Nursing Degree Programs

While the medical industry in the United States is experiencing an unprecedented increase in demand for health care services, graduates of allied health programs are finding jobs in this industry to be both secure and satisfying. The allied health profession that employs the greatest number of health care workers is also one of the most rewarding: nursing.

A career in nursing may open doors to opportunities in a wide variety of working environments and allows these professionals to work with many different population groups with very different and often highly specialized medical needs. Those interested in learning what it takes to become a nurse will find they are able to select from many different levels of training and education, as well as countless specialized forms of practice in a variety of different settings.

What are the general educational paths towards careers in nursing?

All nurses need to pursue challenging courses of study that cover the principles of care delivery and treatment, but an aspiring nursing student must first decide how much time to invest in his or her education. Someone keen on entering the field quickly can

Where do nurses work?

Population and work environment are also things to consider when thinking about a career in nursing, and in some cases these choices will influence the type of education and licensure necessary. People sometimes think of nurses as the people they meet in the doctor's office, but there are countless combinations of work environments in which nurses perform specialized jobs both in and out of the clinical setting.

A nurse might work in a hospital, a doctor's office, an ambulatory care center, a specialized treatment clinic, a skilled nursing facility or an occupational health center, to name only a few. Some environments – hospitals and surgical centers, for instance – will be more interested in nurses with more advanced training and licenses, since state-imposed limitations on the types of treatment an LPN can provide can make hiring them less practical. However, other more general environments, occupational health clinics or skilled nursing facilities for instance, deliver less intensive medical services, which allows LPN/LVN level nurses to deliver most of the care necessary.

The US Bureau of Labor statistics puts nursing into one of the highest growth categories of any industry. The only work environments in which nurses work that is not predicted to reach 20%+ growth are hospitals. As more and more procedures can be done in freestanding clinics, skilled nursing facilities and outpatient surgery centers, growth in hospitals is not quite as rapid as it once was. The need for nurses continues to grow rapidly, but the work settings in which nurses are in the highest demanded are shifting along with new advancements in medical procedures and technology.

What types of patients do nurses work with?

While an environment like a doctor's office will see patients of all ages and types, other settings, such as specialized clinics, often draw more specific types of patients more exclusively. Pediatric medicine is specialized and requires unique training and a more clinically focused education. Geriatric medicine is another high-need area, as a large portion of the U.S. population enters older adulthood, so many medical settings are seeking practitioners with specialized training specific to geriatrics.

Some aspiring nurses find themselves compelled to help people suffering from specific types of ailments, or find certain treatments the most interesting. Clinical specialties are too many to list, but a few include cardio-pulmonary (heart and lung specialties), oncology (cancer), orthopedics, gastroenterology (the digestive tract), psychiatry, neurology and wound care. Advanced training and education are required in order to participate in these highly specialized nursing jobs, so if an aspiring nurse finds one of these areas particularly compelling, he or she should research the educational requirements for licensure in order to make a good decision about the appropriate educational pathway.

After establishing a nursing career, advancement into management positions is possible with advanced degrees and additional training. Case managers, unit managers, nursing managers and administrators, as well as nurse educators are all positions that a nurse who wants continued growth in his or her career can pursue. 

How to Become a Nurse

What are the steps to becoming a nurse?

  1. Research opportunities to volunteer in a local medical center to observe first-hand what a nurse does in order to decide if the career is a good fit for you.
  2. Complete your high school education, or pass the GED.
  3. Research the different levels of nursing licensure and decide what your first nursing goal is: a. LPN/LVN b. RN c. RN with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing d. Master of Science in Nursing and Advanced Practice Nurse
  4. Research traditional and accelerated nursing programs available through your local junior college, university, hospital-based learning program, or through an online program and decide which route to a nursing degree is best for you. Investigate whether or not there are pre-requisite courses, or if passing a pre-entrance examination is necessary.
  5. Complete the curriculum and associated practical experiences.
  6. Pass the national examination.
  7. Apply for a license through your State's Nursing Board.
  8. Get ready to start your career as a nurse and make a big difference in people's lives!

Why consider a career in nursing?

Nursing is an incredibly rewarding profession. Nurses often provide far more direct care than doctors do, and in many situations the nurse functions as the doctor's eyes, ears and hands. A nurse is the allied health professional who gives hospitalized patients their medications, and is often the first to spot a complication. A nurse is the professional that manages the care to patients in their homes, and a nurse is the professional that an expectant mother sees more than anyone else. A nurse's job can be as simple as being the first aid staff in a large factory or public school, or as complex as being the extra hands of a vascular surgeon. The opportunity, the variety, and the chance to make a big impact are limitless when pursuing a career in nursing.

The course of study is challenging as it is designed to create exceptional providers. Currently the country is facing something of a crisis in the lack of available nurses, and nursing programs are dedicated to supporting their students and turning them into well-qualified health care practitioners. As the demand for providers increases, programs are looking to expand their admissions and

How do I explore my options for specialized forms of nursing?

Once the interest in nursing has been explored, take some time and learn about various types of nursing and the different places a nurse works, and then decide what types of patients, diagnoses and work settings are most appealing to you.

Consider how much independence you want, and how long you want to take getting your education completed. If you want to work very independently and are ready to invest a few years in your education, then a master's level credential may be right for you. However, if you want to enter the workforce quickly, and don't mind working under the supervision of another nurse, perhaps starting as an LPN is the best choice. These decisions are personal, but looking at the relationship between how much training and education are needed to do the various things a nurse does can help you decide how to set your primary career goals.

Finally, investigate nursing schools in your area as well as schools offering online programs. If you are converting your existing nursing degree into a more advanced one, or already have a bachelor's degree in another area, there are online opportunities and accelerated programs that may work best for you.

Nursing Education

What can be expected from a formal education in nursing?

Education is an integral – and often never-ending – part of a nurse's career. From the initial coursework required to first become licensed, to the regular updating of clinical knowledge and medical procedures that are constantly improving and changing. A good nurse never stops learning.

An individual without a pre-existing bachelor's degree must start at a traditional learning institution, be it a junior college, a nursing program at a four-year college, a hospital-based training program, or a private learning institution. But someone who already has a bachelor's degree, even if it's not in the field of nursing, can move into the field principally through distance learning and online

What are the benefits to pursing my nursing education online?

Online education is, in fact, a blend of online and in-person activities. Distance learning programs that are based primarily in online instruction use the web to deliver lectures, manage question and answer forums, administer tests, and complete homework and self-study activities. But in the field of nursing, there is also a large amount of learning that happens through hands-on activities in lab classes and practical experiences, or practicums.

While a distance-learning program will provide the bulk of its instruction through online delivery, most programs have a coordinator that helps students identify local learning institutions and medical centers to arrange those parts of the training and education that cannot be given through a computer screen. While information on pharmacology, anatomy, nursing practices, assessment, normal organ function, and introduction to diseases are all things that can be learned through a lecture watched online, learning how things feel, or look, or how to use that information to make the best decision for a patient are hands-on activities.

What can I expect from online nursing courses?

These are some examples of the types of courses that might be delivered online: introduction to nursing practices, nursing theory, health and disease management, research methods, clinical integration, health behavior, developmental and normal adult psychology, introduction to pharmacology, and health policy.

Online education is also an excellent choice for people who want to advance their nursing degrees. Many programs offer accelerated conversion, or "bridge" programs, for nurses who want to turn their LPN into an RN, their associate's degree RN into a bachelor's degree RN, or who want to convert their Bachelor of Science in Nursing into a Master of Science in Nursing. These programs are designed for people who have completed a core curriculum and are prepared for faster instruction in more advanced nursing practices. Like all online programs, the conversion programs will require a certain amount of hands-on experience, and resources are typically made available to help students identify settings to complete these components of their education locally.

What are the typical requirements for continued education in nursing?

Once someone has become a nurse, additional learning and instruction will be a fundamental part of life in the field. Hospitals often offer training, or "in-services" to staff in order to enhance skills and teach new policies or practices. In addition, over half of all states mandate continuing education as part of the licensure process. In these states, renewing the license to practice (which typically happens every two years, although this may vary from one year to four) requires the completion of courses designed to maintain and advance clinical knowledge. These classes are offered in a wide variety of locations and cover a broad array of clinical topics. While many nurses elect to take classes in their field of practice, some take classes in new or previously unexplored areas as a way to learn about alternative career paths or consider new work settings.

In some workplaces, employers may offer to compensate employees the costs for taking mandatory continuing education classes, and in some cases this is offered as part of a comprehensive benefits package. In these cases, the courses may need to be approved in order to qualify for reimbursement, and the nurse will often be expected to share some of what was learned with other colleagues so that the practice as a whole will benefit from new information.

Can continuing education requirements for nurses be satisfied online?

Many nursing schools that offer continuing education programs offer courses online for the ease and convenience of the nurse looking to fulfill their continuing education requirement. These classes offer diverse subjects and can often be pursued at the participant's convenience. Some classes require that supplemental printed materials be purchased, some will make all materials available online. Most require the completion of a quiz in order to receive the educational units issued with the class. When taking online courses; however, it is important to research whether the state's continuing education requirements can be met with an online course. States typically place limits on the amount of continuing education units that can be taken as self-study, and some states may consider an online class to be self-study. In these cases, online courses might not be able to fulfill the entire continuing education requirement, but can nearly always be used for a portion of it.

Nursing Degrees

Why are so many nurses choosing to pursue more advanced nursing degrees?

Although a licensed practical or vocational nursing program can be finished quickly, many nurses find that they're interested in more complex medical issues, and more advanced practices. In addition, LPN/LVN's must practice under the general supervision of an RN. Many RN's also find that more challenging clinical cases, advanced practices and the autonomy associated with more advanced nursing degrees are of greater interest to them once they've had some experience in the field.

While LPN's and RN's have specific supervision and oversight requirements, clinical nurse specialists and nurse practitioners have more ability to make independent decisions and direct patient care. In many settings, nurse practitioners are supplementing the gap in physicians. A nurse practitioner can prescribe medications and order tests, as well as make a medical diagnosis. Nurse

What can a Master's in Nursing prepare me for?

Nurses who already have an RN or BSN can take the next step and get their MSN in order to become an Advanced Practice Nurse (APN). Almost all MSN programs are integrated with the APN certification process, and completion of the degree programs allows a nurse to take one of the national nursing certification exams to become licensed as an APN.

Some of the advanced practice areas associated with the MSN degree are:

  • Nurse Practitioner
  • Acute Care Nurse Practitioner
  • Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Certified Nurse Midwife
  • Neonatal or Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
  • Women's Health Practitioner
  • Adult/Gerontological Nurse Practitioner
  • Certified Nurse Anesthetist

Most programs that offer the MSN require that a candidate is already an RN, and in some cases may require that a BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) already be completed. Programs that do not require a candidate to have completed an RN or BSN typically require a certain number of prerequisites in the areas of anatomy, physiology and biology. All MSN programs require the candidate to have a high school diploma or equivalency. Some programs will require colleges that confer the RN or BSN be accredited by either the National League for Nursing Accreditation Commission (NLNAC) or the Commission for Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

People interested in the management aspect of nursing are also best served by pursuing a Master of Science in Nursing degree. Many employers will look to nurses with their MSN as the best candidate to fill positions as nursing directors, nursing administrators or chiefs of nursing staff. Nurses with advanced degrees will find that there are doors open in upper management as well, with vice-president of clinical services positions typically requiring master's level education. Nurses interested in master's degrees in order to purse administrative positions can choose advanced practice certifications in management and administration.

What are my options for earning advanced nursing degrees online?

In response to the growing demand for nurses, and the need for advanced practice nurses to help fill these nursing jobs so as to close the gap associated with a shortage in physicians, many programs are offering creative and flexible learning opportunities to allow the greatest possible access. Many MSN nursing programs are including online instruction/distance learning in their curriculum to help students who live considerable distances from the campus or who are working while they're completing an advanced course of nursing studies.

There are also accelerated MSN programs where a new-to-the field candidate who already has a bachelor's degree in another field can complete the course of study in three years, as opposed to the six years that is more typical. Like all accelerated courses of study, the schedules are very tightly packed and do not include holiday or summer breaks. Candidates are discouraged from maintaining outside employment due to the demanding nature of the program. Additionally there are online accelerated MSN programs, and like their BSN counterparts, the schedules are aggressively arranged, and not subject to self-pacing. The online programs seek to ensure that the quality of the graduate is no different than the graduate of a traditional campus-based department, so courses are challenging, and labs and clinical practicums are established with the same quality standards.

Accelerated Nursing Programs

What are my options for accelerated nursing programs?

For individuals who have already attained a bachelor's-level nursing degree in another area of study, there are opportunities to receive a Bachelor or Master of Science in Nursing at significantly faster rates than an individual without an existing degree.

Because of the current and anticipated shortage in nursing personnel, the US Department of Labor is projecting the need for one million new and replacement nurses by 2018. Many nursing schools are creatively identifying solutions to add to the workforce at a pace faster than is typical with traditional courses of study. In an effort to encourage people with existing bachelor's degrees to consider taking on another degree and becoming a second-career nurse, many nursing schools have developed accelerated

What are the common prerequisites for entering accelerated nursing programs?

Admission criteria are often strict with regard to GPA requirements and thorough background screenings. Candidates are often discouraged from working during these programs due to the intensity of the instruction. Programs may also have pre-requisites in the areas of biology, anatomy, physiology that must be completed before a student can be admitted.

These programs are limited to individuals who have attained a bachelor's-level nursing degree, and the schedules are challenging. The programs are typically scheduled year-round, and the same amount of information and clinical experience hours that a bachelor or masters degree student would learn in a traditional program is scheduled into a much more concentrated time frame. Labs and practicums are part of these accelerated programs as well.

How can accelerated nursing programs help to advance my career?

Accelerated programs report turning out high quality students, with a high percentage of them passing the NCLEX (the national nursing examination) on the first attempt. These students have also been shown to demonstrate an above average level of commitment to the programs and patient advocacy. The maturity that accompanies people in pursuit of their second degrees is often credited for the success of the students in these programs, and some institutions report that their second-degree nurses are in higher demand than their first-degree nurses because employers recognize the commitment that a second degree takes.

Additionally, there are accelerated programs available for individuals seeking to convert their existing nursing credentials into the next level of nursing practice. There are programs available for LPN/LVNs to convert their credentials to RN's, programs for RN's without a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) to acquire their degree, and programs for nurses with the BSN to convert to a Master of Science in Nursing. Many of these conversion programs are available online, with labs and practical field experiences coordinated through the student's local health care community. There are accelerated conversion programs available both through campus-based and online schools, and these allow practicing nurses to reach the next level in their nursing careers quickly and conveniently.

What are my options for online nursing programs?

While nearly all states have at least one accelerated program, it may be so far from a student's home that it becomes impractical. Second-degree students often have families or strong ties to their geographies that make relocating for school impossible. A distance-learning program offered through universities with online nursing departments might best serve these students. These programs provide most of the lecture portion of the instruction through online courses and web-based homework programs, and then coordinate labs and practical work within the student's home community. Online programs are a convenient way to complete an accelerated nursing program and receive an advanced degree for individuals who do not live close enough to make a campus-based program practical.

Online programs are as tightly scheduled as their campus-based counterparts, and are not typically self-paced. In order to maintain the timeline of the curriculum, web-based lectures and homework activities are scheduled with established completion dates, and like the campus-based programs, are scheduled year-round without lengthy holiday or summer breaks. This allows students participating in accelerated programs through online learning to complete the course of study in roughly the same time as candidates in accelerated programs at traditional nursing schools.

Nursing Certification

What are the standard certification requirements for nurses?

Nurses by definition are certified. The Licensed Practical Nurse and Registered Nurse designations are certifications that are granted after a student has completed a course of study at a Board approved program and passed the National Clinical License Examination (NCLEX). There are different examinations for LPNs and RNs. The designation Nurse Practitioner is also a certification given after completing an education, fulfilling practical requirements, and passing a national examination.

Additionally, all states require that nurses be licensed through their state's nursing board. This is in order to ensure that the nursing education received meets the state's standards, that candidates have taken and passed the national exam, and have me all other criteria including background checks, high school education requirements, etc. Fees are collected, and fingerprints may be

What are my options for pursuing additional specialized nursing certification?

In additional to the certifications that define the professional qualifications of a nurse, there are many additional certifications that can be acquired to demonstrate additional training, education or expertise in various clinical or administrative areas. These certifications can be used to advance clinical ability, open doors for promotions or positions in new clinical areas, or even provide the training and education necessary to move into nursing administration.

There are literally dozens of specialty certifications within the field of nursing, and there are certifications available at all levels of nursing practice, from LPN all the way to advanced practice nurses. In some cases the certification communicates expertise in certain clinical areas, and in some cases the certification expands the nurse's scope of practice. For instance, in many states, an LPN license does not include the ability to insert an IV. But in some of those states, an LPN can take supplemental courses, complete a clinical experience and pass an examination and be certified to site IVs. This is also true for LPNs or RNs to be qualified to provide certain treatments for wound care, management of ports or central lines, which allows access to deeper veins and arteries.

What are some of the specialty certifications available to nurses?

Certifications are issued by many different organizations, and the organization typically sets the requirements for receiving the certificate. Some require attending specific classes or completing an established clinical experience, some require taking tests. Some specialty certifications require renewal; others last for as long as the nurse maintains his or her license.

With some nursing jobs, specifically in advanced practice areas such as certified nurse midwife or certified nurse anesthetist, a certification is necessary to perform the job. These certifications are often incorporated into programs that offer Master of Science in Nursing degrees. But there are many other certifications that exist as a supplement to the traditional LPN and RN credentials that can be used as professional enhancements.

Some of the areas where clinical specialty certification is available include:

  • Cardiac management (nursing practice or rehabilitation)
  • Community Health/Public Health
  • Home Health
  • Gerontology
  • Pain Management
  • Pre/PeriNatal Nursing
  • Psychiatric Nursing (child/teen/adult)

Are there options for nursing certification in areas other than clinical practice?

Certifications also exist in areas of nursing beyond clinical practices. In addition to traditional delivery of nursing care, there are also many administrative tasks that are best performed by someone with a clinical background. Someone with a nursing background must complete certain types of assessments that need to be completed in hospitals, home health practices or skilled nursing facilities. Case managers that make decisions about what direction a patient's care should go also need to have clinical training. But many of these administrative activities are not included in a nurse's basic education, so certifications in various types of assessments, case management, health information handling or other administrative activities are also available. There are certifications available for advanced training in health informatics, nursing administration or becoming a nurse educator. These certifications communicate to hospitals and other hiring organizations that a nurse has taken the time not only to learn more advanced skills, but also to demonstrate their knowledge through testing. This shows a sustained commitment to professional development.

There are many online courses offered for certification through colleges and universities that offer nursing degrees. Online courses may include videos and tests, and sometimes pair a nurse up with a local volunteer opportunity or clinical program if hands-on experience is part of the certification process. This allows nurses an opportunity to further advance their skills and training without taking leaves from their job or assuming lengthy commutes to campuses or training facilities too far from home.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing - BSN

Both the American Nurses’ Association (ANA) and the American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN) have both recommended that the bachelor of science degree should be the minimum degree required to participate in the field of nursing.  This is largely due to the fact that the medical field continues to evolve as it attempts to improve patient care. The recommendations made by the ANA and AACN should help aspiring nurses understand why the Bachelor of Science in Nursing is essential to building their future careers.

One of the reasons the Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree comes so highly recommended is that the current demand for nursing professionals is growing. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, registered nurses make up the largest health care occupation by holding nearly 2.6 million jobs nationwide. The Bureau has projected that the demand for nursing positions will continue to grow by a minimum of 22% over the next 8 years, which could potentially create an additional 572,000 nursing careers nationwide.

In order to meet this growing need, the Bachelor of Science in Nursing includes a complex curriculum aimed at making students marketable upon graduation. While 48% of nurses traditionally work in physicians’ offices, this degree prepares students to pursue employment in a variety of health care facilities, including hospitals, home health organizations, and nursing care facilities.

Master of Science in Nursing - MSN

The Master of Science in Nursing degree is often up to help registered nurses take the next step in their careers. By completing this advanced degree program, you will be trained as an advanced practice clinical or administrative nurse.  By taking your nursing career to this level, you will be prepared to assess the health care needs of patients, analyze their laboratory findings, and develop the most effective plan of patient care.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that nursing careers will increase by at least 22% through the year 2018. One of the leading causes of this trend is the effect of cancer and heart disease. The National Cancer Institute estimates that during 2010 about 1,529,560 Americans will be diagnosed with cancer; and during 2006 about 26% of deaths in America were attributed to heart disease.

While statistics like these are unfortunate, they do illustrate an increased need for the nursing professionals who will help care for these patients.

Nursing Colleges

How do I select a nursing school?

Nursing programs can be found in many different types of institutions, from junior colleges or four-year universities, to private colleges, to hospital-based training centers. It is important to make sure that the state's board of nursing approves any nursing school that a student may be considering; all fifty states have this requirement. Because nursing is a licensed profession, states must approve a nursing program in order for candidates to be eligible for the national exam (the National Clinical License Examination, or NCLEX), and to ultimately be eligible for state licensure. Always check your State Board of Nursing's list of approved learning institutions before enrolling.

In addition, there are two national organizations that accredit nursing schools: The National League for Nursing Accreditation Commission (NLNAC) and the Commission for Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Being accredited by one of these organizations and being approved by a state's nursing board are not the same thing, and a program may be approved by the state

How long will nursing school take to complete?

The curricula offered in nursing programs are structured around the target degree: LPN/LVN curriculum is the briefest, and advanced degree programs such as an MSN program for nurse practitioners and advanced practice nurses will be much longer. In cases where a previous degree in nursing has already been earned (an LPN, for example) and the nurse is working to advance his or her RN education, accelerated coursework builds on previous education and is not repeated.

Average lengths of programs are:

LPN/LVN: 1-2 years
RN (associate's degree): 2 years
RN/BSN (Registered Nurse with a bachelor's degree): 4 years
MSN (Master of Science, Nursing): 5-6 years
NP (Nurse Practitioner): 7-8 years

What specific courses can I expect from nursing school?

Most nursing colleges require a high-school diploma or equivalency. College-level general education in English, math and some liberal arts studies are also part of the graduation requirement.

Coursework includes foundation courses in anatomy, physiology, introduction to pharmacology, nutrition, developmental and general psychology and microbiology. These provide the basic structure in understanding how the body and mind work, and are then built upon by more specific nursing courses.

Nursing courses often have broad titles like "Nursing Care Management" or "Foundations in Nursing Practice." These are the courses that teach the specifics of assessing health, analyzing vital signs, delivering medications, administering treatments, reporting findings, differentiating normal from abnormal, and making quality assessments.

Finally, some programs may include additional courses in computers, health information handling, or communication skills. Quality programs seek to turn out qualified, well-rounded health professionals, and supplemental courses that teach students new technologies or exceptional listening and teaching skills create more capable health care providers.

What are some additional courses included in advanced nursing degree programs?

In advanced nursing degree programs, courses build on the basic curriculum. More advanced anatomy and physiology may be studied for certain systems, deeper understandings of pharmacology may be necessary, and advanced nursing courses teach the essentials of more complex and more specialized treatments and procedures. Sitting an IV is not a procedure that an LPN or LVN is allowed to perform in some states; however, an RN is, so that procedure is an example of something that will be learned exclusively in the more advanced nurse training programs.

Courses in the more advanced curriculum will often include instruction in nursing management and leadership, research methods, health policy, community nursing and public health. These courses are designed to create a more independent practitioner and allow a nurse to understand the broadest implications of disease process and health management.

What can I expect from the lab and clinical components of nursing school?

Labs and clinical experience are part of all nursing programs. Labs are hands-on, group courses that typically accompany a lecture class. For example, human biology may have a lab associated with it. The class is the lecture, where a textbook is used and a teacher gives instruction. The lab is an environment where microscope work and dissection is done. Many nursing education programs have lab components.

Clinical rotations, practical experiences, or "practicums," are also part of all nursing curriculums. A practicum is a hands-on, real-world training experience where a nursing student is paired with a licensed nurse to learn the dynamics and treatment demands of various work environments. This is where nursing students are tasked with putting their own hands and brains to work with the information they've been learning from their classes and labs. The practical experiences are typically broken into several classes worth of activity and take place in multiple clinical settings.

Nurse Salaries

What are the salary expectations for nurses?

There are a number of factors that influence the actual salary a registered nurse (RN) can expect. Different professional levels of nursing have different income brackets. Additional factors also determine where in each income bracket a particular nurse will land. However, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the mean annual wage for registered nurses in the U.S. was $69,790 as of May 2014. It is important to note that this was significantly higher than the mean annual wage of $47,230 for all occupations combined in the U.S., according to the BLS, showing just how lucrative this career could be.

The states with the highest mean annual wages for registered nurses, as of May 2014 BLS data, were the following:

  • California: $98,400
  • Hawaii: $88,230
  • Massachusetts: $85,770
  • Alaska: $85,740
  • Oregon: $82,940

Many other factors, such as time on the job, experience and specific credentials, come into play. As a result, pay varies significantly. The BLS reports that the median wages for those earning the lowest 10 percent is $45,880 while the median wages for those earning the upper 10 percent is $98,800 as of May 2014.

Registered nurse education

RN status can be attained through either an associate's degree program or a Bachelor of Science in nursing. RNs with their bachelor's degree typically will be able to negotiate higher salaries than those with an associate's level degree. RNs are able to provide more types of care and perform more procedures than a licensed vocational nurse (LVN) or licensed practical nurse (LPN), and they do not need to work directly under the supervision of a more senior nurse although in hospitals all treatments happen at the direction of the attending physician. RNs cannot prescribe medication, and diagnosing conditions or making complex assessments is deferred to an advanced practice nurse or a doctor.

Is there room for advancement as a registered nurse?

Nurses can distinguish themselves through experience and time on the job, but seeking certification can be another way to become more competitive. In fact, the BLS reports that professional associations offer RN certification in fields as varied as ambulatory care, gerontology, pediatric and more. This certification can demonstrate that RNs have received specialized skills in a specific area or have spent some time in the field.

As mentioned earlier, another consideration for pay is experience. Medical care is complex, and treatments and procedures change quickly. Even the best nursing programs across the U.S. are looking for ways to expand the amount of students they can train. This is in response to both growing interest from students and financial incentives from the government to encourage increased enrollment in these high-need areas. This means that a student who successfully completes a nursing program might be confident of employment in the industry for a long period of time. Also, salaries that are supported by high demand tend to be secure and increase over time.

Request Information from Nursing Colleges

The nursing degree program you need in order to get your career started is listed below among many nurse schools, colleges, and universities. This page was designed to provide you a resource to find what you need quickly and efficiently. Request information from several nursing schools, colleges, and universities below in order to find the right program for you.

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  1. May 2014 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates United States, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2014. http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm
  2. Nurse Practitioners, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2014. http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291171.htm
  3. Registered Nurses, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Jan. 8 2014. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm#tab-6
  4. Registered Nurses, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2014. http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291141.htm

Nursing Schools