By 2018, the number of nursing jobs is expected to jump from 2.6 million to 3.2 million. If you think you have what it takes to join the ranks of our country’s best nurses and caregivers, then a nursing degree will further aid your efforts to enter this quickly growing field. Whether you are considering a career in nursing or exploring ways to move up in your career, this guide is designed to help you reach your goals.
Part I. The Nursing Industry
Signing up for a nursing career means a significant time commitment, plenty of multi-tasking, and a steep learning curve — but the rewards are great. Selecting a specific career goal is an important first step.
An Overview of Nursing Careers
- Licensed Practical Nurse: This role requires a high school diploma, completion of a state-approved educational program, and a passing score on the licensing exam. Job opportunities are generally in nursing homes, but LPNs can also find work in hospitals, physicians’ offices, and/or private homes. According to Nursing Link, the highest paid LPNs are found in Connecticut, where they earn an hourly wage of $24.39.
- Registered Nurse: With more education comes more opportunity, which is why many people choose to get their associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing. Upon completing a nursing program and passing a licensing exam, RNs are ready for work. Aside from the typical jobs in hospital and physicians’ offices, RNs can find employment at schools, summer camps or the military. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, RNs made a median salary of $64,690 in 2010.
- Advanced Practice Nurse: After nursing school, many people choose a special area of study under the APN umbrella. These career paths and their salaries vary from orthopedics to pediatrics, but generally specialized nurses earn the highest salaries among all nurses. This is a great option for students who want to focus their skills toward a specific aspect of nursing.
Salary and Career Outlook
Prospective nurses should take salary into consideration when devising the right career path. As with other professions, more education usually yields a higher salary. But where you live can also make a big difference in the size of your paycheck. Where registered nurses in California are the highest paid, at about $25 an hour, nurses in North Dakota can only expect around $16 an hour.
Getting a master’s or doctoral degree in a nursing specialty can bring in even more money, but there are many factors that go into landing a post-graduation job. Before you go for that degree and load up on financial aid, make sure you are committed to the profession.
The job market for Licensed Practical Nurses and Registered Nurses is expected to grow as much as 26% through 2020; this is due to a number of factors, from the growing body of elderly ‘baby boomers’ to the widespread acceptance of preventative care as an essential medical field. Over the next several years, highly educated, experienced nurses can expect to find more job opportunities, as well as more upward mobility in terms of career titles. While nursing is a lucrative, recession-proof occupation with plenty of job availability, many hospitals see a high turnover rate due to people who enter the field but ultimately aren’t cut out for the profession.
Part II. Top U.S. Nursing Programs
Johns Hopkins University
- Accreditation: Accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission, and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. Approved by the Maryland State Board of Examiners of Nurses. Endorsed by the Maryland State Board for Higher Education.
- Specialized Degrees: Students who want to fast-track their education while gaining vital work experience can apply for Johns Hopkins’ accelerated bachelor’s to master’s degree program, which includes a year-long paid residency at their hospital. For students opting to continue their education online, this school has three master’s programs.
- Industry Perception: It should come as no surprise that a nursing school attached to one of the most respected hospitals in the country would receive top honors. This school was named a Center of Excellence in Nursing Education in 2010 by the National League for Nursing.
- Cost: $65,700 to $66,193 for the entire Accelerated Bachelor’s Program, $33,168 to $52,614 a year for the Master’s Program, and $40,626 for the Doctoral Program.
- Financial Aid: Loans, grants, scholarships, and the federal work-study program are available.
University of Washington
- Accreditation: Accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, ACNM Accreditation Commission for Midwifery Education, and the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board.
- Specialized Degrees: After receiving an accelerated bachelor’s degree, students can continue their education in areas like midwifery and forensic nursing.
- Industry Perception: The school has turned out bright nurses for more than 90 years and received top ranking from U.S. News and World Report since 1984. All faculty must have at least a master’s degree, but 99% of tenured professors hold a Ph.D. The school’s first dean, Elizabeth Sterling Soule, was called the “Mother of Nursing” by Time Magazine.
- Cost: Bachelor’s degrees range from $8,242 annually for residents to $19,944 for nonresidents. Master’s degrees range from $14,992 annually for residents to $26,406 for nonresidents.
- Financial Aid: Scholarships, grants, loans, and work-study programs are available. Nursing students can learn about outside funding opportunities through the school’s blog.
Pennsylvania State University World Campus
- Accreditation: Accredited through the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission, Inc., and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.
- Specialized Degrees: Registered nurses wishing to advance their career can enroll in Penn State’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing program and earn their degree completely online.
- Industry Perception: Penn State’s online campus offers the same curriculum as the brick-and-mortar school, so students receive an equally stellar education. According to a survey by the The Wall Street Journal, the university received top ranking for turning out well-rounded students.
- Cost: $60,480 to $65,040 for the entire bachelor’s degree program.
- Financial Aid: Federal aid and scholarships are available for World Campus students.
Oregon Health and Science University
- Accreditation: Accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, Accreditation Commission for Midwifery Education, Council on Education for Public Health, and the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs.
- Specialized Degrees: An accelerated undergraduate program is available as well as graduate degrees with focuses in midwifery, anesthesia, and psychiatric mental health.
- Industry Perception: This school is highly ranked by U.S. News and World Report, and its midwifery program is one of the best in the country.
- Cost: Tuition varies by campus location, residency, and program.
- Financial Aid: In addition to state and federal financial aid, students can apply for scholarships through the OHSU Foundation.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
- Accreditation: Accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, North Carolina Board of Nursing, and the American Nurses Credentialing Center.
- Specialized Degrees: Students with an unrelated bachelor’s degree can enroll in the accelerated program, and master’s degree specialties range from pediatric nursing to psychiatric health.
- Industry Perception: The school is ranked in the top five by U.S. News and World Report, and 96% of students the NCLEX on the first try in 2011.
- Cost: $14,987 annually for undergraduate resident programs, and $40,014 for undergraduate nonresident programs.
- Financial Aid: Scholarships and financial aid vary depending on student status.
University of Michigan at Ann Arbor
- Accreditation: Accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, Collegiate Commission on Nursing Education, and the American College of Nurse-Midwives.
- Specialized Degrees: The University of Michigan prides itself on using state-of-the-art technology in its clinical lab for training. Academic programs range from undergraduate to doctoral, with focuses in pediatric care, midwifery, and occupational health care to name a few.
- Industry Perception: The master’s program landed in a list of the nation’s top 10 nursing schools compiled by U.S. News and World Report, and the school’s overall nursing program is ranked sixth in the country by the National Institutes of Health for its research funding.
- Cost: $12,800 to $16,206 annually for undergraduate resident programs, and $38,928 to $46,604 for undergraduate nonresident programs.
- Financial Aid: This school offers a variety of financial aid opportunities through private and federal programs, including awards for excellence in nursing and the Center for the Education of Women Scholarship Program.
University of Pittsburgh
- Accreditation: Accredited by Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Education Programs of the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists, and the Commission on Higher Education of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.
- Specialized Degrees: Whether students want to start at the ground level with the undergraduate program, fast-track it with the accelerated bachelor’s degree program, or continue their education as a registered nurse, Pitt has a plan for everyone.
- Industry Perception: The School of Nursing at Pitt is recognized as a Research Intensive Environment by the National Institute of Nursing Research and ranks fifth among nursing schools in the amount of funding and grants received from the National Institutes of Health.
- Cost: Programs start at $19,802 annually for undergraduate residents, and $32,308 for undergraduate non-residents.
- Financial Aid: In addition to federal aid, the School of Nursing allocates funding for students based on merit, diversity, and financial need. The school’s website also lists a collection of grants and scholarships available to its students.
Part III. Launching a Nursing Career
While you passed the NCLEX and you look great on paper, making the right connections is vital to landing a job. If you spent too much of your time buried in books, you’ll miss out on opportunities to connect with professor and mentors; volunteering is an excellent way to network while practicing your skills.
Organizing the Job Search
- Cover Letters and Résumés: For nurses, the job market is bustling, but employers still appreciate quality cover letters and résumés. A good résumé tells the story of your career path, highlighting academic achievements and demonstrated experience along the way.
- Job Interviews: Dress appropriately, act professionally, and bring along a portfolio with copies of your licenses, résumé, references, and letters of recommendation. Portfolios are sometimes overlooked by applicants, so having one can help you stand out. You should also prepare a list of questions for your interviewer. Making sure the job is a good fit is a mutual decision, after all. For more interview tips, check out John Hopkins’ interview guide.
5 Insights From Highly Successful Nurses
- Take in every experience that you can during orientation, take the sick patients while there is someone to hold your hand, ask many questions, and read everything that interests you. – Shannon Hilton, RN, BSN, at the cardiac ICU at University Hospital of Cincinnati, Ohio.
- There really are multiple reasons for [the first-year exodus]. One is that the nursing practice is incredibly complex. Over the past 60 years, the transfer of responsibility to nursing from medicine has been incredible. I think society doesn’t typically recognize that. – Patricia Benner, RN, PhD, professor at the University of California, San Francisco, and a senior scholar at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
- Don’t pull a fast one on the very people you’ll be relying on to pull you through that hellish shift. But don’t be a pushover. Be honest. Be genuine. You may be a little more vulnerable, but the reward you get always outweighs the risk. – Sean Dent, second-degree nurse.
- Don’t be discouraged when you’re in a situation that you are not competent in yet. Nursing is not easy, but it is very rewarding. Don’t stop studying when nursing school is over. Don’t throw those text books away. The first six months to a year after a new nurse gets their license they should go back and read about every patient diagnosis after their shift. – Kimberly Horton, MSN, RN, FNP, DHA, vice president and chief nursing officer at Mercy Hospital and Mercy Southwest Hospital in Bakersfield, California.
- A nurse needs to be multi-skilled, including being a detective to find out the problems, a counsellor to help people cope, empathetic to see the problem from the patients’ perspective, hardworking without taking too much notice of the time, oh, and a sense of humor always helps. – Debbie Hicks, nurse consultant in diabetes at NHS Enfield Community Services in London.
Nursing: The Finest of Arts
As Florence Nightingale once said, nursing is an art requiring exclusive devotion. This exciting field will grow considerably in the coming years, and plenty of jobs will be available to those who graduate from accredited nursing programs. Students can get an edge over the competition by researching various academic programs, understanding the different specializations, and networking with fellow students.