Nursing Careers

Learn what careers are available in nursing & explore job, salary, & career outlook information. See what skills and background are needed to pursue your dream career.

Is Nursing a Good Career?

The nursing field encompasses a variety of careers centered around patient care and medical health, many of which offer excellent compensation. Additionally, many employment opportunities in nursing are expected to increase, often significantly outpacing average job growth across all industries. While a career in nursing can be demanding due to stressful patient situations and long hours, the job offers benefits including:

  • Flexible hours. Nurses can build schedules to suit their needs.
  • Team collaboration. Nurses work with other nurses and doctors to ensure patient health and safety.
  • Job security. Demand for nurses is increasing.
  • Career advancement. With more experience and supplemental education, nurses can qualify for leadership roles or specialized nursing careers.
  • Continuous learning. Nurses are expected to keep up with advancements in medical science and often learn new procedures and techniques on the job.

If you are interested in helping patients with their health but don't want to become a nurse, or if you're someone who wants to transition away from a nursing position you currently hold, you may want to consider some alternative careers for nurses, such as physician assistant or health educator.

Nursing Job Requirements

There are several education and licensure requirements that you need to fulfill in order to be a candidate for nursing positions, and nurse requirements will vary depending on whether you hope to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or a registered nurse (RN).

LPNs generally work under the guidance of RNs. To become an LPN, you need to:

  • Complete a post-secondary nurse training program.
  • Earn a state license by taking the NCLEX-PN, a National Council Licensure examination given by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCBSN), required for all practical nurses.

To become an RN, you need to:

  • Complete an associate or bachelor's degree in nursing.
  • Earn a state license by taking the NCLEX-RN, also given by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.

Further specialization or advanced practice nursing will require work experience, more education, or further certification. In general, all nurses must complete a nursing program or degree, obtain state licensure, and complete a national certification exam from the NCBSN.

Types of Nursing Jobs

Within the nursing industry, there is a wide variety of career paths and career specializations. Working as a nurse, you may choose to concentrate on a specific health issue, such as diabetes or HIV, work with specific types of patients, as a neonatal care nurse or geriatric nurse might, or choose to work in special situations, like a travel nurse or a transport nurse might. Choosing the best career path for you may depend on the types of patients you would like to work with, the types of environment you would be in, and the costs and lengths of time required for necessary education as compared to the eventual earnings potential.

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

Certified nursing assistants work to complete routine medical duties, such as recording patient vitals and bathing and dressing patients. They often work under the guidance of another health professional, such as a doctor or registered nurse, and often report patient concerns to these specialists. This is considered an entry-level nursing position and as such, most states only require a certificate program, training program, or competency exam, rather than a post-secondary degree and licensure.

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

Licensed practical nurses, also known in some states as licensed vocational nurses, are responsible for basic patient care, including monitoring patient health, recording vital signs, and assuring patient cleanliness. LPNs need to complete a vocational training program, licensure, and certification, but do not need a formal postsecondary degree. Some LPNs eventually pursue further education to become RNs.

Registered Nurse (RN)

Registered nurses need to complete a postsecondary nursing program or diploma program and RNs are primarily focused on quality of patient care. They need to have exceptional bedside manner and often prepare patients for medical procedures, administer medication and intravenous drips, conduct examinations, and educate patients on health issues. Registered nurses work closely with care teams, families, and doctors to ensure patient health.

Nurse Practitioner (NP)

Nurse practitioners are advanced practice nurses who take care of patients in hospitals and other healthcare facilities. They need to complete a master's degree program and often choose a specialty to focus on, such as pediatrics, acute care, or mental health. Day-to-day, nurse practitioners work to perform diagnostic examinations, provide medical treatment, and sometimes prescribe medication.

Travel Nurse

A traveling nurse performs typical nursing duties including dispensing medication, administering medical treatment, and performing basic diagnostic tests, in a variety of hospital and clinic settings. Often, traveling nurses will travel to a location for several months in order to fill nurse shortages in those areas. Travel expenses and housing are typically paid for by an employer. Most traveling nurses are licensed practical nurses or registered nurses who do not have graduate-level nursing degrees.

Nurse Educator

Nurse educators typically have both medical and instructional roles. Many nurse educators will continue working as patient care facilitators in medical settings while teaching future nurses in schools and colleges of nursing. Nurse educators are involved in both curriculum instruction as well as hands-on teaching. Most nurse educators will have at least a master's degree in nursing in addition to professional nursing experience.

Highest Paying Nursing Jobs

While many nurse careers have competitive pay, some of the most highly paid nursing careers typically require advanced education in addition to basic licensing and certification.

Nursing Career Requirements Job Outlook (2016-2026) Median Salary*
Nurse Anesthetists
  • Master's degree
  • State licensure
  • National certification
  • Nursing experience
31% $169,450
Nurse Practitioner
  • Master's degree
  • State licensure
  • National certification
31% $103,880
Nurse Midwives
  • Master's or doctorate degree
  • State licensure
  • National certification,
  • Midwifery experience
31% $100,590
Postsecondary Nursing Instructors/Teachers
  • Bachelor's or master's degree
  • State license
  • National certification
  • Nursing experience
15% (postsecondary teachers) $71,260
Registered Nurses (RNs)
  • Bachelor's degree
  • State licensure
  • National certification
15% growth $70,000
* U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics - 2017

Additional Nursing Careers:

If you're still unsure about what nursing career you'd like to pursue, feel assured knowing that there are plenty of nursing specializations to discover.