Nurses help patients get the most out of their health and abilities by preventing and alleviating health conditions, and advocating for their optimum health. Most work directly with patients and their loved ones to provide treatment, coordinate care, educate and inform. They typically work with doctors and healthcare teams, but may work in places that doctors typically don't. They may specialize in the type of care they offer, the kinds of patients they care for, and the setting in which they work.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a convergence of factors could lead to considerable demand for all kinds of nurses in the near future. For example, as the BLS notes, our aging population, and specifically the baby boomer population, is expected to require more care in coming years. Furthermore, more patients are expected to end up in long-term care facilities as life expectancies continue to increase. These additional patients are expected to increase the overall need for health care services and nurses that can provide them.
There are many different kinds of nurses and nursing specialties. The following list from the BLS highlights some of the most popular:
Top Careers in Nursing (BLS, 2013)
|Career||Number of Workers Nationally in 2013||Job Description||Degree Requirements|
|Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses||705,200||LPNs and LVNs report to registered nurses or doctors, working directly with patients to provide basic care such as monitoring vital signs and dressing wounds. They help patients feel more comfortable by assisting them with walking, moving in bed, bathing, and dressing. They also collect lab samples, record food intake and output, monitor medications and gather medical history.||According to the BLS, most LPNs and LVNs complete a one-year or two-year program that results in a diploma or certificate of achievement. Some also earn Associate degrees in Nursing.|
|Nursing Assistants and Orderlies||1,479,860||Nursing assistants and orderlies assist with basic care and personal hygiene. They bathe and dress patients who are unable, measure vital signs and keep accurate records, and assist with meals and everyday activities.||Nursing assistants and orderlies typically complete a state-approved education program that sometimes results in a certificate of completion.|
|Postsecondary Nursing Instructors||56,270||Postsecondary nursing instructors teach nursing students the various components of a successful nursing career, often providing hands-on instruction. They assess student ability and pass or fail students when appropriate.||Postsecondary nursing instructors need a Bachelor's degree in nursing and career experience in order to teach in trade and technical schools. Colleges and universities may require additional credentials, such as a Master's degree or Ph.D.|
|Registered Nurses||2,661,890||RNs provide direct care to patients and often make decisions about their care. They create a plan of care that includes performing diagnostic tests and analyzing results, documenting medical histories and symptoms, administering treatments, and operating medical machinery. They are responsible for making sure that medications are provided in the right dosage and avoid interactions, starting and removing IVs, observing patients, protecting the patients' health-related information, educating family members and loved ones, and consulting with physicians. They may supervise LPNs and LVNs.||The BLS notes that nurses generally begin their career one of three ways, sometimes to meet the minimum requirements in their state. Some choose to pursue a Bachelor's of Science degree in Nursing (BSN) while others get an Associate degree in Nursing (ADN), or a diploma from an approved nursing program.|
|Nurse Anesthetists||35,430||These professionals, often referred to as Advanced Practice Registered Nurses, provide advanced medical care to patients. Their advanced training allows them to diagnose conditions, implement tests and treatment, and write prescriptions. They often fill administrative functions in managerial roles, overseeing healthcare teams.||Nurse Anesthetists and APRNs have received a minimum of a Master's Degree in an area of specialty, and include Clinical Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNA), which are the most advanced of all nurses, Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNS) and Nurse Practitioners (NP).|
Education Required for a Career in Nursing
High school students who are applying to nursing school should have high aptitude for English, algebra, chemistry, biology, physics, psychology and technology. Volunteering at a hospital is a good way to get experience working with nurses, become familiar with the role they play in patient care, and make it easier to get into nursing school.
The minimum amount of education required to start a nursing career is a high school diploma and a one-year program at a vocational or technical school. Completing these requirements and passing the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN) earns the title Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) or Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN).
Registered nurses typically obtain a two-year Associate degree in Nursing (ADN), a two- or three-year diploma from an accredited nursing program or hospital, or Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree (BSN). Because degree programs tend to be readily available and versatile, diploma programs are less popular. In addition to taking SATs and other tests, some nursing schools require a pre-admission test called the National League for Nursing (NLN) Pre-admission Exam. Once they've completed a program, registered nursing students must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) in order to be licensed to practice. As a measure of their clinical competence, they may then choose to be certified in specialty areas, such as critical care, oncology, or rehabilitation.
For those who already have a Bachelor's or Master's Degree in a field other than Nursing, some universities offer accelerated programs: (Accelerated BSN, Accelerated MSN). For nurses who wish to further their education by obtaining their BSN or MSN, many bridge programs are available, including online programs that provide flexibility to match the diverse and demanding schedules of nurses.
Additional education and training, such as a Master's Degree in a specialty field, along with additional licensure requirements, can qualify nurses to perform job responsibilities similar to doctors', such as making diagnoses, performing tests or writing prescriptions. They may also be involved in management and administration, as a faculty member, or as an expert clinician. Nurses can even pursue PhDs, which qualify them to become involved in more community-level, university-level, government-level or organizational-level roles.
The following table uses 2013 BLS data to outline the different degree options in this field and what kind of career they may help you qualify for:
|Degree Type||Timeline for Completion||Possible Careers|
|Certificate||Most nursing certificate programs take a minimum of one year to complete.||Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses, Nursing Aides and Attendants, Nursing Assistants and Orderlies|
|Associate||Associate degrees can typically be completed with two years of full-time study. However, programs completed on a part-time basis may take longer.||Registered Nurses, Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses|
|Bachelor's||Bachelor's degree programs typically take four years of full-time study to complete.||Postsecondary Nursing Instructors, Registered Nurses, Pediatric Nurses|
|Graduate, Professional, or Doctoral Degree||Students can earn a graduate, professional, or doctoral degree in 1-5 years after earning a Bachelor's degree.||Postsecondary Nursing Instructors, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, Nurse Practitioners|
"Bureau of Labor Statistics," May 2013 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm
"Bureau of Labor Statistics," Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/licensed-practical-and-licensed-vocational-nurses.htm#tab-1
"Bureau of Labor Statistics," Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Nursing Assistants and Orderlies, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nursing-assistants.htm#tab-4
"Bureau of Labor Statistics," Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Postsecondary Teachers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/postsecondary-teachers.htm#tab-1
"Bureau of Labor Statistics," Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Registered Nurses, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm#tab-1
"Bureau of Labor Statistics," Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nurse-anesthetists-nurse-midwives-and-nurse-practitioners.htm
Schools for Nursing are listed in the column to the left.
This table shows summary data on occupations in the US. Clicking on any occupation name brings you to a page showing job prospects and salaries for that occupation in hundreds of metro areas across the country, with data updated through 2022.(Where data is denoted by an asterisk (*), summary info was not available.
Click each Occupation title for more details.
|Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists - CRNA||43,520|
|Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses (LPN/LVN)||701,690|
|Nursing Aides and Attendants||N/A|
|Nursing Assistants and Orderlies - Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA)||1,450,960|
|Postsecondary Nursing Instructors||55,710|