A Complete Look at Nursing Careers and Salaries

Interacting with patients and their families on a daily basis, and helping them with their medical care, can be an extremely rewarding experience. As a nurse, you meet a variety of people, which means that no two work-days are the same. While you may not know what you will encounter on a daily basis, you can rest assure that this will continue to be an in-demand job industry. There are a plethora of nursing opportunities available to those at nearly ever educational level. This is a wonderful benefit of a nursing career because it gives you the opportunity to gain experience while continuing your education.

Entry Level Careers

The term “entry level” typically refers to a job that requires no experience. Since most nursing positions are technically categorized as entry level, here we are using this qualifier to refer to the educational level required for the position. There are a couple of different careers in this industry that necessitate a minimal educational background, meaning a high school diploma with a training certificate and/or associate’s degree in a addition to passing a state-issued competency exam.

The most popular beginning career options in this field are nursing assistant, orderly, and licensed practical nurse. Take a look what each of these positions entail.

  • Nursing Assistant – You will be responsible to help the patients with any of their needs throughout the entirety of their stay including feeding, cleaning, and helping the patient move around or from the bed to their wheelchair. You are to also listen to any health concerns that the patient may have and record them for the nurse to follow up on at a later time. You will need to have passed a vocational program and competency exam, and some states require an associate’s degree. If you would like to be able to administer medication, you can complete an additional program that allows you to become a Certified Medication Assistant (CMA).
  • Orderly – An orderly assists in cleaning the facility and transporting the patient from their hospital bed to and operating room. An orderly can receive CPR training after having passed a training program and a competency exam.
  • Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) – Also known as a licensed vocational nurse (LVN), in this position you must be able to complete the duties of a nursing assistant and feel comfortable changing bandages and inserting catheters. You must also be able to monitor the patient’s blood pressure and other vitals, and discuss and record their treatment plan while addressing any concerns they may have. To become a LPN, you will need to have passed the competency exam and completed a nursing associate’s degree program.

Salary Overview

It is amazing what a little bit of education can do to boost your overall earnings. Below we have put together a side-by-side comparison of the previously listed entry-level positions with salary data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) as of 2012. Since a nursing assistant and orderly rarely require an associate’s degree, the average annual wages are significantly less than that of a LPN or LVN. While being a nursing assistant may not pay as well, it is a great way to make connections in the industry and build your own professional experience.

2012 salary of Nursing Assistants, Orderlies, LPNs , and LVNs

Source: Nursing Assistants and Orderlies and Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses of the U.S. BLS Employment Program

Advanced Level Careers

Careers in nursing that require a bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN) or a master’s of science in nursing (MSN), are what we are considering to be an advanced-level career. There are a variety of different concentrations that you can focus on as an undergraduate or graduate student that will allow you to pursue the exact right job for you. With at least a BSN, you are able to give depth to both your wallet and professional skills.

Registered Nurse (RN)

Usually no prior on-the-job experience is required, however you should have completed either an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) or preferably a BSN program. Keep in mind that some states do require students to complete additional licensing before they can become registered nurses. As a RN, you have the option to work in specialized areas like cardiology, genetics, neonatal, rehabilitation, and more. No matter which department you are centered in, the core components of your job will remain the same. Below is a list of the common daily tasks that a RN must fulfill.

  • Operate medical equipment
  • Record patient medical history
  • Teach the patients and families how to continue their care at home
  • Consult with other healthcare professionals to create, change, and administer a patient’s care plan

Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRN)

An APRN is an umbrella term for RNs who have chosen a specific career path within nursing. With the nursing field expected to increase to 31% by 2022, it is no wonder that more nurses are finding their niche. APRNs consist of nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, and nurse anesthetics. Each of these types of nursing positions require a MSN as well as prior experience as a RN.

  • Nurse Practitioners – In this position you may provide care to patients within a category such as pediatrics or psychiatry. You responsibilities would include ordering and interpreting x rays and other lab work and prescribing medication. Many nurse practitioners work independently and may consult outside healthcare professionals when diagnosing and treating various types of illnesses.
  • Nurse Midwives – These nurses are catered to women and family healthcare services. A nurse midwife may administer prenatal care, gynecological exams, address any reproductive issues, and coordinate and attend to the birthing process. The family services involve educating patients on topics such as healthy living and STD prevention.
  • Nurse Anesthetics – It is important that nurses of this specialty discuss patient medications and overall health with them ahead of time. This is necessary so that the anesthetic nurse is able to carefully administer the anesthesia, and provide proper care at every possible juncture.

While many nurses enjoy a career at this level, some of them go on to pursue a doctoral degree in nursing practice (DNP). This can lead to opportunities in management, clinical research, and more.

Salary Breakdown

Earlier you were able to see the affect of an associate’s degree by comparing the salary difference between a nursing assistant and a LPN. While a career choice should not be entirely based on pay, it certainly helps to know that higher education can pay off in more ways than one. Below is a table compiled of salary, employment, and job-growth data provided by the BLS. You may notice that the expected median wage for nurse anesthetics is considerably higher than the other categories. This is due to BLS placing multiple jobs, like doctor of nursing, under the same title. As you pursue higher levels of education, you will increase the likelihood of a larger base pay.

BLS 2012-2022 various nursing job growths, employments, and salaries

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Projections Data Tools

While you can work in the nursing field with nearly any kind of educational background, a BSN is what will really propel you into this rewarding career. Since it is one of the largest growing job industries in the U.S., it is no surprise that there are an increasing number of bachelor programs for nursing. Take a look around this site to find the right one for you.

Online LVN to BSN Degree Programs

LVNs can earn a BSN degree online in half the time and cost of traditional programs. Achieve Test Prep has a 92% pass rate on exams, no waiting lists to get started, low cost financing options available, and no long-term contacts required. You can learn at an accelerated pace and earn college credit-by-examination and then transfer to an ACEN accredited nursing school or 100’s of universities nationwide.
South University provides students both a Bachelor's and Master's program in Nursing. The on campus bachelor's degree prepares students for careers at acute care hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities, and community-based clinics. The online master's degree provides advanced study in clinical teaching skills and research.

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