The United States is facing a nursing crisis. According to the American Nurses Association, by 2022 there will be more open registered nurse (RN) positions than jobs in any other profession. Similarly, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that there will be 175,900 openings for registered nurses per year for the next decade, and according to our own research, nursing is at the very top of this year's list of the 10 careers in highest demand.
The demand for licensed professionals in this field is high, and if we can’t fill these open positions, the resulting shortage would initiate a series of negative consequences. Medical care is extremely important for every person in this country, and without enough licensed nurses to help fill the void, people will go without the critical care they need.
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For those who are considering obtaining an associate's degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN), the time has never been better. Between the increased demand and the high median pay — about $75,330 per year in 2020 — the career outlook for RNs is incredibly high.
What Can You Do With a Registered Nurse Degree?
There are tons of options for a registered nurse’s career opportunities — and that goes for both ADNs and BSNs. There are, of course, the typical nursing field options, like working in a physician’s office or hospital, to provide urgent and preventative care for all types of patients. That said, you can also specialize while studying to be a nurse.
Nurses who are in school or are early in their careers can choose to specialize in any number of areas, whether it’s mental health, hospice care, plastic surgery, or epidemics, which would allow for alternative jobs and placements. These specializations allow nurses to work in specialized wards like pediatrics or surgery, in laboratories and research centers, in schools and on college campuses, on cruise ships or at summer camps, in law offices, or even in foreign countries, where their knowledge can transform the lives of communities.
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Most Popular Careers for Registered Nurses
While career opportunities abound for RNs, there are career trajectories that are the most popular. This includes charge nurses, pediatric nurses, critical care nurses, public health nurses, and medical-surgical nurses. These positions are typically found in hospitals and physicians’ offices. The duties typically consist of providing in-person care for sick and injured patients and preventative care for healthy individuals.
There are a handful of additional career opportunities that open up with the addition of a master’s degree in this field. These can include positions like a nurse practitioner or nursing professor, as well as specializations like nurse anesthetists. Nursing management positions are also typically only open to those who hold upper-level degrees.
What Is the Career Outlook for a Registered Nurse?
Growth in the registered nursing field is expected to be high over the next decade. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 7% growth between 2019 and 2029 in this field, which is much faster than the average for all occupations.
As our country’s population ages and begins to need more care, and as baby boomers reach retirement age, RN positions are expected to open up quickly. Over the next decade, this subset of the workforce is set to grow from 3 million to 3.3 million, with an increase of about 221,900 jobs.
As a registered nurse, you usually earn between $44,000 and $100,000 annually depending on duties. Although registered nurses make much more than other medical professionals, their starting salaries lag a bit behind others, such as occupational therapists. Still, registered nurses have great opportunities for advancement whereas others might not.
Here's What Registered Nursing Programs Look Like
The length of a registered nursing program can vary depending on whether you are trying to obtain an associate's degree in nursing or a bachelor’s of science in nursing. In general, an associate’s program will take two years from start to finish, and can usually be completed at a community college. Meanwhile, a BSN generally takes four years to obtain and can only be done at a four-year college or university.
There are a few other options for students, like an RN-to-BSN, which is designed specifically for those who already hold an associate's degree but want to earn a bachelor’s in this field. These programs typically take anywhere from two to three years to complete. Some schools will also offer an accelerated BSN program for those who already hold a bachelor’s degree in a related field (i.e. biology, chemistry, etc.) but want to earn their nursing degree. These programs can usually be completed in 12 to 24 months.
Regardless of which educational path you take, the coursework will be similar. Students will be required to take a mix of general liberal arts courses and more focused courses in subjects like anatomy & physiology, nutrition, chemistry, microbiology, statistics, and bedside care. There are also requirements for clinical hours, during which students provide supervised care to real patients. These requirements vary depending on the type of degree you are hoping to obtain.
After graduation, all RNs must take and pass the NCLEX exam, which is administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, in order to be licensed to work in their respective states.
The Differences Between an Associate's Degree in Nursing and a Bachelor’s in Registered Nursing
An ADN is the minimum requirement you must hold to work as a registered nurse. This two-year degree often allows for employment in entry-level jobs, such as those in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. These degrees take less time to obtain, which allows you to get into the field faster, but they also are more restrictive when it comes to earning potential and job growth. According to PayScale, ADN holders earn an average salary of $70,535 per year.
BSNs, on the other hand, require a larger time and monetary investment, but allow for a wider range of career choices and earning potential. Generally, positions like charge nurse or specialized nurses (pediatrics, surgery, dermatology, etc.) require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree for employment. Similarly, a BSN is required to advance into managerial positions like a nurse practitioner. According to PayScale, BSN holders earn an average salary of $86,341 per year.
Should I Get a Degree in Registered Nursing?
The current demand for registered nurses, as well as the high average salaries, make this career an excellent choice. However, there are a number of things you should consider before making the leap.
First, the job of a nurse is a demanding one, not only physically, but emotionally and mentally. The work is done directly with people at the most vulnerable and stressful moments of their lives, and you must be able to provide tireless, compassionate care while educating and advocating for your patients. Successful nurses must have dedicated, patient, and caring personalities, as well as excellent communication and critical thinking skills. Physical endurance is another necessity.
Additionally, the coursework required to obtain a registered nursing degree is rigorous, meaning prospective nurses must have strong academic skills and be willing to dedicate long hours to studying. Those who find school a challenge, or those who aren’t willing to put in the necessary time, might find more success in another field.
Ultimately, registered nursing careers require sacrifice and leadership, but can be incredibly rewarding. Evaluating your personal strengths and weaknesses before committing to the field is the best thing you can do to ensure a long and successful career.
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