Many different types of nursing degrees are available to enter this rewarding health care profession at any level. Nursing degrees train college students how to provide high-quality bedside patient care. Nurses carry out doctors’ prescribed treatment plans to heal illnesses and injuries. Promoting good physical, mental, and emotional well-being is their common goal. Joining America’s 3.18 million nurses is a smart move for compassionate students with strong communication and critical thinking skills. Today’s $3.65 trillion health care industry has a fast-growing demand for nursing staff. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing predicts that 203,700 new RNs will be hired per year through 2026. Eighty percent of hired nurses will need a bachelor’s or advanced degree from nursing school. In the following article, we’ll compare nursing degrees and certificates to help decide which suits your aspirations.
Nursing Assistant Certificate
Nursing assistant certificates are short-term training programs mostly offered at vocational and trade schools. At 4-12 weeks long, they’re the quickest route into the nursing field. These post-secondary programs fulfill the 75 classroom hours required to become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA). Either online or on-campus, future nursing assistants take basic health care courses. Having a high school diploma or GED is the only requirement for course registration. Some colleges even have dual enrollment options to start CNA studies as juniors and seniors. Nursing assistant certificates introduce newbies to patient care techniques, including first aid, hygiene, wound dressing, and nutrition. Medical terminology courses are common to learn the profession’s lingo. Many partner with the American Red Cross to earn CPR credentials. The certificate also integrates at least 16 hours of hands-on field experience.
Graduating with a nursing assistant certificate qualifies you for taking the 90-minute CNA exam. This test evaluates your written and clinical skills in 18 disciplines with 60 multiple-choice questions. Scoring 70 percent or better makes you a Certified Nursing Assistant. Most CNAs then work for nursing homes, hospitals, assisted living facilities, and home health providers. Nursing assistants are supervised by RNs while performing entry-level care duties. Bathing, shaving, dressing, feeding, and transporting patients are common tasks. CNAs ensure bedridden patients are treated with dignity and kept comfortable. In May 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an average nursing assistant salary of $29,580. Most CNAs earn between $21,290 and $39,560 each year. California has the greatest number of Certified Nursing Assistants at 99,440. Alaska and New York have the highest mean wages of $39,830 and $37,110.
Licensed Practical Nursing Diploma
Licensed practical nursing diplomas are non-degree options provided by community colleges and medical centers. Accredited LPN diplomas typically last only nine to 14 months total. The one-year curriculum is great for high school grads and career changers seeking a short licensing track. LPNs are more training than nursing assistants to handle slightly more advanced tasks. For example, licensed practical nurses learn how to inject needles and insert catheters. Practice measuring patient vital signs, including pulse and blood pressure, is required. LPNs also assist registered nurses with collecting blood, urine, and fecal samples. Though closely supervised, LPNs are involved in more medical care than basic grooming. Expect core courses like Human Anatomy, Pharmacology, and Physiology. Licensed practical nursing diplomas also necessitate at least 30-100 clinical hours outside the classroom.
Earning a licensed practical nursing diploma leads you to the NCLEX-PN exam. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing charges $200 for this 205-question computerized test. Aspiring LPNs will spend five hours completing the four required sections: Health Promotion & Maintenance, Physiological Integrity, Psychosocial Integrity, and Safe & Effective Care. Those who don’t pass can retake the NCLEX-PN within 90 days. Those who do can apply for LPN jobs at hospitals, physician offices, nursing homes, outpatient clinics, veteran centers, and more. Demand for licensed practical nurses will grow 11 percent by 2028 for 78,100 openings. The United States provides a median yearly salary of $47,050. Most LPNs make between $33,680 and $62,160. Texas has the most practical nurses at 72,030. Rhode Island and Massachusetts have the top-paid LPN averages at $59,130 and $58,990.
Associate Degree in Nursing
Associate degrees in nursing are two-year programs delivered by junior colleges and technical schools. They provide an Associate of Science or Associate of Applied Science in only 18-26 months. Most ADNs openly enroll students with a high school or equivalency diploma. Some might mandate cumulative GPAs of 2.5 or better. Certain ADN programs also seek prerequisite courses in chemistry, biology, and math courses. In many states, an associate’s degree in nursing is the minimum requirement to become an RN. Associate programs train registered nurses how to directly support physicians and surgeons plus supervise CNAs. Common ADN course titles include Introductory Nursing, Health Assessment, and Disease Prevention. Simulation labs are utilized to learn rudimentary skills like drawing blood and giving vaccines. Off-campus placements are arranged for at least 160-500 practicum contact hours.
Getting an Associate of Science in Nursing usually lets you sit for the NCLEX-RN test. This $200 National Council Licensure Examination is available at proctored Pearson VUE centers. Takers must answer at least 75 of the 265 multiple-choice computer questions in eight content areas. In 2018, the six-hour RN certification exam had a first-time pass rate of 87 percent. If you’re among them, registered nursing jobs open in diverse nursing specialties from pediatrics to geriatrics. Licensed RNs are employed by schools, prisons, specialty hospitals, military bases, health practitioner offices, and more. Job forecasts show employment of RNs will jump 12 percent this decade for 371,500 openings. Registered nurses are compensated an average $75,510 wage. Most 2-year nursing degree salaries range from $50,800 to $106,530. California and Hawaii enjoy the highest mean RN income of $106,950 and $98,080.
Bachelor of Science in Nursing
The Bachelor of Science in Nursing is a four-year academic degree awarded by senior colleges and universities. In 2010, the Institute of Medicine asserted that BSN programs should be the entry level for registered nurses. Several states, such as New York and Rhode Island, now require a BSN for licensure. This bachelor’s degree entails 120-128 credits of undergraduate education. Unlike the previous nursing degree types, the BSN has a well-rounded core of math and natural science classes. Many BSN programs don’t begin major courses like Community Health, Pathophysiology, and Nursing Leadership until the third year. College juniors and seniors also complete advanced clinicials in the field. Most Bachelor of Science in Nursing degrees mandate up to 800 fieldwork hours. BSN majors ranking in the upper 35 percent with GPAs above 3.0 can join Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society.
Traditional pre-licensure BSN programs will last 48-60 months total. There are several faster tracks to a Bachelor of Science in Nursing though. For example, the RN to BSN is a degree completion option for registered nurses who already hold an unencumbered license. The United States has more than 700 RN-BSN degrees available on-campus, online, and at teaching hospitals. Advancing one’s knowledge from the RN to BSN level takes only 12-24 months. Most RN-BSN schools admit associate grads with 60 or more previous credits and GPAs over 2.5. RN to BSN majors then add 300- and 400-level nursing courses atop their previous training. Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing degrees are also increasingly popular. These short programs of 12-18 months are designed for bachelor’s grads in non-nursing subjects. Accelerated BSNs immerse career changers in didactic and clinical courses for RN eligibility.
Finishing a Bachelor of Science in Nursing will fulfill NCLEX-RN exam requirements in all 50 states. Passing the six-hour, 265-question computerized test with a BSN opens in demand jobs in nursing specialties. By 2030, it’s estimated that more than 1 million RNs will retire and leave critical shortages. Fifty-five percent of current RNs are age 50 or older. Our registered nurse workforce will need to grow 15 percent, or 438,100, this decade. Registered nurses receive a mean salary of $75,510. Most BSN-trained nurses earn between $58,770 and $124,840. RNs in California and Hawaii make the biggest averages at $106,950 and $98,080. Salary projections vary greatly based on responsibility and field of expertise. Here are some sample BSN-level registered nursing specialties:
- Oncology Nurse – Oncology nurses specialize in treating cancer patients during the grueling chemotherapy and radiation process. They create a positive, hopeful environment for oncology patients to triumph over tumors.
- Nephrology Nurse – Nephrology nurses treat individuals suffering from kidney diseases, including renal failure, at any age. Their duties include performing kidney function tests, conducting dialysis, and aiding organ transplants.
- Neonatal Nurse – Neonatal nurses provide holistic care to babies, especially premature newborns, from labor through the first 28 days of life. They work in NICU units to monitor infant health and reduce mortality risks.
- Cardiovascular Nurse – Cardiovascular nurses concentrate on addressing heart and blood vessel disorders for good circulation. They’re trained to perform EKGs, measure heart rhythms, and respond to cardiac arrest.
- Geriatric Nurse – Geriatric nurses focus on treating elderly patients age 65 or older who are sick, disabled, or convalescent. These RNs understand the physical and emotional needs of seniors to ensure healthy aging.
- Gastroenterology Nurse – Gastroenterology nurses treat patients who experience digestive disorders, such as acid reflux, colitis, and ulcers. They assist doctors performing endoscopies, colonoscopies, GI scans, and more.
Master of Science in Nursing
Master of Science in Nursing programs immerse current RNs in specialized graduate education. The MSN is designed to satisfy requirements for Advanced Practice Registered Nursing jobs. Unlike generalists, APRNs have narrower scopes and deeper knowledge in one nursing field. Most MSNs admit Bachelor of Science in Nursing grads for 1.5 to three years and 30-48 credits. Approximately 70 nursing schools offer RN to MSN options with 150 or more credits of bachelor’s and master’s courses included. Both online and campus-based Master of Science in Nursing degrees combine post-grad courses with clinical practicum. Many include thesis research or non-thesis capstone projects to test APRN skills. MSN cohorts might spend 150-1,050 clock hours at health care facilities depending on their concentration. What are the different nursing certifications? Well, let’s look at some popular MSN specializations.
- Family Nurse Practitioner – MSN in Family Nurse Practitioner degrees focus on promoting health across the lifespan in primary care settings. Family nurse practitioners strive to prevent acute and chronic diseases by educating people about healthy lifestyle behaviors. They’re able to diagnose medical conditions, order lab tests, and prescribe treatments under supervision. The Labor Department predicts jobs for FNPs will grow 26 percent for 62,000 new positions. Family nurse practitioners enjoy a median annual wage of $110,030. Most FNPs fall between $80,670 and $182,750. The highest percentage work at physician offices for a $107,530 average.
- Nurse Midwife – MSN in Nurse Midwifery programs train women’s health specialists to guide expectant mothers through pregnancy and labor. They’re authorized to deliver babies vaginally or assist licensed obstetricians with births via Cesarean section. Nurse midwives also provide sexual health services, family planning assistance, and prenatal or postnatal care. Employment of Certified Nurse Midwives will increase 16 percent to 7,600 total jobs. Eighty-two percent of CNMs hold master’s degrees for $106,910 average pay. Most midwives earn between $70,100 and $151,070. California has the most nurse midwives (700) making a mean $139,990 annually.
- Nursing Informaticist – MSN in Nursing Informatics degrees prepare tech-savvy RNs for optimizing the clinical record systems that hold medical data. Nursing informaticists help improve medical care by implementing computer networks that keep doctors and nurses informed of patient histories. They can also develop new software, set technology policies, design cybersecurity tactics, and supervise IT support staff. Demand in health informatics is growing rapidly by 11 percent for 238,600 jobs nationwide. After all, 95 percent of hospitals and 90 percent of physician offices now have electronic records. Nursing informaticists boast an annual average salary of $100,717. Most bring home between $85,380 and $142,530. Income can increase with HIMSS certifications.
- Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner – MSN in Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner programs hone the skills needed to treat patients with mental illness. Certified PMHNPs provide holistic care to relieve the symptoms of disorders like clinical depression, schizophrenia, dementia, anxiety, and addiction. They use both drug and cognitive therapies to promote psychological well-being in inpatient or outpatient settings. Each year, nearly 48 million American adults experience a mental health disorder. Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners can expect 28 percent job growth by 2028. PMHNPs reap median income of $113,930. Most report salaries of $78,300 to $150,320. New York employs the most certified PMHNPs with an average $120,970 wage.
These four MSN specializations only scratch the surface. Other available MSN tracks include pediatric nurse practitioner, adult-gerontological nurse practitioner, forensic nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, nurse educator, clinical nurse leader, and orthopedic nurse practitioner. Master of Science in Nursing students can also specialize by pursuing joint degrees. Joint MSN programs allow post-grads to combine two master’s into one to save time and money. For instance, Dual MSN/MPH cohorts build a nursing and public health background to work in community advocacy professions. Dual MSN/MBA programs teach registered nurses the basics of management to facilitate leadership promotions. Dual MSN/MSW degrees introduce nurses to social work principles for addressing injustices and health disparities. Joint MSN/MHA, MSN/LLM, MSN/MEd, and MSN/MDiv options are abundant.
Doctor of Nursing Practice
Wondering what is the highest degree in nursing? The Doctor of Nursing Practice is one of the three highest terminal programs available. Most DNP degrees are designed for Master of Science in Nursing grads seeking further advancement. These Traditional DNP tracks require two to four years post-master’s. At some nursing schools, there are longer BSN-DNP options for bachelor’s graduates to graduate in five to seven years. The DNP is always a clinical-based doctorate that emphasizes health care leadership skills. Doctor of Nursing Practice cohorts are trained to supervise APRNs and administer entire medical departments. Most DNP curricula includes top-level courses like Evidence-Based Practice, Effective Leadership, and Quality Improvement. Clinical components require anywhere from 1,000 to 2,500 hours of fieldwork. Instead of a dissertation, DNP students complete applied capstone projects.
Graduating with a Doctor of Nursing Practice makes you eligible for upper-level executive jobs. If you haven’t already, you can take the American Nurses Credentialing Center‘s APRN exams. Members pay a $295 fee for taking the 175-question, 3.5-hour computer tests nationwide. Remember APRN certifications must be renewed every five years with 75 or more continuing education hours. Doctor of Nursing Practice holders could also add the Nurse Executive Advanced Certification (NEA-BC) to their resume. Most DNPs pursue administration roles to develop patient care policies, coordinate medical procedures, and allocate budgets. Demand for nursing administrators will spike 18 percent by 2028. The majority of DNP-trained administrators earn between $76,050 and $182,600 annually. Washington DC and New York have the highest-paid nurse leaders making $145,760 and $143,030 on average.
Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice
The Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice is another intensive, high-level doctorate that strongly focuses on pain management. DNAPs are clinical degrees that master the use of anesthesia during surgical, emergency, and obstetrical processes. For 36-52 months, DNAP cohorts practice delivering anesthesia doses that put patients into an unconscious state. Most Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice programs only admit certified MSN graduates, but some longer options are available after a bachelor’s. The DNAP curriculum blends advanced seminars, such as Principles of Anesthesiology, Anesthesia Pharmacology, and Health Care Ethics, with hands-on practice. DNAP students must complete at least 2,000 clinical hours and administer 600 or more anesthetics under supervision. On average, Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice grads have 9,369 hours of experience. Doctoral studies conclude with the DNAP Project.
Receiving a Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice takes you to the $995 CRNA exam. The National Board of Certification & Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists runs this computerized test of 100-170 questions. In 2018, the 3,053 CRNA exam takers had a first-time pass rate of 84.3 percent. Certified registered nurse anesthetists then qualify for this medical-surgical career. Most DNAP graduates either work at hospitals, trauma centers, plastic surgery clinics, pain management offices, or orthodontics centers. It’s their duty to monitor patients on general and local anesthesia to prevent harmful side effects. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts hiring of CRNAs will skyrocket 17 percent for 52,700 total jobs. Texas has the most CRNAs at 6,140 statewide. Nurse anesthetists enjoy a mean annual wage of $174,790. Income ranges from $116,820 to $250,730 after a Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice. Montana and California are top-paying CRNA states with $246,370 and $212,210 yearly averages.
Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing
The Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing is a scientific, research-based degree only awarded by graduate schools. PhD programs have the dual mission of training registered nurses for teaching and medical advancement. They instill the investigative lab skills needed to analyze clinical nursing problems and find solutions. PhD students enroll full-time in top-level courses like Quantitative Research, Statistical Methods, and Grant Writing. Many PhD in Nursing programs are 100 percent funded with graduate assistantship stipends. Each PhD major is matched one-on-one with advisors to perform independent study projects. Presenting original dissertation research in final papers of 100-300 pages is necessary. Doctor of Philosophy cohorts also conduct teaching practicum with college-age nurses. The U.S. News & World Report found an average PhD completion time of 5.8 years. Expect studying four to eight years beyond a bachelor’s.
Meeting the nursing degree requirements for a PhD lets you apply for faculty positions. Most Doctor of Philosophy graduates are employed by colleges, universities, and teaching hospitals. Other PhD nurses run clinical trials at research institutes, pharmaceutical companies, and medical technology businesses. If teaching is your thing, you should become a Certified Nurse Educator through the National League for Nursing. Founded in 2009, the CNE exam costs members $400 to take a 150-question test at more than 120 centers countrywide. Nurse faculty organize and deliver lessons from the LPN to PhD level to inspire future generations of health specialists. Employment of college nursing instructors will rise 20 percent this decade for 13,800 openings. Postsecondary nursing teachers report mean annual earnings of $81,350. Most doctoral nursing faculty make between $55,620 and $129,070. Washington DC and Connecticut have the highest nursing professor salaries averaging $153,830 and $101,760 respectively.
Now that you know the different levels of nursing and salary ranges, you can pick which one’s right for you. Finding where to get a nursing degree will come next. First and foremost, look for nursing schools with discipline-specific accreditation. Getting accredited forces nursing colleges to follow strict quality standards for didactic and clinical training. Attending unaccredited schools could put your employment prospects and licensure eligibility at risk. Approval from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) is critical. Second, seek out universities with good NCLEX-RN or APRN certification pass rates. High percentages indicate that their nursing graduates are well-prepared and ready to save lives. Third, take into account current rankings from websites like the U.S. News & World Report. Other deciding factors might include tuition, financial aid, campus location, student life, clinical experiences, retention rate, and available nursing specializations.
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