Few professions are as demanding or as rewarding as nursing. Unfortunately, the decision to become a nurse represents only the first of several difficult choices. Next, you’ll need to determine the level of nursing you intend to pursue—and which degree or certificate to obtain. This can be surprisingly complicated, especially if you don’t know what type of degree can lead to a health nursing career or which programs may lead to your desired niche.
Struggling to get a handle on the many different nursing degrees currently available? It’s worth your while to learn as much as possible before diving into a targeted college program. Below, we highlight the top types of nursing degrees, as well as how they stack up in terms of job outlook, salary, and opportunities for advancement.
Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) serve on the front lines of the medical industry providing direct physical care and emotional support for their patients. This role is advantageous in that required certificates can be obtained in short order, allowing aspiring nurses to quickly gain experience in the field. Many nurses launch successful careers by initially working as LPNs while they pursue further education.
What Does an LPN Do?
No two days look exactly alike for LPNs, who serve a variety of patients and may be called upon to provide many types of care. In general, however, LPNs work under the supervision of registered nurses, nurse practitioners, or physicians. Top responsibilities include:
- Gathering patient vitals, such as blood pressure and heart rate
- Maintaining patient records
- Helping patients bathe and dress
- Completing routine laboratory tests
An LPNs’ ability to carry out certain tasks may be limited based on local legislation. In some states, for example, LPNs are allowed to work with intravenous drips or provide medication, while others require registered nurses to take on such roles.
LPN Salary and Job Outlook
Job opportunities are plentiful for LPNs, who are in high demand in every area of the health care industry. If projections from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) are any indication, this field will see significant growth in the next few years. BLS experts anticipate a job outlook of 11 percent between 2018 and 2028. This greatly exceeds the outlook across all professions, which averages just 7 percent.
LPNs earn respectable wages, especially given the minimal academic requirements for this position. In 2019, the BLS reported a median pay of $47,480 per year. Those working for the government or in residential care facilities tend to earn more than hospital or clinic-based LPNs.
Registered Nurse (RN)
These days, when most people picture nurses, they think of RNs. This role has expanded greatly over the years to include nurses in a variety of capacities. Most RNs work closely with patients, but on a more clinical level than their LPN counterparts.
This position is by far the most prevalent within the health care industry. According to 2019 BLS statistics, over three million nurses can be classified as RNs. As the backbone of the medical profession, these hardworking individuals ensure that patients receive the care and attention they deserve.
What Does an RN Do?
At one time, the role of RN looked a lot like that of a modern nursing assistant or LPN. Today, however, RNs hold broad authority over numerous aspects of patient care. While their work can vary based on their environment and level of education or experience, the following duties are especially common:
- Performing diagnostic tests
- Recording patients’ medical histories
- Administering medication
- Educating patients and their loved ones on condition management
RNs collaborate with physicians, nurse practitioners, and specialists to ensure that patients receive consistent care. Many supervise LPNs, nursing assistants, and other health care employees.
RN Salary and Job Outlook
As with LPNs, RNs can look forward to a growing field that is bursting with opportunity. The BLS estimates that 371,500 new jobs will become available by 2028. Already, this strong demand has contributed to significant wage growth, with RNs earning median annual wages of $73,000 as of 2019.
Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
While a Bachelor of Science in Nursing is not required for securing work as an RN, it provides the potential to take on new responsibilities and dramatically increase wages. Often, RNs continue to work towards their BSN after obtaining associate degrees.
What Can Nurses Do With BSN Degrees?
Graduates who obtain their bachelor’s degree typically continue to work as registered nurses. This degree remains worthwhile, however, as it provides RNs access to a far wider range of job opportunities.
Upon graduating with a BSN, nurses may move into specialty care, with many pursuing exciting career paths such as labor and delivery, pediatrics, or oncology. A bachelor’s degree can also help RNs pursue research or education-oriented positions.
How Does a BSN Impact Pay?
According to the BLS, registered nurses earned a median annual $71,730 in 2018. This calculation, however, takes several types of RNs into account—including those with certificates and associate degrees. Upon obtaining a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, however, RNs can expect to receive a considerable pay boost. This is evidenced by results from the 2018 Nurse.com Salary Research Report, which highlights average annual earnings of $73,995 for nurses with their BSN, versus $67,162 when an ADN represents the highest level of academic attainment.
Clinical Nurse Specialist
While a BSN can provide a variety of opportunities in specialty areas, it by no means guarantees that nurses will find employment in specific areas of interest.
Niche practice is more realistic after obtaining a master’s degree. This allows RNs to become certified in the areas of practice that fuel their personal passion. Upon achieving necessary certification, these employees can be referred to as clinical nurse specialists.
What Does a CNS Do?
The role of clinical nurse specialist (CNS) should not be confused with that of nurse practitioner. While both jobs require nurses to obtain graduate-level education, nurse practitioners typically take on a more comprehensive approach, with many acting as primary care providers. Meanwhile, CNS focuses not only on niche treatments but also on research and education. These advanced nurses draw on evidence-based practice to inform fellow medical professionals, and, ideally, facilitate change at the industry level.
CNS Salary and Job Outlook
Employment prospects vary dramatically from one CNS to the next. A lot depends on the niche of choice. Those who focus on in-demand areas should have no trouble finding rewarding work and impressive compensation.
While the BLS does not provide targeted information on CNS job outlook, PayScale highlights an average annual income of $90,050. Equipped with the proper degree and several years of experience, many clinical nurse specialists can expect to earn over six figures.
Often referred to as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), nurse practitioners (NPs) represent the peak level of expertise and authority in their field. As mentioned above, they provide a comprehensive range of services. This path allows nurses to take on many of the roles traditionally reserved for physicians without investing the vast amounts of time and money required for medical school.
What Does an NP Do?
Nurse practitioners hold a high level of authority. Their roles vary slightly from state to state, with many allowed to diagnose health conditions and prescribe medications. They often serve a hybrid role, taking on responsibilities associated with both registered nurses and physicians. Common duties include:
- Obtaining information about patient symptoms
- Developing or contributing to targeted care plans
- Conducting physical exams
- Ordering medical tests and analyzing results
- Educating patients and their loved ones about long-term care and healthy lifestyle practices
While most NPs work closely with RNs and LPNs, they may also collaborate with physicians and medical specialists. Many hold a supervisory role, with administration often playing extensively into daily responsibilities.
NP Salary and Job Outlook
For purposes of compiling job outlook data, the BLS includes NPs in the same category as nurse anesthetists and midwives. Digging a little deeper into the data shows in the breakdown of the median annual wages for each, nurse practitioners earned $109,820 in 2019. These impressive wages are driven, in part, by unprecedented demand seen throughout the health care industry. Those who work in hospitals and outpatients tend to enjoy the highest earnings, although this may, in part, reflect requirements to work nights and weekends.
The BLS highlights a remarkable job outlook of 26 percent between 2018 and 2028, with the addition of 62,000 NP positions expected in the next several years. By comparison, the outlook for physicians and surgeons rests at just 7 percent. Experts from the BLS anticipate that the majority of the anticipated growth for NPs will stem from an increased emphasis on preventative care, although greater needs for an aging population could also play a role.
Credentials at every level can help you meet your ultimate goal of securing steady and fulfilling work as a nurse. Before you proceed, take a close look at the various levels of nursing degrees. Your discernment will ultimately allow you to make a world of difference for vulnerable patients.
If you want to become a nurse or pursue advanced education in the nursing field, now is an excellent time to invest in your education. Post University is here to help! Contact us today!