Career Information for a Degree or Certification in Nursing

Sep 28, 2019

Licensed vocational nurses (LVN) and licensed practical nurses (LPN) typically pursue a one-year postsecondary program in nursing before taking their licensing exam. Registered nurses (RN) normally complete an associate's or bachelor's degree in nursing before taking their state exam to be a licensed registered nurse. Some RNs take their master's degree or graduate certificates to specialize in a specific field of medicine or become an advanced practice nurse (APN).

Essential Information

All levels of nurses must be licensed by the state in which they work. To become a nurse, candidates must complete a nursing diploma, associate's degree or bachelor's degree program. Graduates may begin working for hospitals and other healthcare facilities. They may also gain experience, complete additional education or seek their credentials from a nationally recognized organization to become specialized in a field.

Career Nursing Professionals
Education Requirements Licensing programs for entry-level
Other Requirements Associate's, bachelor's or master's degrees for advanced levels
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 12% (for all registered nurses)
Median Salary (2018)* $71,730 (for all registered nurses )

Source: * U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Career Options

Having a nursing degree qualifies the healthcare professional to start working in an entry-level capacity such as a licensed practical nurse or within an advanced tier like a registered nurse or even an advanced practice nurse.

Licensed Vocational Nurse

Licensed vocational nurses or licensed practical nurses, commonly referred to as LVNs or LPNs, are the most basic entry-level nursing career available. Aspiring LVNs may look to community colleges, vocational schools, hospitals and 4-year universities for training programs, which can generally be completed within a year. Prior to entering the field, students must complete state licensing requirements, which generally includes passing the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX-PN. Vocational or practical nurses provide general healthcare to patients, under the supervision of registered nurses and doctors.

Registered Nurse

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), registered nurses (RNs) are the most common type of nurse and have generally completed a 2-4 year educational program, such as an associate's or bachelor's degree in nursing. Students typically take classes on anatomy and nursing skills, in addition to gaining clinical experience within a healthcare setting. Like LVNs, RNs must be licensed by their state. Licensure requirements vary, but commonly include completing an accredited training program and successfully completing the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX-RN.

RNs can work in a wide variety of healthcare specialties, such as palliative, emergency and long-term care. These professionals may monitor the health of patients, implement treatment plans and administer medications. They may also move into administrative or managerial positions. RNs may also seek certification by nationally recognized organizations, such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center, to become specialized in a field like gerontology.

Advanced Practice Nurse

Advanced practice nurses, such as nurse practitioners and nurse midwives, may provide primary care to patients without the approval or supervision of a physician. To enter on one of these careers, candidates typically must be an RN and earn a Master of Science in Nursing. Advanced practice nurses may also complete certifications in subspecialties like family or pediatric nurse practitioner.

Job Outlook

The BLS predicted that job opportunities for LVNs were expected to increase by 11% between 2018 and 2028. The bureau also reported that openings for RNs, including advanced practice nurses, were anticipated to rise by 12% in the same time frame.

The BLS reports that there were over 3 million registered nurse jobs in the U.S. in 2018, and of those, 30.62% of them were employed in general medical and surgical hospitals.

In rural areas, inner-city neighborhoods and other locations where medical care may be less accessible, job opportunities will be best. Nurses who have at least a bachelor's degree should find the most job opportunities available to them.

It is possible to begin a nursing career with one year of postsecondary training and a nursing license. RNs normally have a degree in nursing and their registered nursing license. They can pursue advanced training and degrees to specialize or become an advanced practice nurse.

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