Top Nursing Jobs and Careers

Thinking about becoming a nurse? It’s never been a better time. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nursing jobs are expected to grow by 12% by the year 2028. There is a high demand for registered nurses and it continues to grow, especially for those who want to earn more through achieving higher levels of education. Learn about the different levels of nursing, average salaries, requirements, and what it’s like to be a nurse.  

Different Levels of Nursing Careers

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)
A certified nursing assistant or CNA is the connector between medical personnel and patients. When you visit a hospital, nursing assistants are the ones who are taking vital signs and caring for the daily needs of patients such as bathing, dressing, and getting around. A CNA is the quickest path to a career in nursing. CNAs also work in nursing homes, home health care, and retirement/continuing care facilities.

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
A licensed practical nurse or LPN has a similar role as a CNA, providing basic patient care. LPNs differ from CNAs in that they can administer medication and assist with inserting catheters and changing bandages. There is a longer training period for LPNs (about a year). LPNs may also take the National Council Licensure Exam for Practical Nurses known as the NCLEX-PN.

Registered Nurse (RN)
Registered nurses or RNs administer medication, perform tests, and work side by side with the doctor in carrying out a care plan for the patient. RNs can supervise other nurses where CNAs and LPNs cannot. There are also more opportunities for RNs outside a typical nursing career. RNs can work in a variety of settings and fields such as schools, public health, law/government, and forensics.

Nurse Practitioner (NP)
RNs can pursue a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) which also allows them to specialize in a certain area. There are two pathways for a Master of Science in Nursing: non-clinical and clinical. The non-clinical path is for those who want to go into management or teach in higher education. The clinical route is for nurses who want to become a Nurse Practitioner, Certified Midwife, or Nurse Anesthetist. The degree is referred to as an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse or APRN. NPs have a lot of the same duties as an RN, but they can also order and evaluate tests and diagnose and treat patients. NP’s have the highest earning potential and highest employment growth rates of all the nursing levels.

Average Salaries for Nurses

Average salaries range from $30,000 to $116,000 a year depending on the level and education. Here are the median annual salary and the hourly rate for each level of nursing:

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)
Median annual salary: $29,640
Hourly: $14.25

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
Median annual salary: $47,480
Hourly: $22.83

Registered Nurse (RN)
Median annual salary: $73,300
Hourly: $35.25

Nurse Practitioner (NP)
Median annual salary: $115,800
Hourly: $55.67

Source: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2019)

What to Expect as a Nurse

Nurses work long shifts and can work nights, weekends, and holidays. In a hospital setting, full-time is considered three 12-hour shifts a week. In a clinic setting, nurses may work a regular 9 to 5 pm schedule during the week. Nurses can also work on a short-term or part-time basis, which gives them more flexibility. 

Because of the amount of responsibility, nursing can be a stressful and physically demanding job. Many nurses report back pain and injuries in the line of duty. However, for those that thrive in a fast-paced work environment, can think on their feet, and relate well with people, nursing is a rewarding and challenging career.

Education Requirements

Specific requirements vary depending on the level of nursing and the state you live in. Here is a quick breakdown of the education and certification requirements at each nursing level:

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)
To become a CNA, you need to complete a state-approved education program (typically 3-12 weeks) which includes clinical hours and pass an exam to receive a state-issued certificate or registration. Community colleges, vocational schools, and even some high schools and hospitals offer CNA programs.  

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
LPN programs typically take about a year to complete and can be obtained through a community college or vocational school much like a CNA. Some states require LPNs to take and pass the NCLEX to receive a license.

Registered Nurse (RN)
There are two options for becoming a registered nurse. The first option one is to get an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) which takes roughly two to three years to complete. The second path is to obtain a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree which is a four to five-year program. Both an ADN and BSN require you to complete the program and pass the NCLEX to receive a registration with the state. 

Nurse Practitioner (NP)
NPs complete a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). It’s important to note, you must be a registered nurse before pursuing additional education. Master’s programs usually take around two years to complete. Nurses must take and pass an exam to obtain a license after completing the two-year program.

Nursing Job FAQs

What is per diem nursing?
Per diem is Latin for “by the day”. A nurse is hired for a shift when a need arises like filling in for people who go on vacation or during busy seasons such as cold and flu season. These shifts are very flexible. Nurses can choose when and how much they want to work.

What is travel nursing?
A nurse may choose to do travel nursing, which is when nurses can work for a short period at different hospitals around the country to help with staffing needs. Travel nursing is a great way to gain a breadth of experience, earn more, and live temporarily in a new place. Learn more about how travel nursing works and how to get travel nursing jobs here.  

What are my part-time nursing job options?
A nurse has the option to work part-time (typically less than 30 hours a week) and still receive benefits. Working part-time gives nurses the flexibility to spend more time with their family, go back to school, or simply maintain a better work-life balance.

What other kinds of jobs can I get with a nursing degree? 
Registered nurses can work in a variety of different settings using their skillset. Examples of jobs outside of a traditional nursing career include research, pharmaceutical sales, informatics, military, and consultancy.

What jobs can nursing students get while still in school? 
Nursing students have the opportunity to work while in school and gain valuable hands-on experience. Students can work as CNAs, orderlies, transporters, aids, paramedics, clerical workers, and much more. Here is a list of jobs with descriptions and pay that nursing students can do.

When should I start applying for a job? 
You can start applying for jobs immediately, even if you are still in nursing school. Each hospital has different policies but most encourage nursing students to begin applying for full-time work in the last semester of nursing school. Some hospitals or medical centers may require you to have your license.

Where can I find nursing jobs?
Prolink can assist you to find a job as a nurse. We source a variety of nursing and other jobs in the healthcare field. Here is a list of other sources to find nursing jobs in your area.