Be a Nurse: Salary and Career Facts

Find out about the types of jobs you could pursue in nursing. Read on to learn more about career options along with education, salary and licensure information. Schools offering Nursing degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Nurse?

A nurse is a medical professional who provides personal and medical care to patients. Their duties can vary widely, from repositioning patients, helping them exercise, checking IVs or other medical equipment that may be part of the patient's care to performing diagnostic tests, diagnosing patients, developing a patient treatment plan and giving the patient medication. The specific duties that a nurse performs will depend on whether they're a licensed practical nurse (LPN), nurse practitioner (NP), or registered nurse (RN). NPs require a master's degree and are highly educated professionals who may perform some tasks that people normally associate with doctors, such as performing medical tests and diagnosing patients. Over 2,700,000 nurses are employed as registered nurse, which is the largest of these three categories of nurses. To be a registered nurse often requires an associate's or bachelor's degree. RNs give patients medication, update patient charts, help develop treatment plans for patients and assist with medical tests. LPNs provide more basic patient care and do not need a degree. An LPN may have a certificate or diploma.

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)Registered Nurse (RN)Nurse Practitioner (NP)
Degree Required Certificate or diploma Diploma, associate's degree or bachelor's degree Master's degree or doctoral degree
Education Field of Study Licensed practical nurse Registered nurse Nurse practitioner
Key Responsibilities Monitor patient status and vital signs; change dressings and perform other patient care; see to patient's comfort and needs; maintain patient records Administer medication and treatment; assist physician with examination and treatment; operate medical equipment and monitor patient status; advise patient and family about caring for patient health issues Examine patients and make diagnoses; order diagnostic testing and analyze results; prescribe medication and treatment; assist physician with examination and treatment
Licensure and/or Certification LPN licensure is required in all states; professional certification is available RN licensure is required in all states; professional certification in nursing specialties is available RN licensure is required in all states; professional certification in nurse practitioner specialties is available
Job Growth (2014-2024) 16%* 16%* 35%*
Median Salary (2015) $43,170* $67,490* $98,190*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Education Do I Need to Become a Nurse?

Licensed practical nurse certificate programs are offered through a number of colleges and community colleges. Once you have completed an LPN program, you are ready to earn licensure and consider moving on to a registered nurse associate's degree program.

Many associate's degree programs are specifically designed for LPNs who wish to become RNs, and they may be labeled as LPN-to-RN bridge programs, or something similar. At the baccalaureate level, you may be able to specialize in a certain area of nursing, such as emergency, pediatric or clinical nursing.

All undergraduate nursing programs focus on chemistry, biology, anatomy, psychology, microbiology, medical ethics and health assessment. Most colleges also impart hands-on experience by requiring internships at a local or university hospital. These practical sessions teach you bedside manner for working with those who are ill, injured or emotionally unstable.

Many colleges offer RN-to-BSN programs. These programs allow registered nurses to pursue their bachelor's degree. Once you are a BSN, you'll be able to take on more responsibilities, advance to a management position in nursing or work towards a master's degree. Because many of you will already be working RNs, you'll likely be able to find distance-learning training.

Nurse practitioners are advanced practice nurses who have obtained a master's or doctoral degree, generally after several years of experience as an RN. NPs may focus their experience and education in a medical specialty such as geriatrics, women's health or family health.

Will I Need Licensure?

All 50 states require nurses to be licensed by their state board of licensing. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) oversees the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) for prospective nurses. This exam is accepted as a licensing exam throughout the U.S.

What Will My Daily Tasks Be?

Some tasks may include advising patients of proper nutrition or counseling for a specific disease. You will also record patients' information into their medical charts.

When working in a hospital you may administer medication, take blood or specimens, start and maintain IVs, observe the patients, administer shots, perform screenings or speak with physicians on behalf of patients. Nurses check vitals and administer prepare patients for procedures.

Different nursing levels are given additional responsibilities. A BSN may supervise a number of LPNs or RNs. As a BSN, you may be required to schedule nurses and handle any work discrepancies. With the appropriate specialty area training, you can use your BSN to get a job in emergency rooms, operating rooms, intensive care units and psychiatric wards, among other settings. An NP provides advanced nursing care in many specialized hospital or clinic settings. As an NP, you may perform many of the same duties as a primary care physician such as examining patients, making diagnoses and prescribing medication.

What Salaries Are Available?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in May 2015 that LPNs make a median annual salary of $43,170. RNs earned a median of $67,490 at that time, and the median annual salary for NPS was $98,190. RNs with the BSN credential wages may be in the upper salary range, with wages varying depending on the area of nursing in which they work.

In May 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the five states with the highest concentration of registered nursing positions were South Dakota, West Virginia, Rhode Island, Mississippi and Massachusetts. RNs in California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Alaska and Oregon earned higher salaries than those in other states (www.bls.gov).

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Physician assistants perform many tasks that are similar to the duties of a nurse practitioner. They also need a master's degree. Physician assistants may perform medical tests, diagnose patients, prescribe treatment, and assist physicians with surgeries or other tasks. Diagnostic medical sonographers and cardiovascular technologists and technicians, including vascular technologists, are responsible for using medical equipment to conduct tests or create internal images of patients. They need an associate's degree. Like registered nurses, they are trained to interact with patients, explain the procedure, and administer specific medical tests. The work an LPN does is similar to the work of a nursing assistant. Nursing assistants normally complete a short certificate program, and they work under the supervision of RNs and provide personal care to patients.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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