Many colleges and universities in the United States offer degrees in nursing. Programs of this type are often appealing to individuals interested in learning how to provide and coordinate patient care in hospitals, physicians’ offices, and other medical facilities. It’s an ideal major for those who want to educate others about various health conditions or provide advice and emotional support to others who are ill and/or injured. While curriculums vary by institutions, graduates typically possess the knowledge and skills necessary to qualify for jobs as registered nurses, surgical nurses, nurse practitioners, nurse researchers, and legal nurse consultants.
It's important to realize that salary potential can vary significantly depending on the occupation sought. Work location can also greatly impact job availability and pay. States with the highest-paying employment options for registered nurses (RNs) include Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Alaska, Minnesota, New Jersey, Maryland, New York, Delaware, Rhode Island, and the District of Columbia. States with the lowest annual mean wages for this occupation include South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Montana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, West Virginia, South Carolina, and Mississippi. Other healthcare support professionals, however, can expect the highest wages in Washington, Oregon, California, Utah, Alaska, North Dakota, Illinois, New York, Massachusetts, Virginia, and South Carolina. Salaries for these workers are generally lower in Idaho, South Dakota, Kansas, Montana, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, New Hampshire, and Maine.
Nursing professionals require some amount of formal education. Depending on your career goals, however, you may be able to prepare for your preferred occupation in one of three ways. While many choose to obtain bachelor’s degrees in nursing, it’s also possible to gain employment after earning an associate degree or obtaining a diploma from an approved nursing program. The approximate graduation timeframe for associate and bachelor’s degrees is four years. Diploma programs, on the other hand, typically require two or three years to complete. These are most frequently offered by hospitals and medical centers but are less common within the industry overall.
Regardless of your means of education, you are likely to study a wide variety of healthcare-related topics while enrolled. Students generally receive instruction in anatomy, physiology, microbiology, psychology, and social and behavioral sciences. Other common topics include communication, leadership, and critical thinking. Additionally, it is often necessary to participate in supervised clinical experiences prior to graduation.
Once specified educational standards are met, nursing graduates can apply for state licensure. All registered nurses (RNs) must have nursing licenses to practice. Credentialing guidelines vary, but all applicants must complete approved nursing programs and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN).
Once licensed, RNs with associate degrees or diplomas may go back to school to earn bachelor’s degrees through specialized academic programs. These are often referred to as RN-to-BSN programs, where BSN stands for Bachelor of Science in Nursing.
Generally, colleges and universities throughout the nation offer higher education programs in nursing. Prospective students can choose from degree options at the associate, bachelor’s, and master’s levels. While not necessary for most nursing positions, graduate degrees can drastically improve marketability and career prospects. Additionally, some occupations in the field do require this level of higher education. Clinical nurse specialists (CNSs), for example, must earn master’s degrees in nursing after obtaining one year or more of work experience in the field.
In most cases, earning a degree in nursing is worthwhile. This is especially true to individuals seeking careers as registered nurses (RNs). Having a strong academic background often makes meeting licensure requirements easier and may even streamline the application process.
While it may be possible to obtain entry-level employment in some related professions without a degree, the majority of healthcare employers expect candidates to possess some level of higher education. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), many healthcare occupations require at least bachelor’s degrees. Associate degrees, on the other hand, can also lead to highly successful nursing careers, and some hospitals and medical centers offer viable diploma programs. Regardless, completing some sort of formal education is often an important aspect of preparing for employment in this field.
It's worth noting, however, that degrees vary in worth based on the specific career path chosen, work location, and personal interests. Prospective students and professionals should research potential careers carefully before determining whether a degree in nursing is appropriate. Those looking for information on the highest paying nursing jobs can find them below.
Overall, the outlook for healthcare occupations is very good. According to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), employment for workers in this field is projected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations in the United States. Approximately 1.8 million openings are projected each year between 2022 and 2032. The median annual wage for healthcare practitioners and technical occupations was $77,760 in May 2022, which is higher than the median annual wage of $46,310 for all occupations in the nation.
Employment for registered nurses (RNs) is projected to grow 6% in the same timeframe, which is also faster than the average for all occupations in the nation. This growth will account for about 193,100 openings each year, most of which will result from the need to replace workers transferring to different occupations or exiting the labor force.
It’s also important to realize that prospects vary by occupation. Some professions are expected to perform better than others. As a result, it’s always recommended that prospective nursing professionals research possible sub-field classifications carefully to gain a more accurate understanding of employment outlook.
The first step to getting a job in nursing is determining what kind of nurse you want to become. There are a wide variety of employment opportunities available in the field, each with distinct hiring standards and expectations. These can vary significantly, especially between states. As a result, it’s important to identify which occupation or occupations you are most interested in pursuing. This knowledge will be particularly relevant when selecting an education program, elective courses, internships positions, extracurricular activities, and/or professional certifications.
After obtaining the necessary academic background, it may be necessary and/or beneficial to pursue associated professional credentials. For example, all practicing nurses in the United States must be professionally licensed by the state in which they work. Licensing for registered nurses (RNs) is typically regulated by State Boards of Nursing, but application requirements vary by location. In most cases, prospective RNs must pass criminal background checks, as well as the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). Other common expectations for RNs include cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), basic life support (BLS), and advanced cardiac life support (ACLS) certification. Nurses may also become certified in specific areas through professional associations. Some common options are ambulatory care, gerontology, and pediatrics.
There are many nursing careers that offer high salary potential. Pay can vary significantly across the field, however.
Some of the highest paid nursing opportunities available include:
While the positions mentioned above are some of the highest paying options available to those looking for a high paying nursing profession, they are not the only employment opportunities available. In fact, individuals with backgrounds in this field can qualify for many other professions, as well. Despite offering lower salary potential, these jobs can function as a great means of gaining additional experience that may lead career advancement in the future.
Some less lucrative nursing jobs include: