In the 21st century, one of the hottest career paths in America is in the field of nursing. Since nurses are in high demand, many states across the U.S. are providing thousands of job openings. Any individual willing to pursue a nursing degree would set themselves up with good job security and financial stability.
Just like many other career fields, nursing in particular has several educational options for individuals looking to get into the health care field as a nurse. Despite the variety of options, the most common degrees in nursing are:
• Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN)
• Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
• Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)
Associate’s degrees in nursing, or other related health fields, can be earned after two years of academic study at a community college or vocational school. Generally, an Associate’s degree is the minimum requirement to become a Registered Nurse (RN), however many health care institutions prefer potential nurses have a higher level of education. A Bachelor’s degree in nursing is the standard for many careers in the nursing field. Individuals pursuing a Bachelor’s degree will go through four years of study that combines coursework and hands on experience referred to as “clinicals.” While either an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree makes individuals eligible to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) to become a Registered Nurse, a Bachelor’s degree will provide them with a greater education away from the specifics of nursing, with areas of study including nursing science, leadership, and research.
A Master’s degree allows potential nurses to increase not only their pay but their ability to receive a higher position in the nursing career field. While individuals can go right from a Bachelor’s program to a Master’s program in nursing, many nurses pursue a Master’s degree while working as a nurse in an effort to earn a promotion and/or higher pay. A Master of Science in Nursing is required for those who want to achieve any of the following nursing positions:
• Advanced Practice Nurse
• Nurse Practitioner
• Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist
Nurses in these fields generally have greater authority in the workplace and often enjoy higher pay than other nurses. Unlike undergraduate degrees, there are some Master’s level programs that offer focused tracks in specialized nursing fields such as forensic nursing, clinical nursing, and other medical specialties.
While Associate’s, Bachelor’s, and Master’s degrees are the most common degrees in nursing, there are two Doctorate level nursing degrees available. The Doctor of Nursing Practice is more applicable to those interested in remaining in the clinical field of nursing while a Doctor of Nursing Science degree is most often pursued by those who are interested in becoming a researcher or professor in a nursing school.
Deciding which level of education to attain can be influenced by several factors. Associate's degree holders have reported struggling to find nursing openings in major areas, making a higher degree such as a Bachelor's or Master's even more important. When considering the level of education to pursue, those interested in nursing should consider the following:
• Time: Bachelor's programs alone take four years and a Master's program can take an additional two years. An Associate's degree can be completed in just two years but does limit employment options.
• Money: The shorter the program the less expensive it will be. Employers in some career fields will even pay for nurses to return to school to earn a Master's degree, making a Bachelor's degree a good starting point.
• Job: It is important to consider a specific nursing field before choosing a major as it may help guide an individual toward the correct degree.
• Competition: Taking a look at the job market in a specific region will help determine the appropriate degree to acquire. A highly competitive market may require more education to set yourself apart from others seeking the same position.
Individuals who have completed a nursing program or other health care related degree track will find a number of jobs available to them in the nursing field. Among the most popular nursing careers, due to salary and demand, are the following:
• Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA): Individuals in this career field of nursing can expect an average annual salary of nearly $100,000. CRNA's assist anesthesiologists during surgery and because of the technical aspects of their job it requires a graduate degree (such as Master's degree) to become certified.
• Nurse Practitioner (NP): Individuals in this field are considered mid-level providers who generally work under the supervision of licensed physicians. NPs have the authority and education to conduct minor tests and physical examinations, but often need to have their supervising physician sign off on their work.
• Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS): Individuals in this field need a Master of Science in Nursing degree and as their name suggests, are specialists in one field of medicine or another. Their general work can include research, education, and even management. Those who are qualified as a CNS are also qualified Registered Nurses. Due to their specialization in given areas, individuals in this field can expect average salaries to range from $70,000 to $90,000 depending upon their area of expertise.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics there are over 2.5 million individuals employed in the nursing field, making it the largest single employer in the health care sector. Any individual considering an education in nursing, whether it’s an Associate's degree or Master's degree, is setting themselves up for a bright future in a career field with stability and financial security. Those entering the nursing field will find work in a variety of places ranging from hospitals and emergency rooms to research laboratories and family practices.