Your career is more than your job. It is a long-term journey of personal and professional fulfillment by pursuing a passion, continuous learning, and social impact. Whether as a software developer, financial manager, or lawyer. Even as a nurse. In fact, as per a U.S. News survey, a nursing career is ranked among the top of jobs! Plus, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimated a 6% job growth in the nursing profession by 2031. And the fact that you have landed here, your interest in a career as a nurse is clear.
In this guide, we will take you through the facts, figures, and fundamentals of taking the first step of a nursing career. What nurses do, why to choose a nursing career, the common and uncommon career paths, the highest-paid nursing jobs, and more. To paint a complete picture, we’ll also highlight the challenges of a nursing career and how to deal with them.
But before we help you start your nursing career journey, let’s first define nursing itself.
What is nursing?
Nursing is a dynamic healthcare profession that involves providing care support, consultation, and promoting mental well-being to patients in various settings. A nursing job is not limited to just hospitals or nursing homes, they can work at schools, corporates, NGOs, and other places as well where they require medical assistance. In addition, a career in nursing can also extend to policy development, research, advocacy, and education in the healthcare domain.
To fit in all these roles, nurses need to have not just medical knowledge and technical proficiency but also be excellent communicators, team players and have empathy.
Sounds interesting? It is.
Below we look at more reasons why you should consider a career in nursing.
Why choose a nursing career?
As mentioned earlier, one can seek a job merely for financial reasons, but a career is instead nurtured over a long period as it has a profound impact on various aspects of your life, your loved ones, and the future. So, what does a career in nursing has to offer you?
Let’s get one thing clear first — the average salary of an NP in the US is more than twice the average salary of US employees across all industries. What’s more:
Abundant nursing programs
Nurse practitioner programs, RN programs, etc., are widely available both online and offline. Further, ample scholarship opportunities for nursing students make obtaining a nursing degree easy and entering the healthcare workforce.
Rapid entry into workforce
Nurses can start working soon after obtaining their degree, enabling them to enter the healthcare workforce quickly and begin making a difference. Moreover, pursuing a Bachelor’s degree while working as a nurse allows for making money while obtaining an advanced degree.
The healthcare industry is anyways known for job security and long-term growth potential. In the coming years, nurse demand is going to rise even further because the baby boomer generation will reach age 65 by 2030; meaning a significant increase in older patients.
Exciting and respected job
A nurse’s job description is vast, and day-to-day activities can vary significantly basis patients, locations, treatment, etc. It’s seldom dull. As per a Gallup survey, from 1999 to 2020, Americans ranked nurses as the most ethical and honest professionals. That says volumes about their respect in the community.
Transferable career skills
Nurses develop a range of valuable skills throughout their careers, including critical thinking, communication, and leadership, which can be applied to various roles within and beyond healthcare. Staying calm under pressure and being quick on your feet helps in all professions.
Nurses play a significant role beyond just carrying out medical procedures. As a nurse, you have the ability to make a real positive impact on someone’s life in a meaningful way. Even save some. Any accolade can fall short before that.
Steps to start a nursing career
If you are starting out as a nurse, know that this profession is not one of those that you can just wing and learn on the fly. You must have a relevant degree, training, and license before getting started and then go ahead carving your career in the field. Let’s look at them step-by-step:
Step 1: Earn a degree
The first step to becoming a nurse is obtaining a nursing degree. There are several options available, including an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), an Accelerated Nursing Program, or a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN).
Each program has its own requirements and advantages, but all of them provide the necessary education and training to become a registered nurse.
Step 2: Obtain a license
After completing the nursing program, the next step is to obtain a license. This requires passing an exam, such as the Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN), or National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN).
The requirements for licensure in each state vary. So, it is important to research and understand the specific requirements of the state in which you plan to practice.
Step 3: Obtain employment
There are many different settings in which nurses can work, including hospitals, clinics, long-term care facilities, schools, and home health agencies. Consider your personal preferences, responsibilities and, of course, career goals to make the right decision.
Step 4: Pursue specialty or additional degrees
After gaining experience as a nurse, many of the nurses decide specialize in a specific area of their interest. Some popular specialties include pediatrics, oncology, critical care, and emergency nursing. You can also make significant progress in nursing careers by pursuing additional training and education like a Master of Science in Nursing or Doctor of Nursing Practice, or becoming certified in a specialty area.
Choose a specialty or training that can provide opportunities for career advancement, higher salaries, and more specialized job roles.
Reading these steps, it’s clear that the rewards in a nursing career come from long-term commitment. If you are convinced that nursing feasible and exciting career for you, let’s look at what are the typical career paths for nurses in the U.S.
Nursing career paths
To begin a nursing career, it’s important to remember that everyone has to start somewhere. While some career paths may require lengthy education, there are also options to enter the workforce while studying.
Below we look at some of the most popular and promising nursing career paths.
Entry-level nursing careers
An entry-level nurse is a newly licensed nurse with up to 12 months of experience. They have the primary credential, skills, and understanding necessary to provide safe and effective nursing care.
Typically, these nurses are assigned to perform basic bedside care under the supervision of a physician or a registered nurse. They can be employed as:
Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)
CNAs provide basic patient care under the supervision of a registered nurse or licensed practical nurse. They help with activities of daily living such as bathing, dressing, and feeding patients and may also measure vital signs and collect specimens.A CNA’s eligibility requirements include a high school diploma or GED, completion of a state-approved nursing assistant training program, and passing a competency exam.
The annual median wage of CNAs is $43,080 .
Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
LPNs provide basic nursing care, such as administering medication and monitoring patient health. They may also assist with wound care and catheterization.
To qualify as an LPN, you need to complete an accredited nursing program and pass the NCLEX-PN.
In California, LPN annual mean wage is the highest in the US viz. $65,140 .
Registered Nurse (RN)
RNs provide and coordinate patient care, including administering medication, managing patient care plans, and educating patients and their families about health conditions and treatments. Registered Nurse careers can be furthered with specialties like pediatrics, critical care, or emergency nursing.
Like LPN, to become an RN, too, you need to complete an accredited nursing program and pass NCLEX-RN.
RNs can make an annual average of $124,000.
Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) careers
Certified Nurse Practitioner (CNP)
CNPs are APRNs who provide primary and specialty healthcare services to patients of all ages. They can diagnose, treat, and manage acute and chronic illnesses, prescribe medications, and order and interpret diagnostic tests in coordination with physicians and other healthcare professionals.
CNPs are required to hold a master’s or doctoral degree in nursing, be licensed as an RN, and have national certification as CNP.
The average annual salary of a beginner CNP is $108,835.
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)
CRNAs administer anesthesia and related care before, during, and after surgical, diagnostic, and therapeutic procedures. They work with anesthesiologists and surgeons to provide patients with safe and effective anesthesia care.
To be a CRNA, you have to hold a master’s or doctoral degree in nurse anesthesia, be licensed as an RN, and have national certification as a CRNA.
CRNAs can make an average of $185,126 yearly.
Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM)
Similar to CRNAs, CNMs have a specified role of providing comprehensive healthcare services to women across their lifespans, including gynecologic and obstetric care, family planning, and primary care.
CNM must hold a master’s or doctoral degree in nursing, be licensed as an RN, and have national certification as a CNM.
A Certified Nurse Midwife makes an average of $109,841 a year.
Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)
These APRNs specialize in providing advanced direct patient care, consultation, and education to patients, families, and other healthcare professionals. They also participate in research and quality improvement projects.
The requirements for becoming a CNS are to hold a master’s or doctoral degree in nursing, be licensed as an RN, and have national certification as a CNS.
Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)
As the name suggests, PMHNPs specializes in the treatment of patients with psychiatric and mental health disorders. They provide diagnostic assessments, psychotherapy, medication management, and crisis intervention services to individuals, families, and communities.
PMHNP, too, need to hold a master’s or doctoral degree in nursing, be licensed as an RN, and then get a national certification as a PMHNP.
At $131,500 annual average salary, PMHNP roles tends to offer the highest APRN salaries.
Registered Nurse (RN) Specializations nursing career
Registered Nurse careers typically involve getting some kind of specialization.
Cardiac Rehabilitation Nurse
Cardiac rehab nurses help patients who have heart conditions or have recently undergone cardiac surgery by developing and implementing exercise and lifestyle plans.
The salary range for a Cardiac Rehab Nurse job is from $40,703 to $55,595 per year.
Infection Control Nurse
Infection control nurses are responsible for preventing and controlling the spread of infectious diseases by developing, implementing, and advocating infection prevention protocols.
The average annual salary for Infection Control Nurses is $73,920.
Ophthalmic nurses work in eye care settings, assisting ophthalmologists and optometrists with eye exams, assessments, and surgeries.
Ophthalmic Nurse in the US generally makes $61,998 to $90,540 per year.
Reconstructive Surgery Nurse
The work of a Reconstructive Surgery Nurse involves assessing needs, developing care plans, and providing pre and post-operative care to those going reconstructive surgeries due to injury or illness. They are also referred to as Plastic Surgery Nurses.
These nurses make $84228 a year on average per year.
Travel nurses work on a temporary basis in various healthcare settings to provide care to patients in need. They typically work with staffing agencies to secure short-term assignments and can work in a variety of specialties.
Depending on your trips, and specific project, a traveling nurse can make around $88,320 annually.
Alternative nursing careers
How much ever promising a career is going, life happens, and you may need to adjust. Once you become a nurse, you may find it difficult to cope with its physical, mental, and emotional demands. And – as a nurse you’d also learn – it’s perfectly fine to priortize yourself. Thankfully a nurse career is not limited to just working bedside. In fact, the paths in registered nurse careers diverge greatly depending upon their specialty.
A career in nursing equips you with such hard and soft skills that help you transition to various other careers seamlessly.
Academic nurse writer
With your understanding of the tech and techniques of nursing, you can write academic papers or publications.
Your daily activities would include researching, writing, editing, and reviewing articles, books, or papers related to nursing.
Legal nurse consultant
With a nursing degree, you are also eligible to provide expertise on healthcare and medical-related legal issues. You will review medical records, prepare reports, provide expert testimony, and work with attorneys.
Pharmaceutical sales representative
If you have excellent people skills, pharm sales reps jobs are great for those with nurses credentials. Your work would include meeting with physicians, presenting product information, attending conferences, and keeping up-to-date with medical developments.
A nurse educator teaches nursing students, patients, and other healthcare professionals. Much like a typical teacher (who’d specialize in nursing), you’d be developing and delivering courses, creating educational materials, assessing student progress, and mentoring them.
Nurse health coach
As a nurse, you can also get hired by individuals who need help with achieving health goals. Your daily activities would include assessing client needs, creating health plans, providing education, monitoring progress, and offering emotional support.
You an becomes a professional who recruits healthcare workers for healthcare organizations. Your activities would include posting job openings, screening resumes, interviewing candidates, checking references, negotiating job offers, and maintaining relationships with healthcare professionals.
Decide if a nursing career is right for you
A nursing career is as much rewarding as it is challenging. It requires a strong commitment to patient care, ongoing learning, and patience with people. It may sound overwhelming when you are starting your nursing career, but all fall into place when you take on the journey of making informed decisions.
If you have made up your mind to work your way towards it, depending on your career stage, you might want to explore the best nurse jobs near you or across the US right away.
What is the best nursing career?
The best nursing career depends on individual preferences, skill sets, and interests. In-demand specialties include ICU, OR, and emergency nursing, with critical care nurses earning higher salaries.
What are the easiest nursing job specialties?
The easiest nursing job specialties vary for individuals, but if you are looking for work-life balance, experts recommend going with long-term care, school nursing, public health nursing, etc.
Can you be a nurse without a degree?
No, a degree is a must for most healthcare careers, including nursing. But, you can become an LPN with just a vocational school diploma.
Which nursing career pays the most?
Primary care nurse practitioner, Urgent care nurse practitioner, and Oncology nurse practitioner are some of the highest-paying jobs in nursing career.
What is the fastest time to become a nurse?
You can take an accelerated nursing program, which allows individuals with a bachelor’s degree in any field to earn a nursing degree in as little as 12-18 months.
What is the progression of a nurse?
The progression of a nurse typically begins as a new graduate nurse, progresses to a staff nurse, and may continue to roles such as charge nurse, nurse manager, or advanced practice nurse with additional education and experience. Once you are out of the nursing program, your growth in the nursing career depends on your technical and interpersonal skills.