So You Want to Be a Nurse? Understanding Nursing Degree and Career Options

In addition to growth, the nursing profession offers the chance to work in a variety of locations and jobs

By Mary Patrick
Posted 2013

Understanding Nursing Education and Career Options
Understanding Nursing Education and Career Options

The nursing profession already employs 2.7 million people, according to the federal government, and another 711,000-plus will have taken jobs in the occupation between 2010 and 2020.

In addition to nursing’s growth potential, the profession offers a variety of jobs for students looking to get into healthcare. A person can find a job suitable to whatever educational level they wish to attain and salary they hope to earn.

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The following are some of the careers within the nursing profession, as well as the typical education requirements and salary estimates from the federal government.

Nurse Aide

Nurse aides – sometimes called orderlies – are tasked with providing basic care to patients, most often in hospitals or nursing homes. For example, they typically help patients dress, take baths and also use the toilet.  They also may transfer patients from beds to wheelchairs and vice versa.

Becoming a nurse aide typically requires certification. They made a median salary of $24,000 in May 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), with the top 10% earning more than $34,000.

Vocational Nurse

A vocational nurse – typical called a LPN –works under the supervision of registered nurses, providing basic care to patients. They typically work in hospitals, although they also are employed by larger clinics and nursing homes.

Becoming a LPN requires completing a program that usually takes about one year and is offered through a community college or technical college. LPNs made a median annual wage of $40,380 in 2010, according to the BLS, with the top 10% earning more than $56,000.

Registered Nurse

This is where many in the nursing profession work. A registered nurse deals directly with patients and their families, providing basic care under the supervision of a doctor. They not only educate patients and families on medical conditions, but also provide emotional support.

Becoming a registered nurse requires at least an associate’s degree, although most move on to seek a bachelor’s degree. Depending on education level, jobs can range from providing care in a pediatrics ward to assisting doctors during operations.

Pay for registered nurses can vary depending on the exact nature of the job. Those who work in private hospitals made the highest median wage in May 2010, according to the BLS, at $66,650. Overall, the median pay for all nurses was more than $64,000, according to the BLS, with the top 10% making more than $95,000.

Certified Nurse Practitioner

Some RNs decide to move on with their education, becoming trained in a specific area such as pediatrics or family practice. As experts in their area, they are qualified for some of the top jobs in the profession.

In the case of pediatrics, a nurse practitioner might perform more tests than a RN, and also work with patients and their parents on a health plan, making changes as necessary in consultation with the doctor.

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Typically, a nurse practitioner attains a master’s degree and certification in their area of expertise. Pay for nurse practitioners varies depending on the field of choice, but can range from about $74,000 for a gerontological nurse to $84,000 for a nurse midwife, according to an article in Scrubs magazine, a publication for nurses.

Nurse Educator

Those who move into education for nurses typically work at the university level, either teaching nursing students directly or overseeing an academic program. The main focus of the job is to prepare students for careers as LPNs or RNs.

The degree required to become a nurse educator depends on the students they will be teaching and the university itself. Some require as little as an associate’s degree and certification to teach LPNs, although most typically have a MSN degree.

The BLS does not break out nurse educator salaries separately from other nursing professions in terms of salary. However,, the national job listing Web site, indicated in March 2013 that the average salary for a nursing practitioner was around $71,000.


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