreditation. Schools with regional accreditation can also choose to have program accreditation for their nursing education program.
The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) accredits schools and colleges that offer baccalaureate and master’s level degrees. The CCNE focuses exclusively on master’s and bachelor’s programs. The CCNE has Department of Education recognition as a national accreditation agency. The Department of Education set the scope of its accreditation authority, and accredited schools may participate in Title IV funding programs such as federal student loans.
Software, Technology and Skills Needed
Nurses increasingly work in computer-based environments. Automation and innovation have touched nearly every aspect of medical examinations, diagnosis, and care. Modern medical facilities store and retrieve medical information in digital form and provide security for medical privacy. Nurses must be comfortable with a range of operating systems, data display formats, and enterprise software systems.
Technology and innovation have changed the types and uses of medical devices. Nurses must stay current on innovations and new technology particularly in standard and special diagnostic routines. Some phases of nursing have a basis in information technology.
Nursing is a broad field, and historically it was not a college-based profession. Hospitals were the primary source and training ground for nurses. Schools of nursing grew as colleges and universities adopted standards for medical education and extended them to the staff and support personnel for medical practitioners and hospitals. Today, formal education is the primary path for entry into the nursing field. The non-degree options include apprentice-type training and nurse assistant certificate programs. The main degree options are the associate degree, the bachelor’s degree, and the master’s degree.
The field of nursing is broad, and medical care has become increasingly specialized, both by population and fields of study. The US population has statistically gotten older, with longer lifespans, and a larger percentage of older persons. The senior population is a driving force in the expansion of medical care as well as healthcare reform laws that provide insurance coverage for millions of Americans that had previously gone uninsured. The demands for nursing have increased as have the numbers of persons seeking nursing education, jobs, and careers.
The associate degree is the shortest path to a licensed nurse status. This two-year degree is available at nursing schools and community colleges. The accredited institutions that provide the associate course of study prepare graduates to sit for the NCLEX-PN examination and qualify for a Practical Nursing License. The LPN is a qualification for Licensed Practical Nursing and a stepping stone to a bachelor’s degree and other educational levels in the field of nursing.
- Introduction to Pharmacology
- Principles of Nursing Practice
- Health & Illness Concepts and Health & Illness Concepts Lab
- Mental Health Concepts
- Acute Concepts
- Complex Concepts and Complex Concepts Lab
The bachelor’s degree in nursing is the full participation level in the profession. This level works with MDs and specialists and manages a segment of patient care. Registered Nurses supervise nurse assistants and Licensed Practical Nurses.
- Introduction to Psychology
- Introduction to Human Nutrition
- Microbiology and Microbiology Lab
- Nursing Care of Acute and Chronically Ill Patients, I
- Health Promotion and Disease and Illness Prevention, I
- Behavioral Health Nursing
- Research and Evidence-Based Practice
Concentrations for Bachelor of Science in Nursing include:
Gerontology, Orthopedics, Psychiatric Nursing, Midwifery, Neonatal Practice
The Master of Science in Nursing is an advanced nursing degree that qualifies graduates for educational, managerial, and administrator level positions. MSN graduates can conduct advanced healthcare assessments, diagnostic procedures, and treatment plans. They take coursework in promoting health and wellness, disease prevention and health counseling. MSN graduates play a key role in the delivery of quality health care locally and regionally.
- Evidence-Based Practice
- Science Development, Study Design, and Statistics
- Advanced Nursing Practice
- Population Health in a Global Society
Concentrations for Master of Science in Nursing:
Nursing Administration, Nurse Informatics, and Nurse Adult-Gerontology
Both experience and education have the effect of raising the annual salary and improving earning potential and career opportunities for nurses. There are clear correlations in national employment data between higher levels of education and higher median annual income. Work experience has a similar impact on salary. This pattern exists in nearly every profession and occupation. Employees with greater experience have higher annual wages than less experienced workers. The field of nursing follows the overall trend. Education and expertise raise the median annual income level.
Nursing Fields of Study and Median Salaries
- Anesthesia studies the application of anesthetic drugs in inpatient, outpatient, and emergency situations.
- Research in medical labs, universities, and commercial facilities makes important contributions to public safety, medical effectiveness, and innovation.
- Mental health and psychiatric work form critical parts of a comprehensive approach to healthcare. The focus is on patient needs but also on the families and others affected by behavioral disorders.
- Midwifery studies methods for assisting births in hospital and other settings. This field also involves care for newborns and mothers.
- Orthopedics is the study of muscle and skeletal problems and the effort to restore patient mobility and a symptom-free state.
- General Health is the field of study that includes prevention and wellness. This field also provides general care in areas that are chronically underserved. It is broad, but it is also an advanced field of study.
- Geriatrics focuses on diseases and treatment of elderly or older persons in the population. This field incorporates multilingual training and a high level of education.
- Neonatal studies concern premature and newborn babies that require critical care.
|Field of Study||Associate degree||Bachelor’s degree||Master’s degree|
Nursing Salaries by Occupation
The nursing profession responds to increased demands for medical care as the US population ages and as healthcare reforms extend the availability of medical care. In many geographic areas, the number of nursing applicants has increased, and the supply of qualified nurses has also increased. In high competition areas, nursing students can distinguish their credentials by specialization, certifications, and higher levels of education.
- Nurse Assistants perform many of the principal nursing functions in hospital and other patient care settings. They often have extended contact with patients and in situations of urgent care.
- Licensed Practical Nurses manage patient care and treatments. They work closely with patients and families and handle important communications between patients and medical care providers.
- Registered Nurses assess health problems and carry out treatments. They provide education to patients and the public on diseases, wellness, and prevention.
- Oncologist nurses help manage the treatment of cancer patients providing care to inpatients or outpatients. This field is high stress and works with terminally ill patients and their families.
- ICU Nurses attend patients in critical care and work in a high-stress environment of severe illness and injury.
- Family Nurse Practitioners perform many of the functions of a general practitioner. They diagnose diseases and prescribe treatments and serve as primary care providers. They often serve as the primary point of contact in managed healthcare systems.
|Nurse – Advanced Practice||$85,000||$96,000||$105,000|
|Family Nurse Practitioner||$86,000||$95,000||$101,000|
American Cancer Society Graduate in Cancer Nursing Practice Scholarship
Deadline: November 1
The American Cancer Society invests in advanced nursing education with scholarships that promote awareness and research in cancer cures and prevention. The awards support nursing graduate students pursuing studies in cancer treatment and research. The program offers $10,000 awards for up to two years for master’s degree and Doctor of Nursing Practice candidates for work in cancer treatment or prevention. Applicants are not required to be US citizens.
Jane Delano Student Nurse Scholarship
Deadline: May 1
The Award honors Jane Delano, the woman that organized the American Red Cross Nursing Service during World War I. Ms. Delano was a hero of the American Expedition in Europe where she died in combat. This award promotes nursing education and nurse involvement with the American Red Cross. Eligible applicants must show a contribution of time and effort to the American Red Cross. Eligible applicants must be enrolled in a nursing program, be in good standing, and have completed one or more years of coursework.
Latinos in Technology Scholarship
Amount: Up to $3000 over three years with renewal (Up to 100 awards)
Deadline: November 13
The awards for Latino students include scholarship funds and opportunities for internships in the summer months with Silicon Valley firms. The eligibility is for any STEM field, and in Nursing, there are information and computer-based fields such as nurse informatics, life sciences, and nursing statistics. Applicants must be graduates of a high school or attend a college in the region defined by the following counties: Graduate of a high school in the following Northern California counties: Alameda County, Contra Costa County, Marin County, Napa County, San Francisco County, San Mateo County, Santa Clara County, Santa Cruz County, Solano County, Sonoma County and Yolo County.
American Cancer Society Doctoral Degree Scholarships in Cancer Nursing
Amount:$15,000 (possible 2-year renewal)
Deadline: October 15
Eligible applicants will be enrolled or accepted into a doctoral program in nursing. Applicants must have a current license to practice as a registered nurse. Applicants must also demonstrate a commitment to cancer research and treatment and need not be US citizens.
Professional Nursing Organizations
American Nursing Association
This large powerful association represents the interests of more than 3.4 million registered nurses. They engages in advocacy for health policy and improvement in the national health system. They also promote nursing standards, ethics, and greater participation in the health industry. Members can take advantage of education, continuing education, and information resources. There are 54 state-based affiliate chapters, and students can join. Students will benefit from discussions of current trends, best practices, and educational benefits. The association works to advance practical issues for nurses such as salary, greater professional recognition, and better working conditions.
Sigma Theta Tau
Sigma is an honor society that appeals to students and recent grads too. Operating through local chapters and affiliates, this global association funds grant and research opportunities. Its activities include networking, leadership, and personal and professional growth opportunities. Sigma represents more than 130,000 nurses across more than 90 countries. The association helps students access career counseling, coaching, and job placement assistance. Members can get up-to-date information about job openings and salaries based on current offers and salaries. Graduating students can get the benefits of association with members of their new profession.
International Council of Nurses
The council consists of about 130 national nursing associations. In combination, they represent more than 20 million nurses around the globe. The association promotes the nursing profession and advances health policies. They publish a peer-reviewed journal: The International Nursing Review. This scholarly platform provides a means of communication across national boundaries with insights about regulations, government policies, and the needs for more and better cooperation. The association advances health education on a global basis. Students can take advantage of educational resources and health information from around the world.
American Nursing Informatics Association
Members have a commitment to this specialty; Informatics integrates nursing science, computer science, and information science. This field has the potential to change the way the profession manages and communicates data, information, knowledge, and wisdom in nursing practice. The goal of the association is to reinforce informatics practice as a specialty. Informatics is essential to the delivery of high quality, and cost-effective healthcare. Students can join this group and take advantage of the information and education resources. Graduates can move into this emerging information technology field for professional development.
The National Council of State Boards of Nursing
This independent and non-profit association represents the state boards of governance of the nursing profession. This body serves the vital role of reviewing and developing nursing examinations. It also provides a voice on policy issues of concern to public health and safety. The association operates events that provide opportunities for collaboration, participation, and networking.
Choosing an Accredited College
Accreditation is important to the value and usefulness of a degree. University HQ strongly recommends the selection of an accredited school and program. The nursing profession has accreditation through specialized agencies in addition to regional accreditation from the primary Department of Education-approved agencies. Accreditation from the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) are favorable; they provide additional assurance of quality nursing education when combined with regional accreditation.
Online vs. On-Campus vs. Hybrid
Online education is flexible and convenient. Students can set their schedules and access classwork from any place with an Internet connection. Online learning helps working students and those with needs or preferences that prevent on-campus attendance.
On-campus programs are the traditional classroom and lecture hall types of teaching. This traditional format has the advantage of face-to-face communications with faculty and connection to a campus-based community of scholars and students.
Hybrid programs can be issued from the school or selected and composed by the student. Hybrids combine on-campus and online learning into a program for completing the degree. Nursing is unlike some other areas of study in that nursing requires a license and an exam that requires preparation in laboratory education and supervised clinical teaching environments.
Does the College Have Post-Graduate Job Placement Help & Assistance?
University HQ recommends that students make a specific inquiry about job placement assistance programs at any school they consider for a degree program. Advanced institutions incorporate career planning into the two or four-year course of study for a bachelor’s or master’s degree in nursing. The school may host job fairs, business community awareness communications, and host interviews for employers from across the region.
The school of nursing, college, or university is a broad community of alumni, business sponsors, and corporate partners. Both new and established schools often have extensive local, regional, and national networks. The overall resources of the nursing school and the larger nursing school community can potentially assist in producing high levels of job opportunities and hires for recent graduates.
Some schools pair students with advisers, career counselors, and job coaches at various stages of their academic careers. Observers can see the results in annual satisfaction surveys, and the numbers of students that get interviews and offers of employment.
Why You Need to Consider the Overall National Rankings of the College and The Effects on Your Career or Salary
Students should consider the overall national ranking of the schools under consideration. The national ranking can affect your salary after graduation and the range of career options you can achieve. National rankings include many factors that are important to employers. The rankings include graduation rates and indications of graduate’s successful employment. The factors assessed include awards and Ph.D. degrees achieved by alumni.
Graduates from highly ranked nursing schools and highly rated nursing programs have advantages in getting interviews, referrals, and hires. They can compete for high paying, competitive positions among the top graduates in their particular nursing fields. The overall ranking matters and University HQ recommends that students consider it when selecting a school or nursing program for an associate, bachelor’s, or master’s degree.