At the core of living happy, productive lives is our health. That’s why helping people establish and maintain healthy lifestyles, providing compassionate care, and saving lives as a nurse is such a high calling.
A nursing career has many advantages. Beyond the satisfaction of making a significant difference in people’s lives, nurses can earn higher than average salaries, and these positions are in high demand. Clearly, earning your bachelors in nursing degree and continuing on for your masters in nursing can prove to be a smart, stable, and lucrative career move.
So, if you have determined that the challenging and rewarding field of nursing is right for you, it’s time to learn how to turn your aspirations into reality. Let’s explore the path to various types of nursing careers step by step.
Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)
A CNA provides basic care services for patients, such as bathing, grooming, and feeding. As the name implies, CNAs also assist nurses with a variety of tasks, including checking vital signs, helping with medical equipment, and reporting on a patient’s condition. Certified nursing assistants provide needed social and emotional support to patients, as well.
For those seeking entry-level jobs in the field of nursing, the path to becoming a Certified Nursing Assistant requires having a high school diploma or GED and completing a 6-12-month CNA certification program. These programs are often offered at community colleges, trade schools, and medical facilities.
CNAs must take a state exam to become licensed. While regulations on nursing assistant certification vary from state-to-state, most CNA programs offer a certification exam that covers knowledge of daily living activities, patient/client rights, communication, legal and ethical behavior, and working as a healthcare team member, among other topics.
The average salary for a CNA is $30,840, with a job growth rate of 8%, which is much faster than average. This job is usually paid on an hourly basis, so there is often opportunity to pick up additional hours. Also, many nursing assistants pursue additional education to move into more responsible and higher paid roles.
CNAs are in most demand in hospitals, nursing care facilities, and community care facilities for the elderly.
Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
A step up from a CNA, a Licensed Practical Nurse provides care for patients under the direction of physicians and registered nurses. They perform routine tasks such as giving injections, taking vital signs, performing diagnostic tests, dressing wounds, and administering medication.
You will need a high school diploma or GED before completing an accredited LPN program. This generally takes one year of classroom and practical training at a community college, trade school, or medical facility. Licensed practical nurses often continue their education to become a registered nurse by going back to school for an additional year to earn an associate degree.
After completing an LPN education program that is approved by your state’s board of nursing, you must pass a state administered nursing examination called the NCLEX-PN to earn an LPN license.
The latest data indicates that LPNs earn an average of $48,820 per year. Additionally, the job growth rate through 2029 is expected to be 9%, which is much faster than average.
Licensed Practical Nurses work in such settings as nursing homes and extended care facilities, hospitals, physicians’ offices, and private homes. Other places of employment can include mental health institutions, community health clinics and public health departments.
Registered Nurse (RN)
The duties of a registered nurse vary widely depending on the environment or department in which s/he works, as well as the level of education or area of specialization. Most commonly, RNs are direct caretakers of patients and manage their daily activities, medications, medical assessments, care plans, charting, and scheduled procedures. RNs work closely with fellow healthcare staff and physicians to coordinate and provide care.
An associate degree in nursing (ADN) is the minimum requirement to become a registered nurse; however, a number of states and employers require a bachelor’s degree. Depending on which degree you pursue, it will take 2-4 years to become an RN. Many who first earn their associate degree go on to earn their bachelor’s degree in nursing. Ottawa University offers an online RN-BSN program for those desiring the added knowledge, responsibility, and salary often associated with this higher credential.
The accelerated program is designed for the current RN who is ready to advance his or her career in nursing and make a difference in the healthcare field. In order to further assist associate-degree prepared nurses with obtaining a BSN degree, Ottawa University has partnered with numerous community and technical colleges across the states of Kansas & Missouri, Wisconsin & Illinois, Arizona, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, and Texas. Through these partnerships, associate degree graduates are eligible to receive a reduced tuition rate at Ottawa University to pursue their Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. Check our list of partners to see if the school you attended is a partner.
As a nursing major, you will complete common prerequisites such as human anatomy and physiology, microbiology, psychology, and pathophysiology. Nursing majors will also gain clinical experience as part of their degree program.
Nurses who have completed their degree and clinical hours must pass the NCLEX-RN exam to become licensed. The exam can usually be taken about six weeks before graduation; however, each state nursing board has its own standards and may have additional requirements for becoming licensed. Licenses typically must be renewed every 1-4 years and require continuing education hours.
Board Certification: After obtaining two or more years of clinical experience in a specialty area, nurses can open doors to greater opportunities for career advancement by becoming board certified. RN-BC is a designation used primarily by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. The specific requirements for board certification depend on the specialty being sought, but all include clinical experience, coursework and an examination. Specialty certifications can be earned in areas such as oncology, diabetes management, genetics, HIV/AIDS, neonatal pediatric, acute care, cardiac medicine, and many more.
The average salary for a Registered Nurse (RN) is $75,330 annually and will see a job growth rate of 7% through 2029, faster than other professions.
The most common places of employment include hospitals, physicians' offices, outpatient care centers, and residential care facilities. However, there are also opportunities as a travel nurse, military nurse, school nurse, or even as a forensic nurse.
Nurse Educator and Nurse Leader
At Ottawa University, the MSN program offers two options: become a Nurse Educator (teach nursing at colleges and universities) and Nurse Leader (administrative or managerial positions in a variety of settings).
There are many opportunities for those wishing to pursue higher degrees in nursing! In order to obtain advanced nursing positions, an MSN is needed. Benefits include a higher salary and opportunities for advancement especially in the areas of administration, management, and nursing education. Nurses with MSN’s have higher earnings potential than nurses with a BSN.
Ottawa University’s online RN-MSN program is perfect for students who are interested in going directly from an associate degree to their master’s degree. This special bridge program allows qualified students to enroll in three specified graduate-level courses in substitute of three specified undergraduate-level courses. Doing so gives students three courses completed toward their MSN while completing their RN-BSN. The MSN program at Ottawa University is then shortened from 36 credit hours to 27 credit hours. Students pay undergraduate level tuition for graduate level courses, saving both time and money.
Ottawa University also offers an online BSN-MSN program for those who have already completed their bachelor’s degree. These flexible online degrees in nursing allow nursing majors to choose the program that fits their educational and lifestyle needs. Read more about the benefits of an advanced degree in nursing.
There are no special licensing requirements for an MSN as a Nurse Educator or Nurse Leader; however, there are certifications that may be pursued.
Both the salary and job outlook for nurse educators and nurse leaders are enticing. The average wage for nurse leaders was $104,280 in May 2020. Employment of medical and health services managers is projected to grow 32% from 2019 to 2029, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. The average wage for nurse educators was $75,470 in 2020. Postsecondary teachers typically have higher wages in colleges, universities, and professional schools than they do in community colleges or other types of schools. These jobs are expected to grow a significant 18% through 2029, totaling 12,800 new occupations.
Nurse educators primarily work in the instructional field with students and can be found either in a classroom setting or working in practice settings within colleges, universities, and research clinics. Whereas a nurse administrator or manager focuses more on the management of the nursing staff at medical facilities, clinics, and healthcare institutions.
Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN)
For those wishing to advance their nursing career, becoming an advanced practice registered nurse will allow for such job opportunities as clinical nurse specialist (CNS), clinical nurse leader (CNL), nurse practitioner (NP), certified nurse midwife (CNM), or certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA).
A Master of Science in Nursing is required to become an APRN. For those aspiring to become a Doctor of Nursing Practice, a 3-4-year post-graduate program will be required, along with completion of a capstone DNP project.
APRNs must meet the licensing requirements of their specific state and their specific specialty. At a minimum, this requires completing in-person clinical hours (varies by specialty) and passing a national certification exam for their area of specialty.
In May of 2020, the average wage of an APRN was $117,670. The projected job growth is 45% through 2029, significantly faster than the average for all occupations. This growth will occur primarily because of an increased emphasis on preventive care and demand for healthcare services from an aging population.
Advanced Practice Registered Nurses work in a variety of healthcare settings, including hospitals, physicians' offices, clinics, and specialty healthcare offices.
Jumpstart Your Nursing Career!
Are you ready to get started on your nursing career? Ottawa University's accelerated online degrees in nursing will prepare you with both the knowledge and skills needed to confidently serve the field of nursing as a well-trained professional. With convenient campus locations in Kansas City, Milwaukee, and Phoenix, Ottawa University gives you the flexibility to attend classes from anywhere through our online programs.
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What You Need to Know About the Nursing Shortage
How to Prepare for the NCLEX
Choosing a Nursing Specialty