What Can I Do With a Nursing Degree: Nursing Career Paths and Prospects

By Sarah Collins

02/27/2022

Thinking about getting a nursing degree and don’t know what nursing career opportunities are open for you?

From high employment rates to attractive extensive career opportunities, nursing is one of today’s most alluring professions.

A nursing degree can lead to much more dynamic healthcare roles in the nursing industry other than direct patient care. But you may still ask, “what exactly can I do with a nursing degree?

This guide will take you through the career options a nursing degree affords you.

Types of Nursing Degrees

There are four main types of nursing degrees, and they all open future nurses to different possibilities in the nursing world.

Generally, a nursing degree takes about 2-6 years to complete, depending on various factors like:

The level of the program (advanced or entry-level)
Program schedule — full-time or part-time
Clinical hours (if required)

Entry-level nursing degrees offer nursing students a quick avenue to becoming professional nurses as the programs only take 2-3 years to complete.

On the flip side, advanced nursing degrees take longer to complete (typically 4-6 years). But they set up nurses for much better career opportunities and, of course, better wages.

Here’s an overview of the type of nursing degrees you can pursue today:

Nursing DegreeDuration
Associate Degree Nursing(ADN)2 Years
Bechelor of Science in Nursing(BSN)4 Years
Master of Science in Nursing(MSN)2-3 Years
Doctoral Degree in Nursing(Ph.D./DNP/DNS)3-6 Years

Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)

If you want to become a registered nurse (RN) without the hassle of a four-year nursing program, an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) gives you a chance to do so.

As the minimum degree requirement for becoming a registered nurse, ADN programs usually take about two years. After that, you have to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) for certification.

ADN nurses mainly work under BSN nurses on predominantly primary care duties. Although an ADN holder is easily employable in areas with high demand for nurses, you may need to pursue a BSN degree to become more employable in many states.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) covers many healthcare aspects like patient safety, care technology, and health promotion. Typically, a BSN gives nurses the chance to take more competitive RN roles, resulting in higher salaries.

Better still, nurses pursuing a BSN can specialize and carve their niche in various areas. Such areas include neurology, pediatric care, case management, psychiatry, and more.

You can work towards a BSN by taking the traditional 4-year BSN or Second Degree BSN course if you have no nursing experience. And, for people with prior entry-level nursing education, a bridge LPN-BSN or RN-BSN program can give you a BSN faster.

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

An MSN program is an advanced-level postgraduate course designed for BSN holders who wish to get into advanced practice and nursing specializations in leadership, management, education, and more.

Since most RNs would want to find a nice and convenient balance between their career, personal life, and school, it’s nice to know that many nursing schools offer quite flexible fully online and hybrid MSN programs.

For persons without a BSN degree, other options to get an MSN degree include a bridge RN-MSN for ADN holders or a Direct-Entry MSN program for students with no base nursing education.

Doctoral Degrees in Nursing

Doctoral nursing degrees are the cream of nursing education qualifications. These courses are for MSN holders that want to pursue research-heavy practice or advanced roles around policy, patient care, and disease management.

Interestingly, BSN graduates with considerable clinical experience can enroll for dual MSN and Ph.D./DNP/DNS degree programs.

You can pursue a doctorate nursing degree in three main degree options:

A Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing (Ph.D.) – Research-heavy program
Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) – Practice-heavy program
Doctor of Nursing Science (DNS) – Academic research-heavy program

What Nursing Roles Can I Take With a Nursing Degree?

Nurses can take quite a wide array of jobs in the nursing sector. These jobs go from the usual patient bedside care to more advanced practice like research, management, patient care technology, and more.

Additionally, there are more unconventional routes you can take as a nurse. Such routes include popular ones like forensics nursing and medical writing.

Below are the main jobs you can take as a nurse:

Registered Nurse (RN)

Average annual salary: $75,330
Popular salary range: $60,000 – $90,760

Registered nurses are the most populous group in the nursing profession. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) estimates that there are currently over 4 million RNs in the US, with California being the biggest haven with over 307,000 RNs.

As a registered nurse, you’ll essentially engage in direct care and observation of patients in healthcare and community settings. Also, you’ll work as a link between patients and doctors or higher-level nurses.

Registered Nurse Main Duties

Assess and educate patients, and answer any questions they might have
Prepare patient for physical examination and treatment
Generate treatment plans
Administer medication and monitor side effects
Record patient’s vital signs
Assist the doctor or head nurse with routine procedures

Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM)

Average annual salary: $115,540
Salary range: $67,710 – $179,770

A nurse-midwife is an advanced practice role for nurses that have completed their nursing and midwifery education.

Nurses in this niche will render their expertise on a patient’s maternal and reproductive health. They also offer gynecological services.

Nurse midwifery is one of the most in-demand specialists in the nursing sector. Interestingly, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the demand for nurse-midwives to grow by a massive 45% by 2030.

Nurse-Midwife Main Duties

Primary care for pregnant patients
Diagnose, educate, and treat patients
Observe and monitor maternal health
Handle labor and childbirth
Give references to specialists
Provide family planning services

Nurse Practitioner (NP)

Average annual salary: $114,510
Salary range: $82,960 – $156,160

Nurse Practitioners (NPs) cover a wide area of primary care services, including coordination of care, health promotion, and disease prevention.

Since an NP is an advanced practice nurse, they can work independently in some states or under the guidance of a physician when dealing with more critical patients.

With a growth rate of about 45%, as predicted by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, becoming an NP offers one of the most employable nursing careers today. Besides, since it’s a specialization, NPs generally get larger salaries.

Nurse Practitioner Main Duties

  • Diagnose and treat acute and chronic conditions
  • Prescribe medications and other treatment options
  • Manage general patient care
  • Assess patient needs, order, and interpret lab tests
  • Record and update patient medical history
  • Create patient care plans and improve existing ones

Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)

Annual average salary: $189,190
Salary range: $133,970 – $224,810

As one of the most intensive nurse specializations, it’s only fair that a nurse anesthetist earns the highest salary of all advanced practice nurses.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the employment rate for nurse anesthetists to grow by 26% in the next four years. Although not the biggest employment growth rate here, nurse anesthetists are in high demand in most areas with underdeveloped healthcare facilities.

Nurse anesthetists help patients through pain management before, during, and after surgery while also monitoring their biological functions.

Like many advanced nurses, CRNAs can also work independently or collaborate with a physician.

Nurse Anesthetist Main Duties

  • Administer anesthesia and related care before, during, and after surgery
  • Monitor patient’s biological function and other vital signs during surgery
  • Educate patients about their surgery and recovery
  • Assess patients and determine the proper treatment
  • Acts as the link between the doctor and other healthcare professionals involved in the surgery
  • Record patient medical history and responses before, during, and after surgery

Unconventional Nursing Careers You Can Explore With a Nursing Degree

You think of a job in a hospital or a community healthcare center when you envision yourself as a nurse. Well, that’s true for most nurses.

However, there are other lesser tapped and developing nursing careers that exist.

Below are some exciting and rewarding unconventional nursing careers you can pursue with a nursing degree:

Travel Nurse

Average annual salary: $76,380
Salary Range: $54,550 – $94,340

For nurses that wouldn’t mind a nomadic touch to their careers, travel nursing can be a great line to explore.

In place of a medical facility, travel nurses are employed in independent nursing staffing agencies and get to take up short-term nursing contracts in areas of their choosing.

Registered Nurse Medical Writer

Average annual salary: $68,481
Salary range: $18,500 – $128,500

Playing more of an educator role, an RN medical writer pens content on various health care topics for education purposes. Like advanced nurses, RN medical writers can carve a niche in a specialized area and focus on writing tailored content.

Forensic Nurse

Average annual salary: $80,010
Salary range: $53,410 – $116,230

Do you have a passion for helping out victims of violence? Then forensic nursing might be the right path for you.

Forensic nurses provide forensic healthcare to patients suffering from health effects resulting from trauma, violence, accidents, and abuse-related death.

Health Policy Nurse

Average annual salary: $79,178
Salary range: $46,000 – $131,000

For nurses who want to bring about changes in healthcare delivery through advocacy and policymaking, health policy nursing is the best option.

As a health policy nurse, you can review and work to rehabilitate laws, policies, and regulations around healthcare delivery.

Perks of a Nursing Degree Over Entry-Level Nursing Programs

Yes, there’s something for everyone in the nursing career, and even an entry-level nursing education will offer you the chance to land a couple of roles.

However, nursing degrees generally command desired nursing positions and higher pay. But it’s not just about better pay.

Here are other advantages of getting a nursing degree:

Advanced Job Opportunities

Other than direct patient care, nursing degrees can lead you to far much better nursing roles like research, advanced practice, educator, and more.

Minimum Requirement in Some States

In some states, you can’t be employed as a nurse with a nursing degree. To play safe and increase your market appeal, pursuing a nursing degree is important.

More Advanced Skills

A nursing degree goes beyond the basics to give students more established and appealing nursing expertise. This upgrade leads to better employment opportunities.

Various Specialties

Specialized nurses attract higher pay, and there are currently several nurse specializations to choose from.

What Can I Do With a Nursing Degree: Conclusion

It’s great that you’re interested in helping people out as a nurse. A nursing career is quite rewarding if you select the right path.

Generally, with an ADN and BSN, you can thrive as an RN, offering primary care to patients. An MSN degree will lead you to more specialized nursing roles, and you can explore healthcare research and other advanced practice with doctorate nurse programs.

Although higher-level nursing jobs offer better pay, it’s important that you opt for an area you’re most passionate about. That way, you can have a more fulfilling and enriching career.

Good luck!

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