Nurse: Career and Salary Facts

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

What Does a Nurse Do?

Licensed practical nurses (LPN), registered nurses (RN) and nurse practitioners (NP) provide different levels of nursing care, and have varied responsibilities and education requirements. LPNs provide patients with basic medical care and comfort in hospitals and related facilities. They must keep record of how patients are doing and report to registered nurses or doctors. RNs record the medical history and symptoms of a patient as well as set up a plan of care for them. These nurses work closely with other medical professionals, perform tests and analyze results. RNs have the opportunity to work within a specialized area of practice, such as oncology or gerontology. NPs diagnose and treat acute medical issues, prescribe medications and ensure patients are instructed on how to manage their illnesses.

The following chart gives you an overview about each nursing career.

Licensed Practical NurseRegistered NurseNurse Practitioner
Degree Required Post-secondary certificate or diploma Associate's or bachelor's degree Master's or doctoral degree
Education Field of Study Nursing Nursing Nursing
Key Responsibilities Observe patients and report status; ensure patient comfort; take vital signs and enter information in patient records Administer medication; assist doctor with examination and treatment; use and monitor medical equipment; perform diagnostic testing Examine and diagnose patients; prescribe and administer medication and treatment; order diagnostic testing and analyze results
Licensure and/or Certification LPN licensure is required; professional certification is available RN licensure is required; board certification in nursing sub-specialties is available NP licensure is often required; board certification 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 Would I Do Each Day as a Nurse?

Nurses are often the first health care staff whom patients see when they are sick or hurt. Helping patients on a daily basis in a hospital or doctor's office may involve giving injections, drawing blood for laboratory tests or performing CPR on a critical patient. Each patient you see will have unique needs so even though you may perform a certain task multiple times throughout the day, you will need to consider each patient before you can know what medical treatment to use.

Nursing is a very versatile career because of the many specialties you can focus on, such as specific groups of patients or a certain health need. You can work in schools, nursing homes, operating rooms or patients' homes. You could focus on pediatric nursing, school nursing, surgical nursing and more.

After gaining some experience, you may also find opportunities with greater independence or in management. As an advanced practice nurse or nurse practitioner, you offer primary care to patients. With even more experience and education, you could pursue research or leadership opportunities.

How Much Could I Earn?

The salary you earn as a nurse could vary depending on the work setting you choose, your specialty and your level of education. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that LPNs earned an annual median salary of $43,170 in 2015. RNs earned $67,490 and NPs earned $98,190.

How Do I Become a Nurse?

All nursing programs require you to first earn a high school diploma. You also need licensure from the state you want to work in, so you will need to complete a nursing program and pass the NCLEX-RN national exam. To find a training program that is right for you, consider the benefits of the three nursing professions available and their educational paths.

A licensed practical nurse program takes a year to complete and is often offered by a community college. There are 3 paths that lead to an RN license: a diploma, associate's degree in nursing (ADN) and bachelor's degree in nursing (BSN). The programs range from 2-4 years and offer varied advancement opportunities. If you are considering changing careers to become a nurse and already have a bachelor's degree, you could enroll in an accelerated program. If you are interested in enrolling in a master's or doctoral degree program to become a nurse practitioner, you will need to complete a BSN and first become an RN.

Keep in mind that your future options are best if you attend a program accredited by the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Also, remember that some states may have additional requirements to obtain a license, so check with your state board or nursing.

What Should I Consider Before Beginning?

Nursing can be a rewarding career, allowing you to have a direct impact helping people maintain health lives. You also have opportunities to learn new skills and grow within your field. The profession offers a certain amount of security, as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expected employment for LPNs to grow by 16% between 2014-2024. The growth for RNs is expected to be 16%, and 35% for NPs during the same time frame. You should also understand the physical requirements of the type of nursing you are interested in, which may require you to lift patients or be exposed to biological hazards.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

The medical field has many alternative career options if nursing isn't for you. Some related career options include working as an occupational therapy assistant, a physical therapist assistant or a physician assistant. Occupational therapy assistants typically need an associate's degree. Through stretches and other physical exercises, they help patients develop and recover essential life skills. A physical therapist assistant helps patients recover from injuries. This occupation requires an associate's degree. Prospective graduate students may look into a physician assistant master's degree. Physician assistants work with other healthcare professionals to examine patients, diagnose illnesses and provide treatment.

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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