Nursing is a fast-paced job that can make a huge difference in people’s lives. The best nurses are usually excellent communicators, detail-orientated and able to stay calm under pressure and retain complex information.
Nursing is one of the most high-demand professions right now. In fact, there is currently a growing shortage of nurses in the United States; by 2030, the country is projected to need 1.2 million more nurses. California, Texas, New Jersey, and South Carolina are the states that are expected to be most in need of nurses by 2030. Nurse Practitioners, Nurse Anesthetists, and Nurse Midwives are in especially high-demand, with a projected job growth of 45 percent between 2019 and 2029.
According to researchers, there are a few core reasons the U.S. is experiencing a nursing shortage, including:
The U.S. currently has a larger portion of the population over 65 than ever before, and that number will continue to grow as baby boomers reach 65. Older people tend to need more medical attention for a variety of serious and not-so-serious reasons, which means there is a greater need for medical professionals.
At the same time, many current nurses are reaching retirement age, and as more career options become available in other sectors, fewer younger people are choosing nursing as a career.
Additionally, nursing can be a fast-paced, high-stress career that requires long hours and intense focus. The day-to-day stresses of the job, including long shifts, irregular hours, even the increased chance of experiencing violence of the job contribute to high turnover rates among nurses, which has contributed to the nursing shortage. COVID-19 was a high-stress situation for many health care providers, and may have exacerbated the shortage by being the catalyst for nurses to retire, leave the workforce to focus on family, or change careers.
According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, the median annual salary for Registered Nurses (RNs) as of May 2020 was $73,330. There is a large range of salary, however. RN’s in 90th percentile can make around $116,000 a year, while RN’s in the 10th percentile or below can make $53,000 a year.
There is a considerable salary variation by state and employment location. California isone of the highest-paying states for nurses and nurses that work in hospitals make more on average than nurses that work in other healthcare settings.
The median salary for Licensed Professional Nurses (LPNs) is $48,000 a year
The median salary for Nurse Practitioners (NPs) is $114,000 a year.
Nurse Anesthetists are the highest paid nurses, with an median annual salary of $183,000 a year.
You do not need a college degree to become an Registered Nurse (RN) or a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), but nurses with a bachelor’s of science in nursing earn, on average, $15,000 a year more than RNs without a BSN. Many community colleges offer one-year programs to become a LPN or two-year associates programs to become an RN.
Nurse Practitioners, Nurse Anesthetists and Nurse Midwives typically need a master’s degree in nursing, and tend to be the highest-paid nurses.
A bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) is a four-year degree offered by many universities. However, it is possible to work in entry-level jobs in the nursing field without a bachelor’s degree. Registered Nurses who would like to earn a bachelor's degree may consider an accelerated RN-to-BSN program which allows students to apply credits from their nurse training towards the degree and earn the BSN in a shorter amount of time. Many universities offer reputable RN-to-BSN programs including University of Florida, Ohio State University, Penn State World Campus, and Texas A&M.
Day-to-day life can look very different for nurses depending on their specific job and where they work. Most nurses spend their days doing a mix of hands-on clinical care and administrative or maintenance tasks. A few current nurses and nursing students shared what life is like as a nurse with our friends at Roadtrip Nation.
“I may begin at the office or field. If I start at the office, I check my email, update my calendar, prep my patient charts, and call patients. Then I head to home visits. I drive throughout the city doing home visits for 3-4 patients. Every home visit is completely different due to the varying lives my patients live. Every patient is unique but they all have one thing in common: they are first-time moms. My job is to guide them in achieving goals and becoming healthy for the baby and themselves.”
Joycelynne Antonio, Nurse, Nurse-Family Partnership, Las Vegas Nevada
“I do direct care with patients for the medical clinic, travel clinic, allergy clinic and sexual/reproductive health clinic for students. We do wound care, in person and phone triage, IV fluids, take blood, and do a lot of teaching about self care. Students come to us as 17 year olds up to PHD students, and they’re all seeking healthcare for the first time by themselves. The majority of what RNs do is teaching about the medical part of their lives, how to access care and caring for themselves.”
Carla Konlin, Registered Nurse, University of Colorado Boulder
“I am a student at the University of Idaho. I am also involved as an officer at my sorority. I go to class every day. When I get home I work on homework then take care of my obligations for my sorority. During the summer I have worked at a nursing home for the past 4 1/2 years. I would go to work every day knowing that 14 people's lives were literally in my hands. It's a great feeling but at the same time death is something I have to face in that career and that is always hard to cope with.”
“In the morning I am in clinic with older adults who usually come in with acute health issues: they had a fall with an injury, their heart failure is flaring up, or they just don't feel well but don't know why. I am the detective helping them figure things out. In the afternoon I meet with families of patients newly diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. I am actually breaking the news to the patient and family. Their reactions are diverse and run the emotional gamut. That can be tough to watch.”
-Sarah Wilson, Geriatric Nurse Practitioner at University of Nebraska Medical Center
“Although daily I care for typical illnesses, injuries, medical conditions etc, every day is a little different, and I'm always learning something new. I find that assisting with students' mental health issues also factors significantly in my work, in addition to physical health. Many student encounters often include some element of teaching as well."
-Kathy Regan, School Nurse
When choosing a nursing program, be sure to look at state approval, accreditation, length of the program, specialities offered, state approval and accreditation, opportunities for gaining hands-on experience through clinical rotations, program rankings, and the NCLEX pass rate.
Nursing Programs must be approved by the board of nursing for the state you wish to practice in. Before enrolling in a nursing program, make sure that the program is approved for your state, and any states you think you may want to work in.
Choosing a properly accredited nursing program is important for receiving financial aid, transferring credits if you decide to change programs or pursue a more advanced degree, and to make sure you can achieve licensure and stay competitive in the job market.
Check to make sure any programs you’re applying to are accredited by one of the two main nursing accreditation agencies approved by the U.S. Department of Education:
If you are interested in a nursing speciality, look for schools that have a focus in that speciality. The fastest-growing nursing specialities that require a bachelor’s degree (BSN) include:
A core component of nursing education is the opportunity to gain real-world experience through clinical rotations. Not only do these rotations allow nursing students to put their learning into practice, they are an important part of learning the soft-skills necessary for the job, building confidence, and networking. Research programs that offer high-quality clinical rotations in the specialities and health care settings you’re most interested in working in.
A high-NCLEX pass rate is one good indicator that a nursing program is offering a quality education for students, and that the majority of graduates are able to get licensed and work in the field.
NCLEX stands for National Council Licensure Examination. After graduating from nursing school, aspiring nurses must take the NCLEX exam to become licensed to practice nursing. There are two types of exams: the NCLEX-RN and the NCLEX-PN. The NCLEX-RN is for those who would like to be a Registered Nurse (RN), and the NCLEX-PN is for those who would like to be a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN).
Read more about these 10 top BSN programs and why these nursing programs stand out.
It is possible to complete a nursing degree online, though most, if not all, programs will require some in-person clinical hours. An online degree may be a great fit for current RNs who want to earn their BSN, or nurses already working in the field who would like earn an a master’s in nursing.
If you're considering going to college for nursing, or pursing another route to becoming a nurse, it's a good idea to talk to people in the field and try to get some hands-on experience. Many people like the idea of nursing, but find the day-to-day more difficult and less glamorous than they imagined. Read on for advice for current nurses for high school students who want to pursue a career in nursing.
“There are volunteer opportunities and school assignments that can be completed in a hospital maternity setting. I worked with a student that joined me for several hours over the course of her term, so she could learn more about what a Lactation Consultant does. This way, one can feel what the environment is like, working in a hospital, and to see if the work still seems interesting. If you are in California studying Spanish helps a lot. Also, imagine yourself as being there already.”
-Andra Sanberg, Registered Nurse, Lactation Consultant
“I would recommend you take your time in the beginning to choose your major, so that you don't waste time later. Explore your options (they're endless!). Shadow a professional for a day or two. See if you can see yourself in their shoes.”
-Moustafa Al-Makdah, Registered Nurse, Harris Health Ben Taub Hospital, Houston, TX
“Go for it. Don't let the numbers scare you. Don't let the waiting lists scare you. Get your prerequisites done so that once you get into that nursing program you can focus. For underprivileged kids or people who can't afford university, look for scholarships, always refer to your counsellors and start taking those college prep classes. If you're just generally interested in nursing, take some general courses and see if you fall into it.”
Loretta Rojo, Acute Care Nurse, Orange Coast Memorial Hospital
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