Individuals who want to make a difference in the world and love helping people can enjoy an excellent career in nursing. It’s a highly-respected career path with around 100 different nursing specialties to choose from, meaning you can zero in on the field of health care you find most inspiring. While nursing once had a reputation as being a job with low-pay and long hours, this is no longer the case.
According to the Social Security Administration, the median pay in the U.S. was $34,248 in 2019. Data from the Bureau for Labor Statistics show that the median annual wage for registered nurses is more than double that figure, at $75,330. There are many different pathways into a career as a registered nursing professional, and a specialty certification for each.
Read on to find out everything you need to know about the most popular nursing certifications. This article explores a variety of topics, including which certification program is the fastest, how to choose the right nursing specialty for you, and an in-depth look at the best schools in the U.S. to get a nursing degree.
Nursing is an immensely rewarding job, but it’s not for everyone. To shine as a nurse, you must have a strong sense of duty, empathy, organizational skills, an unflinching work ethic, and a keen desire to help. For those who have what it takes, there are tons of benefits, such as:
As a nurse practitioner, there are seemingly endless choices when it comes to specializations. Due to the fact health care is such a broad field, covering the full spectrum of health; nurses in each area must have specific skills and knowledge.
While the most popular route is pursuing a career as a registered nurse, which is the most general type of nursing, there are plenty of more specialized careers to explore. Let’s take a look at some of the most in-demand nursing career paths:
Registered nurses work with a team of health care providers to manage patient care, offer emotional support and advice, and provide education and advice to patients and the public about health. You need an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree to become an RN, and an array of opportunities are open to you depending in your preferences.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and with a person having a heart attack every 40 seconds, it’s easy to see why cardiac nurses are in-demand. In this role, you provide care as well as assisting with surgical procedures such as peacemaker surgery, angioplasty, and heart bypass. You’ll need a state license and an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree, plus a registered nursing license.
CRNAs are highly trained specialists who work in doctor’s offices, surgical centers, and hospitals. Their primary role is to administer anesthetic to prevent pain during surgical procedures. As one of the highest paying nursing specializations, they’re also in the lowest supply and therefore highest demand.
You’ll need a graduate degree, RN license, CRNA certification, and one years’ experience in a critical care setting. Due to the intense level of training and expertise required, salaries often exceed $150,000 per year.
A CNS is an advanced practice registered nurse with a focus on providing exceptional patient care, and developing systems to improve the quality of care in the establishment they work in. In addition to working with patients directly, they often oversee other nursing professionals and provide training to junior team members.
CNSs work in physician’s offices, hospitals, and in-home health care settings, and usually have a master’s degree in nursing or a doctorate degree.
Family nurse practitioners usually work in doctor’s offices, children’s wards, and hospice facilities, where they’re trained to care for people of all ages. Duties include prescribing and administering medication, physical examinations, and diagnosing and treating illness. Due to the high level of responsibility, this career can command upwards of $100,000 per year, and successful applicants usually have a master’s degree and registered nursing license.
Mental health nurses often work in psychiatric facilities, rehab centers, and hospitals, providing care to people who need help maintaining physical and mental health. In addition to being able to diagnose and treat mental illness, psychiatric nurses are often required to offer counseling services as well. Nurses in this field can expect exceptional career growth and job security as mental health is becomes a bigger priority in global society.
Geriatric nursing is one of the fastest growing fields in the industry due to the exponential rate at which the population is growing, and the fact people are living longer than ever. You’ll need an associate or bachelor’s degree plus a registered nurse license and certification in geriatric nursing. Settings you can expect to work in include nursing homes, doctor’s offices, and hospitals.
If you’re thinking about studying a nursing degree, one of the most attractive aspects of this career path is the job outlook. According to the BLS, registered nursing jobs are set to grow by 7% between 2019 and 2029, which is 3% faster than the average.
Lots of factors contribute to the growing demand for nurses, including an aging population, general population increase, low uptake for nursing certification programs, and increased understanding of health care, particularly in the fields of mental health and rehabilitation after physical injury.
The top paying states for registered nurses are California ($120,560 per year), Hawaii ($104,830), Massachusetts ($96,250), Oregon ($96,230), and Alaska ($95,270). However, salaries across the entire West Coast are exceptionally high, and demand for nursing specialists in cities in these states is just as strong. Alaska, South Carolina, South Dakota, California, New Jersey, and Texas are the areas where the nursing shortage is most urgent.
The route into nursing you take depends on your career goals and financial aspirations for the future. Some nursing certification programs are quick and require minimal time in the classroom, while advanced and specialized fields often necessitate a degree level education.
As with most jobs, the higher level of nursing specialty certification you earn, you better your prospects for a higher salary and management opportunities become. Of course, not everyone is expected to climb the career ladder, and a job as a nursing assistant or ADN is just as respectable as that of a CRNA.
You’ll need to fulfil specific educational and work experience criteria, depending on the route you decide on. Below are the most popular specialty certification options for a nursing student.
There are a couple of reasons you might want to become a nursing assistant. It can be a great introduction to nursing, with many professionals becoming a nursing assistant in some capacity to decide if they want to move forward with a career in the field.
Some of the job titles nursing assistants can have are: Personal care assistant, direct care worker, home assistant, licensed nursing assistant, registered nursing assistant, and certified nursing assistant. Training can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, depending on the role you go for and the state you work in. A high school diploma is usually the only requirement for this type of role
If you’re already working and want to get qualified as quickly as possible, you could study to become an LPN. Certification programs usually take one year to complete, and training can take place online, or at community college, vocational technical school, or even on the job at a hospital. The average wage is $48,820 per year, which is high considering you only need a high school education. Job growth between 2019 and 2029 is set at 9%, so it’s a decent career to get into in its own right.
If you’re currently an LPN and want to climb up the career ladder, you can study an LPN to associate degree in nursing bridge certification. In most cases, it takes a year or less to get qualified, and you’ll be in a position to earn more money or study a bachelor’s degree in nursing.
If you want to get into a career as a registered nurse and you’re not currently working as an LPN, you can become an ASN. In many instances, an associate degree is enough to satisfy the eligibility requirements for pursuing RN certification, and it takes just two years instead of the four years required for bachelor’s level studies. That said, many ASNs go on to become BSNs, and this course provides a foundation and credits towards your bachelor’s level nursing studies.
It’s possible for those with prior commitments to study for this certification at vocational schools or community college at evenings or weekends.
If you’ve already worked as an LPN, your experience can count towards an LPN to BSN bridge nurse practitioner program. If you study full-time, you can gain a nursing certification within four semesters — but keep in mind the course is very demanding. If you have family or work obligations, you might want to consider attending nursing school part-time.
Once you’re qualified, you can command a higher salary than an ASN, and already have the foundational knowledge necessary to pursue a career in nursing management. You can also work towards a doctorate degree in nursing when you’ve completed BSN studies.
Most employers within a health care setting prefer a bachelor’s degree, and it opens the door to more opportunities than an associate degree — but either is acceptable if your ambition is to become an RN. Bachelor’s graduates are able to administer a wider range of medication, have better career prospects, and are in a better position to make diagnoses and assess care outcomes.
BSN programs take four years, with extensive time spent in the lab and lots of coursework. Many health care settings offer to pay for an ADN to develop their skills via a BSN program in return for loyal service, so make sure you speak to your employer about potential support if you already work in the field.
If you’re looking to get a job in the most in-demand nursing positions, getting a bachelor’s degree in nursing is strongly recommended.
If you already have previous credits from an associate degree, and work experience as a nurse, it can count towards an RN to BSN bridge program. Instead of the four years it takes to start from scratch, full-time study takes just two years, and programs are often highly flexible.
Lots of the top schools offer online courses with enrolment taking place throughout the year instead of just once or twice, in case speed is a priority for you. If you want to get a role in management or get a master’s degree in nursing, this is the route for you.
Lots of people who studied a particular subject at school go on to change their specialization later in life. If you’ve already got a bachelor’s degree and want to start a career as a nurse, your qualification can count towards BSA certification. Studies usually take around two years, but some schools offer accelerated course which can take between 12 and 20 months.
An MSN provides students with research opportunities and advanced clinical training to prepare them for high-level work within a specialized field such as family nurse practice. Certification usually takes between a year and a half and two years, and students often need to write a thesis in their final year.
If you’ve been with your employer for a certain amount of time, perform well, and already have a BSN, there’s a good chance they’ll contribute financially towards an MSN. In this capacity, you’ll be able to perform many of the same duties as a doctor, with an impressive salary and job satisfaction to match.
While demand for nurses across the board is high, nursing professionals with a doctorate-level education are the most sought-after. This degree program takes around five years to complete, and you’re expected to complete difficult coursework, conduct high-end research, and complete a dissertation. This certification prepares learners for careers as administrators, educators, or analysts.
A Ph.D. takes between four and five years to finish, and helps nursing researchers and scholars learn how to meaningfully advance the practice of nursing and health care delivery. In many cases, the coursework demands for doctorate students are so high that it’s not possible to study and work at the same time, which is an important consideration for students.
Whether you’re starting out a career in nursing, or you’ve decided to reskill, there’s an overwhelming amount of choice when it comes to choosing which nursing certificate program to take. The most important considerations for many people are: The duration of the program, how much clinical practice you need to complete it, the course’s structure, and whether you can hone in on specializations.
Of course, the school you study at plays a major role in the type of education you receive. In the next section, we’ll explore the best colleges in the U.S. for nursing students, and take a look at why they’ve achieved such great reputations.
There are four main considerations to make when choosing which nursing certification is most appropriate for you:
If you want to get into a new career as a nurse as quickly as possible, you can become a nursing assistant within a few months. However, if you want to become a registered nurse, you’ll need to spend at least a year and a half studying to get ASN and RN certification.
Individuals who already hold a bachelor’s degree can get BSN certification within two years, but it usually takes four years. Accelerated BSN and MSN programs are available, and the intensive nature of these courses could see you half study time.
If you elect to study online, you may be able to speed up these timeframes even more.
According to U.S. News and World Report, these schools are providing some of the best online nursing certifications in the country:
Now you’re fully up to speed with what to expect while studying towards nurse certification, let’s take a look at the best schools in the country for nursing students. When compiling rankings, we’ve used information from the U.S. News & World Report, in addition to data about the graduation rate, acceptance rate, and overall reputation of each college and its nursing qualifications.
The University of Pennsylvania is one of the oldest universities in the country, with an exceptional reputation that includes making it to the 6th slot of Forbes’ Top Colleges 2019. The majority of this schools classes are relatively small, and it has a relatively meagre student population of around 10,000. It’s a competitive school, with an 8% acceptance rate and an impressive graduation rate of 95%. Students can expect to pay above average for tuition, which is $77,264 per year.
John Hopkins University comes in a number one on many lists of the best nursing schools in the U.S., and it makes number 12 in the Times’ World University Rankings 2019. Admittance is highly competitive, with an acceptance rate of 11%. With a graduation rate of 92%, it’s easy to see why the average annual cost of tuition fees here is $74,028. The student-faculty ratio is 6:1, and 77% of classes have fewer than 20 students. It’s one of the smallest, most exclusive schools on this list, with an overall student population of just over 6,000.
The University of North Carolina Chapel Hill is a mid-sized school with almost 20,000 students, and a student-faculty ratio of 14:1. Considering it’s one of the most affordable schools on the list of best for nursing education program, costing just $24,228 per year — it has an excellent graduation rate of 91%.
Admissions are also significantly less competitive than some of the others, as demonstrated by the acceptance rate of 23%. The Times’ list of the top 100 public universities in the U.S. ranks this school as number three.
Another public institution with a top reputation is the University of Michigan Ann Arbor. It costs just over $30,000 for a year of tuition, and boasts impressive statistics, including acceptance and graduation rates of 23% and 91%, respectively. It’s a relatively large school, with more than 30,000 students enrolled and a student to faculty ratio of 15:1.
It comes in at number one in the Times top 100 public universities, and number three in U.S. News & World Report’s list of top public schools in America.
Duke University is a private college in North Carolina that boasts an excellent reputation for nursing certification. It comes in at number three in U.S. News & World Report’s list of the best nursing schools in the country, and boasts an impressive graduation rate of 95%.
It costs just under $80,000 per year for tuition and has an acceptance rate of 8%, so it’s a pretty exclusive college. However, the student to faculty ratio is 6:1, which means nursing students can expect a highly specialized course with plenty of attention from tutors.