If you’re interested in completing nursing school, the first step is to determine the type of nursing career that you wish to have. There are many career paths for nurses, such as anesthesia nursing for example, but the career paths available to you will vary based on the nursing degrees you decide to pursue.
Once you have chosen your career path, you can take the time to compare different nursing programs, including online nursing programs, which offer students a more convenient way to complete much of their degree. Learn more about the most common degrees in nursing by reviewing the sections below.
Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) Certification
Interested in nursing but do not want to/cannot go to college? Certified nursing assistant certificates can be earned after completing a brief nurse program. After 75 hours of education and 16 hours of clinical training, you could get a CNA certification. Some states require additional training or education, so just double-check your local requirements. In any case, this certificate is considered the fastest way to start a career in a nursing position.
Nursing assistants most commonly work in skilled nursing facilities, nursing care facilities, hospitals, assisted living facilities, and in home healthcare. The typical duties of a nursing assistant include:
- Aiding patients in bathing and dressing
- Changing bedding
- Communicating with a patient’s family members
- Taking vital signs and recording a patient’s data
- Assisting patients in and out of bed
Certified nursing assistants earn an average salary of $30,720 annually.
Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) Certification
A licensed practical nurse (LPN) is a step above a certified nursing assistant, and, in many states, these nurses supervise CNAs. LPN accredited practical nursing school certificate programs generally take about one year to complete, with LPNs then typically being hired by physician offices, assisted living facilities, diagnostic testing facilities, hospitals, and government agencies.
The job duties of LPNs often include:
- Reporting on a patient’s condition
- Improving a patient’s comfort
- Medication and injection administration
- Wound dressing
- Catheter insertion
- Taking vitals
Licensed practical nurses earn about $48,500 annually on average.
Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)
If you’re interested in becoming a registered nurse (RN), you will need to earn an associate degree in nursing at least. This degree is the bare minimum requirement to become an RN. However, some states require RNs to continue on to earn their bachelor’s degree as a requirement to maintain their career choice.
It will generally take about two years to complete an associate’s degree in nursing. Most registered nurses work in hospitals and may also hold employment in physician offices, ambulatory services, educational services, residential care facilities, government agencies, the military, travel nursing organizations, and more.
As a registered nurse, you will perform daily tasks such as:
- Assisting physicians during medical procedures, including examinations and surgeries
- Wound dressing
- Running and analyzing diagnostic tests
- Providing patients with education about at-home care
- Reviewing a patient’s chart progress and treatment plans
- Providing supervision for CNAs and LPNs
The average annual salary of registered nurses is $77,460.
Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
RN programs that culminate in a BSN degree take around four years to complete. However, if you obtain an associate’s degree first, many or all of your credits may be transferable to reduce the amount of time it takes to complete your BSN nursing program.
With a bachelor of science in nursing, you can hold a position as a registered nurse. As mentioned above, most registered nurses work in hospitals but can also work in other clinics and physician offices. A BSN degree can also be used to work in less traditional nursing roles, such as a:
- School nurse
- Public health nurse
- Occupational health nurse
- Home health nurse
- Legal nurse consultant
- Forensic nurse
- Case manager
After you complete a bachelor’s program, you may consider careers in supervisory nursing roles to increase your earning potential.
While the average annual salary for a registered nurse is $77,460, you can often make more than RNs that only possess an associate’s degree because of the extra education you receive in this track.
Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)
Beyond a bachelor’s degree, the next step in nursing school is a master of science in nursing (MSN). These nursing degrees are designed to culminate in the career of an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). If you have a BSN degree and you would like to pursue a master’s degree, it will most likely take you an additional two years to complete the program.
With an MSN degree, APRNs may choose to work in any of the following roles:
- Nurse practitioner (NP) – Nurse practitioners work under the supervision of a physician. Nurse practitioners’ duties include those performed by registered nurses, but they have more responsibility in treating and diagnosing patients and can write prescriptions.
- Clinical nurse specialist (CNS) – CNSs work in particular fields of nursing. They are trained to provide a specific type of treatment or work with a specific patient group.
- Certified nurse midwife (CNM) – CNMs work with mothers during their pregnancy, including during labor, birth, and postpartum pregnancy phases.
- Certified nurse anesthetist (CNA) – Anesthesia nursing involves monitoring a patient’s vitals during medical procedures, including surgery. CNAs are also responsible for overseeing a patient’s recovery after surgery and aiding patients in developing pain management plans. Note that, by 2025, anesthesia nursing will require a doctoral degree.
Completing MSN nursing degrees will increase your earning potential from an average of $77,460 to up to $181,040 annually. The career path with the highest earning potential after an MSN degree is anesthesia nursing, which brings an average salary of $181,040 a year.
Doctoral Degrees in Nursing
A doctoral degree in nursing is the final step in this track of education. Professionals with these degrees are considered masters in their fields and commonly work in professions such as:
- Anesthesia nursing
- Academic roles, including teaching at a university level
- Field research
Job duties and average salaries can vary widely depending on the nursing career you go into once you have achieved your doctoral degree. For example, nursing professors who work at universities and other schools can earn an average of $83,240 a year. Teaching in surgical and medical hospitals can help you make an average of $120,000 a year. If combined with a role as an NP, these earnings can vastly increase your annual income potential.