Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, Nurse Liaison and Content Strategist at Nurse.org
For individuals seeking a well-paying, flexible, and satisfying career, nursing remains a strong 21st-century choice. According to salary and employment statistics, the nursing profession and the healthcare industry are leading the way in terms of growing career opportunities. The most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics Report shows that 14 out of the 15 of the highest paying jobs in the United States are in the healthcare sector. Nursing opportunities are in a generally consistent pattern of growth no matter the city or state.
Nursing Career Paths
There are multiple career paths within nursing – making the best choice requires research and due diligence.
Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) or Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN):
Seeking a diploma as an LPN/LVN is the quickest entry into nursing since it does not involve attending college. LPN training programs are generally 12-18 months in length. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data report a mean annual salary of $44,840 and a mean hourly wage of $21.56 for practical nurses. LPNs/LVNs have a limited scope of practice, usually work under an RN, and generally cannot find employment in hospitals. LPNs/LVNs tend to work in nursing homes, assisted and long term care facilities, medical offices, and clinics.
Registered Nurse (RN):
Registered nurses have either an Associate of Science in Nursing (ADN) or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Some hospitals are closing their doors to nurses without a BSN, thus more ADNs are choosing to return to school in order to remain as marketable as possible. An ADN program is generally two years plus prerequisites; the BSN is a four-year degree. If an applicant has a previous bachelor’s degree, an accelerated BSN program is a good choice since many previously earned general education credits may transfer. The BLS reports a mean annual wage for RNs of $72,180 and a mean hourly wage of $34.70. Job growth for RNs through 2024 is projected to be approximately 16%.
Nurse Practitioner (NP):
Nurse practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). NPs can specialize in geriatrics, family practice, pediatrics, and other areas. Physician supervision of NPs is not required in more than 20 states and the Veterans Administration. This expanding autonomy means that NPs can practice independently, bill insurance, and serve a growing population of patients facing a national shortage of primary care physicians. Nurse practitioners earn a mean annual wage of $104,610, and a mean hourly wage of $50.30. Job growth for NPs is projected to be 31% through 2024. While NPs have historically worked outside of the hospital, NP hospitalists are increasingly common, as are clinical nurse specialists (CNS), another APRN designation allowing for specialization in acute care.
Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA):
Certified nurse anesthetists administer anesthesia in a variety of settings. They receive the most education of any APRN, and enjoy the greatest earning power. The mean annual wage for a CRNA is $164,030, and the mean hourly wage is $78.86.
Nurse Midwife (CNM):
CNMs deliver babies, work with pregnant mothers, and provide a wide array of pre- and post-partum care. The mean annual wage is $102,390, and the mean hourly wage is $49.23.
The Baby Boom generation will continue to retire and age at a significant rate. With 1 in 5 Americans projected to be over 65 by 2030, the need for skilled healthcare providers will grow apace. As a nationwide shortage of primary care physicians continues, NPs can fill that gap and enjoy healthy earning potential and significant job growth. Meanwhile, registered nurses can also capitalize on an aging population by filling a multitude of roles inside and outside of the hospital setting. Many nurses find that the social capital of being members of the most trusted profession in the country year after year also provides opportunities for creative entrepreneurship.
Nursing is a well-paying 21st-century growth industry. For those individuals seeking a satisfying and flexible career with multiple opportunities, nursing is a career path well worth due diligence and focused exploration.