Accelerated Nursing Program Basics

Written and reported by:

Stephanie Behring

Contributing Writer

nurse in advanced training class
nurse in advanced training class

Accelerated nursing programs are designed for people who already have a bachelor’s degree in any other discipline. They allow you to use the credits you earned as part of your current degree toward a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree—the most common degree held by registered nurses (RNs).

This means you won’t have to start from scratch—you’ll be able to jump straight into nursing courses instead of spending four years pursuing the traditional BSN path. The programs are intensive and demanding, but they can allow you to make a career move in less than two years. 

How Does it Work?

Accelerated nursing programs allow you to earn a BSN degree quickly. You’ll complete the same nursing courses and the same amount of clinical hours as you would in a traditional BSN program, but you’ll be able to use your previous credits to meet non-nursing requirements. This allows you to focus on your nursing coursework, begin the clinical portion of your degree sooner, and potentially earn your BSN in less than two years.

An accelerated nursing program allows you to begin the clinical portion of your degree sooner and potentially earn your BSN in less than two years.

You will need to meet some prerequisites before you begin an accelerated program. Your previous degree will likely influence what prerequisites, if any, are required.

“Before students can begin our program, their college transcripts are reviewed to ensure that all prerequisites are met,” says Maureen C. Creegan, EdD, RN, nursing program director at Dominican College in Orangeburg, New York. “Almost all students meet the arts and social sciences requirements; most do not meet the natural sciences requirements, including anatomy and microbiology. To assist students, we offer back-to-back prerequisite courses just prior to the start of the accelerated program.”

Typical science prerequisites include:

  • Biology I
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Microbiology
  • Inorganic Chemistry
  • Statistics

How Long Does it Take?

Accelerated programs to have a very short completion time, generally between 11 and 18 months. Completion time includes the 700 to 800 hours of clinical time most programs require. The programs are full-time and intensive, with no breaks between course sessions. Additionally, because you already have a bachelor’s degree, you will only need to take nursing courses.

Accelerated programs to have a very short completion time, generally between 11 and 18 months.

What Will My Classes Look Like?

Your time in the program will be focused on nursing courses. You won’t be taking any general education or elective courses. Instead, you’ll take classes that will prepare you to provide safe and effective nursing care to patients.

Common classes include:

  • Pharmacology
  • Medical Terminology
  • Nursing Ethics
  • Introduction to Professional Nursing
  • Care Planning and Management
  • Pathophysiology
  • Geriatrics
  • Pediatrics
  • Cardiac and Critical Care
  • Health Assessment
  • Community Health
  • Mental and Behavioral Health

You’ll also complete supervised clinical hours at a local medical facility. Your clinical hours will give you real-world experience with patients and the skills you’ll need in a nursing role. You’ll be supervised and guided by an experienced nurse who will assist and teach while you complete your hours.

Are Online Programs Available?

Many schools offer students the ability to complete their accelerated program courses entirely online. Your clinical hours, however, will need to be completed in person at a healthcare facility. Many students find online programs more convenient than traditional campus learning. You can attend classes on your own schedule without needing to be in a classroom during set hours. This makes it a great fit for students with families and other obligations.

It’s important to note that an online accelerated program will still be intensive and demanding. You might be able to do your coursework at late hours or on the weekends, but you will still be committing to a heavy workload. 

Is an Accelerated Nursing Program the Same as a Bridge Program? 

Both accelerated nursing programs and bridge programs offer paths to nursing degrees, but they are very different. Accelerated programs are designed for students who have a bachelor’s degree in another area. It allows them to take nursing courses at a fast pace and earn their BSN quickly. They aren’t meant for people with prior nursing experience.

In contrast, bridge programs are designed for current nurses. They build on the knowledge nurses already have to help them attain higher-level nursing degrees. For example, a licensed practical nurse (LPN) can use a bridge program to earn their BSN without needing to spend four years in school. Similarly, an RN who has earned an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) can pursue their Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree with an RN-to-MSN bridge program.

What do they have in common? Both accelerated nursing programs and bridge programs save students time and money by allowing them to earn their degrees more quickly than they would pursuing traditional pathways.

Accelerated nursing programs are best for people who are certain they’re ready for a career change. The programs are a serious commitment: You’ll need to be prepared for an intense and demanding academic environment. 

Students come to accelerated programs from a variety of backgrounds. Many students decide to pursue nursing after spending years in other people-oriented careers such as teaching or human services. Often, people coming from these fields make the change to nursing because it offers more opportunities to advance, take on leadership roles, and increase earnings.

Many students decide to pursue nursing after spending years in other people-oriented careers such as teaching or human services.

However, students of any background can be successful in an accelerated nursing program. An accelerated program could be right for students who initially pursued business, English, political science, or any other discipline. The dedication to a future nursing career and the motivation to succeed matter more than your individual academic or career background. 

Real Nurses Who Pursued Accelerated Nursing Degrees

Nursing is a fast-paced and demanding career. It often draws compassionate people who are dedicated to helping others. People who make the switch to nursing later in their careers are often motivated by dissatisfaction with their current career, but also by the appeal of nursing as a field. Students who apply to accelerated programs are generally adults who are frustrated with their current jobs due to low pay, lack of growth, or burnout. It is common for students to be drawn to nursing after experiences with nurses, either personally or professionally.

Amanda Criner is a Chicago-based RN who also holds journalism degree. Before entering her accelerated nursing program, she was teaching preschool and was unhappy with her job. After her father spent time in the hospital, Criner realized going back to school to become a nurse might be a great career move.

“The nurses were amazing,” she says. “They were smart, and they cared about my dad and us. I said, ‘I think I can do this.'”

Jessica Mooney, a Boston-area RN who originally earned a bachelor’s degree in communications, was inspired to change careers after working with RNs at a hospital.

“My first job was working as an administrative assistant in a large teaching hospital in Boston in the neonatal intensive care unit,” Mooney says. “Working alongside the clinicians, especially the (neonatal) nurses, made me want to enter the field.”

Accelerated Nursing FAQs

Going back to school is always a big decision. One of the best ways to ensure you’re making the right choice is to ask questions and gather information.  

Is my accelerated nursing degree as good as a regular BSN?

Yes. Your accelerated degree is the same BSN earned by traditional BSN students. You’ll be able to earn the same degree that you need to be able to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) exam and earn your license to become an RN. In fact, you might even have an advantage. The AACN reports that some employers look for students with accelerated nursing degrees because of their previous work experience and maturity.

Criner agrees. “You have this advantage. You had a life before,” she says. “As someone with more experience, I’m more apt to say, ‘Let’s find a solution.'”

Will I have to take a lot of math and science classes?

Yes, there will be math and science classes. The exact number will depend on your program and on how much math and science you took as part of your current bachelor’s degree. You might need to take math or science prerequisites before beginning your accelerated program if your current degree included very few math or science credits. That might sound intimidating, but your experience might help more than you think.

Criner’s advice? “Dive in and take a class to see how it is.”

You can enroll in a community college math or science class to knock out a prerequisite and refresh your skills. An online class can be a great way to work at your own pace, especially if you’re nervous about the material. Plus, you can take advantage of free online workbooks, skill tests, and even video lessons that help you learn.

What GPA do I need?

Accelerated nursing programs are very competitive. Most schools will require at least a 3.0 GPA and a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school. Additional requirements will depend on the school and on your current degree. You might also need to complete an interview or admissions exam. Some schools will screen students before admission to ensure they’ll be able to manage the demands of the program.

“Due to the intensity of the program, an interview was added to the admission process to better screen students,” says Maryann Forbes, Ph.D., RN, Accelerated Baccalaureate Program Director at the State University of New York-Stony Brook, describing the admissions process her program uses. “Faculty feel that the interview and ongoing mentoring are key components to student success.”

Will I automatically become an RN after completing an accelerated program?

You’ll be eligible to sit for the NCLEX-RN once you’ve completed your program. Together with your degree, a passing score on the NCLEX-RN will allow you to apply for licensure in your state. You’ll need to send proof of your education and your test results to your state’s nursing board to become an RN. Each state has its own renewal requirements you’ll need to follow to keep your license in good standing.

Are accelerated nursing programs good for career changers?

Accelerated nursing programs are designed with career changers in mind. Although these programs are challenging and demanding, students from diverse career backgrounds can consider them. You don’t need to be intimidated or worry that your current degree isn’t a strong enough background. Students with both bachelor of arts (BA) and bachelor of science (BS) degrees are able to complete accelerated programs and make a career change

Plus, many employers look at graduates of these programs favorably. That makes them a great way to change your career but keep the advantages of your experience. You’ll be able to use your current degree to earn your BSN more quickly, and you’ll be able to use your current job experience in your nursing career. Together, these factors make accelerated programs a fantastic fit for career changers.

Are accelerated nursing programs worth it?

Only you can decide if an accelerated nursing program makes sense for your life and your circumstances. However, if you want to earn your BSN and begin working as RN quickly, they might be a great fit.

“The program was the most challenging thing I have ever completed in my life,” Mooney says, “but still to this day, I smile when I see my diploma.”

“People think it’s pretty great that you went back to school,” Criner says. “It means more to people. We need nurses with experience in the world. Start by having the confidence you can do it.”

Recommended For You

6 Steps to a Second Career as a Nurse with an Accelerated BSN

anna giorgi

Written and reported by:

Anna Giorgi

Contributing Writer

student pondering nursing as a second career
young woman working on laptop computer looking away contemplatively

If you’re considering nursing as a second career, making the change may be easier than you think. If you already have a bachelor’s degree in any field, you can leverage that education in an accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program and complete your nursing education in less than two years.

How to Pursue Nursing as a Second Career

man reading letter outdoors

1: Assess your education to determine what you can apply toward a nursing degree.

If you have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, you likely have what it takes to qualify for an ABSN program. However, program requirements vary by school, so it’s wise to meet with admissions counselors at more than one program to determine what previous coursework you can apply toward a nursing degree.

Other considerations, such as a minimum cumulative GPA or minimum grade requirements in prerequisite classes, may make you a better candidate for some ABSN programs over others.

instructor conducting nursing class

2: Complete any prerequisite courses.

An admissions counselor can work with you to determine whether you’ll need any prerequisites and help you establish a timeline to complete your degree.

Prerequisites typically include courses in anatomy, physiology, statistics, and microbiology to give you a sound foundation for your nursing studies. Based on program requirements, you may be able to complete your prerequisites online or at another accredited institution, such as a community college. This option could be convenient and save you money.

nurses in on the job clinical training

3: Complete your nursing education, including clinicals.

The curriculum for ABSN programs varies by school but you should expect to learn hands-on skills and to participate in simulation labs. You’ll also need to gain experience by completing clinical practice at local healthcare facilities.

The number of clinical hours you must complete varies by program and licensing requirements in the state where you study. ABSN requirements are generally 700 to 800 hours of practice and training, similar to the hours required for a traditional BSN.

Additionally, course work in the classroom is rigorous and typically includes classes in:

  • Health assessment
  • Nursing care of adults and older adults
  • Care of women and childbearing families
  • Psychiatric and mental health nursing
  • Care of children and adolescents
  • Concepts in pharmacology
  • Management and leadership

nurses taking licensure exam

4: Take and pass the nurse licensure exam.

After you earn your nursing degree, you’ll be eligible to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN), which is administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). The NCLEX-RN is a computerized exam required by every state board of nursing to qualify for an RN license.

A variety of free materials are available online to study for this exam, which includes multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank, and other questions.

three nurses walking and talking in medical facility

5: Get licensed to practice in your state.

After passing the NCLEX-RN, you must apply to your state board of nursing for a license to practice. In addition to passing the national nursing exam, some licensing boards require applicants to provide professional references and undergo a background check and fingerprinting.

two nurses going over paperwork and working on laptop computer

6: Earn a nursing certification.

As you gain experience in nursing, you may decide to specialize. Professional certifications are optional credentials you earn to demonstrate advanced knowledge and skills in specific areas of nursing.

Certification can also help set you apart from other candidates when applying for jobs, demonstrate your commitment to lifelong learning, and open doors to advancement.

About 40 professional nursing organizations award certifications. All have their own eligibility requirements, which often include work experience. Certifying bodies and examples of their credentials include:

American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)

  • Pain Management Nurse—Board Certified (PMGT-BC)
  • Pediatric Nurse—Board Certified (PED-BC)
  • Gerontological Nurse—Board Certified (GERO-BC)

Orthopaedic Nurses Certification Board (ONCB)

  • Orthopaedic Nurse Certification(ONC)

Radiologic Nursing Certification Board (RNCB)

  • Certified Radiology Nurse (CRN)

What Is an Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing?

An ABSN degree is a fast-track program designed for students who have a bachelor’s degree in a field other than nursing. Students complete the same nursing curriculum and clinical hours as those in traditional four-year BSN programs, but they do it in less time.

ABSN programs build on your previous academic coursework, so you don’t have to duplicate general education courses you took to earn your first bachelor’s degree. Without these requirements, the ABSN curriculum focuses exclusively on nursing.

Depending on the amount of time that has passed since you earned your first degree, you may have to take or retake prerequisite courses, usually in the sciences, before enrolling in an ABSN.

An ABSN degree is a fast-track program designed for students who have a bachelor’s degree in a field other than nursing.

People from all types of educational and professional backgrounds have switched to nursing as a second career.

“Regardless of the type of nursing someone gets into, they must consider their emotional intelligence quotient, and how they’re able to relate and work with people,” says Tiffany E. Gibson, MSN, RN, NPD-BC, CPN, a clinical nurse educator and owner of New Nurse Academy, a resource for nursing education and professional development. “People skills, communication, conflict resolution, and relationship building are all required in nursing.”

Online Nursing Programs

You may benefit from enrolling in an online nursing program if you have family or work responsibilities that you’ll need to juggle while you earn your degree. An online program allows you to complete much of your coursework online, often at your convenience.

Even with an online program, you’ll need to complete skills and lab requirements in person at your school or a local healthcare facility such as a hospital or clinic.

Some online nursing programs also allow you to progress through your degree at your own pace, which may be slower or faster than the timeline of a traditional college semester.

It’s important to note that you’ll still need to complete skills and lab requirements in person at your school or a local healthcare facility such as a hospital or clinic.

While you might be attracted to nursing for myriad personal and professional reasons, make sure it’s a good fit before you commit to a career change.

These skills and qualities will serve you well as a nurse:

Empathy toward others who are vulnerable or in need

Caring for others is at the core of nursing, and it’s the reason many nurses find their jobs rewarding.

The ability to work well in high-stress, high-pressure environments

Quality care can make a significant difference in a patient’s well-being, so nurses must be able to consistently perform at the highest level despite challenges such as emergency situations, staffing shortages, and long hours.

Excellent communication skills

Your ability to communicate is crucial to working as part of an effective healthcare team. Your patients will benefit from your care and their loved ones will benefit from your ability to communicate instructions, treatment explanations, and patient updates.

Passion for details

Whether you’re administering medications, delivering treatments, or measuring vital signs, you must be vigilant about following procedures and identifying life-threatening situations when they arise.

A commitment to lifelong learning

Medical knowledge and technology are constantly advancing, so nurses must be committed to professional development to remain current on skills and procedures. 

FAQ for Nursing as a Second Career

Why choose nursing as a second career?

“Nursing can be a good choice for someone contemplating a career change because it is a profession that touches on pieces of a lot of different aspects of human life,” says Gibson. “It’s analytical, theoretical, communal, and nurturing–a great mix of hard and soft skills.”

Nursing offers diverse opportunities in patient care, administration, and leadership. Jobs for registered nurses are expected to grow by 9% through 2030, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and the annual median salary for RNs is $75,330.

“Nursing is an opportunity to make an immediate impact, serve the community, and make financial strides. Not to mention the profession of nursing is so multi-faceted and layered and intersects with other industries (tech, corporate, legal, civil, political and education),” says Gibson.

How hard is it to switch to a career in nursing?

Like any career transition, switching to a nursing career can be exciting and challenging. Your experience in doing so will depend largely on your expectations, your past education, and your experience.

“My transition into nursing from public health wasn’t difficult. … I spent my time before nursing school teaching sex education to teens and women in underserved communities,” says Gibson. “I was able to transfer my soft skills as a community health advocate fairly easily.”

Where do I start?

One of the best places to start your transition into a nursing career is by talking with other nurses. Learn what’s involved in working as a nurse on a daily basis and whether it’s a natural fit for you. Contact professional nursing organizations, online nursing communities, and even your local hospital for opportunities to learn about the career.

Your next steps should include speaking to admissions counselors at schools that offer ABSN programs that interest you. Determine the time and cost of earning your ABSN to decide whether it’s a commitment you’re ready to make.

How long does it take to switch to a nursing career?

An ABSN condenses the traditional nursing curriculum so that it can be completed in about 14-16 months of full-time study. However, it could take longer.

Before enrolling in an ABSN, many students must complete some prerequisites to meet the admission requirements for an accelerated program. After graduation, you must pass the NCLEX and earn state licensure before you can work as a professional nurse.

tiffany gibson

With professional insight from:

Tiffany E. Gibson, MSN, RN, NPD-BC, CPN

Nurse Educator, Professional Development, Diversity & Inclusion

Recommended For You

Why More Black Nurses Are Needed in Healthcare

sara nguyen

Written and reported by:

Sara J. Nguyen

Contributing Writer

nurses working together looking at laptop computer
nurses working together looking at laptop computer

While Black Americans represent 13% of the population, only 7.8% of nurses are Black, according to the federal Health Resources and Services Administration. This gap is narrower than it used to be, but there continues to be a strong need for more Black nurses.

“There are benefits for both the health system and consumer side when you have a diverse population of people who are providing health to the community,” says Tiffany M. Montgomery, an assistant professor of nursing at Temple University.

The Beginnings of Black Nursing

Black nurses can be found throughout U.S. history, but it took perseverance in the face of long odds to obtain an education and then recognition as nurses.

Black nurses faced racism on multiple fronts. A limited number of schools were willing to accept them as students, professional nursing organizations rejected them as nurses, and the U.S. Army and Navy banned them from working in the armed services.

Black nurses can be found throughout U.S. history, but it took perseverance for them in the face of the long odds of racism to obtain an education and recognition as nurses.

Black nurses steadily fought to gain ground and pave the way for more nurses of color, but it took decades to gain broad acceptance.

Who was the first Black Nurse? Meet her and other historic figures.

Mary Eliza Mahoney (pictured): In 1879, Mahoney became the first Black American to earn a professional nursing license. She would spend a significant portion of her life dedicated to increasing access to nursing education for people of color and fighting racial discrimination in the field.

Estelle Massey Osbourne: In 1931, Osbourne became the first Black American to earn a master’s degree in nursing. During World War II, she worked to change discriminatory policies against Black nurses. Because of her work, more nursing schools began to admit Black students, and the Army and Navy dropped their bans on Black nurses.

Hazel Johnson-Brown: Johnson-Brown became the first Black female brigadier general in the U.S. Army. When she assumed her post in 1979, she was in charge of the 7,000 nurses in the Army Nurse Corps. She later served as director of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Nursing.

Black Nursing Today

Black Americans’ relationship with healthcare is a complicated one. Historic examples of discrimination and unethical experimentation, such as the Tuskegee Syphilis Study and others that came at the expense of Black women’s bodies, have created a feeling of mistrust for many, says Montgomery.  

In fact, more than one-third of Black people have reported feeling discriminated against while receiving medical care according to a 2017 poll by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a philanthropic organization dedicated to addressing health issues.

“We finally are just getting around to receiving an apology, but people have long memories,” Montgomery says. “Our community doesn’t trust healthcare providers, and so we must have healthcare professionals who are a part of the communities that distrust the healthcare system.” 

A study by the non-profit health advocacy group Families USA says that people who have healthcare professionals from the same racial or ethnic background are more likely to report care satisfaction.

“You learn that some of the biases that you have against people in these communities have no basis,” Montgomery says. “So, you become a better practitioner yourself.”

People who have healthcare professionals from the same racial or ethnic background are more likely to report care satisfaction, according to a study.

But there are challenges for Black people who want to become nurses. Factors like cultural alienation and discrimination can prevent Black students from graduating with college degrees. As a nursing student and as an educator, Montgomery says she’s “seen white students treated with privilege and Black or other students of color discriminated against.”

The Future of Black Nursing

Black nurses and educators are in demand to provide the healthcare Black communities need. So, what can be done to ensure that prospective Black nursing students complete their degrees?

“One of the biggest challenges for Black nursing students is the lack of Black faculty,” she says.

Today, 11% of students pursuing a bachelor’s degree in nursing are black and 8.7% of nursing faculty are Black, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

Black faculty members can serve as role models for Black students—and also educate other students about the social issues surrounding health disparities within the Black community.

But it’s not always easy to hire and retain faculty of color. Montgomery suggests this is because being an educator often pays less than clinical nursing—and comes with a higher workload. Low retention rates might stem from cultural biases of white faculty and feelings of isolation among Black faculty.

“As we can increase diversity, I think that students will feel more comfortable,” says Montgomery. “We can recruit more students to nursing, and we can retain them.”

To do this, she says, Black students must feel like they are part of a community.

She recommends that prospective Black nursing students look not only at a school’s pass rates as a measure of the quality of their nursing program but also at a school’s:

  • Black faculty and staff
  • Black student unions
  • Black nursing auxiliary groups
  • Organizations that are geared toward the student’s interests

Another way to retain students and ultimately increase the number of Black nurses is by providing an educational environment where they fit in and are needed.

“Nursing school is hard enough on its own,” says Montgomery. “We don’t need to do anything to make it more difficult than it already is, and so creating an environment where people can just be themselves is the best way to get successful students.”

Resources for Black Nurses

Strong community support can offer encouragement and resources to aspiring Black nurses. Here are some resources:

Organizations for Black nurses

  • National Black Nurses Association
  • Black Nurses Rock
  • National Coalition of Ethnic Minority Nurse Associations

Podcasts for Black nurses

Black nurses on social media

Scholarships for Black nursing students

  • NBNA scholarships: There are multiple scholarships available ranging from $1,000 to $15,000.
  • M. Elizabeth Carnegie African American Scholarship: This scholarship is designated for Black nurses enrolled in a doctoral program.
  • Black Nurses Rock Scholarship: Offered by Black Nurses Rock. Current Black nursing students can apply for this scholarship, which awards varying amounts of financial aid.

With professional insight from:

tiffany montgomery

Tiffany M. Montgomery

Assistant Professor of Nursing, Temple University

Recommended For You

What’s the Difference Between a Registered Nurse and a Nurse Practitioner?

Written and reported by:

Stephanie Behring

Contributing Writer

registered nurse and nurse practitioner talking
registered nurse and nurse practitioner talking

Registered nurses (RNs) and nurse practitioners (NPs) both provide patient care, but there are significant differences between these two important nursing roles. While RNs provide direct care to patients in a variety of settings, NPs hold a graduate degree and can take on additional tasks such as diagnosing patients and, in many states, prescribing medication.

“Nurse practitioners focus on health promotion and illness prevention to inform their practice as an independent healthcare provider,” says Erin M. Alving, MSN, ARNP, CDCES, a pediatric nurse practitioner and diabetes educator at Seattle Children’s Hospital. “One can build on the physical assessment skills and patient care interactions learned as a registered nurse to strengthen their nurse practitioner practice.”

RN and NP Roles and Responsibilities

Registered nurses can be found in just about every healthcare setting and provide direct care to patients. Responsibilities can vary widely depending on where you work.

“Many of your daily responsibilities or duties as a nurse are going to depend largely on your specialty or what floor you work on,” says Alaina Ross, RN, BSN, a full-time RN with more than 10 years of experience. “For example, an ICU nurse is going to have a very different set of daily tasks than a school nurse,” Ross says.

However, there are some duties RNs share across specialties and workplaces, such as:

  • Counseling patients and their family members
  • Checking patient vitals
  • Administering medications
  • Charting patient data and behavior
  • Managing other medical professionals, such as CNAs, medical assistants, and nurse aides

“But I would just say that your greatest responsibility, no matter what, is patient care,” says Ross. “As an RN, you’re the primary point of contact for a patient in any setting, so making sure patients feel comfortable, safe, and at ease is your biggest duty.”

Nurse practitioners have an advanced scope of practice and can take on a wider range of duties. They can act as primary care providers in a variety of settings and specialties. In some states, NPs even run their own medical offices. This can make care more accessible for people who have trouble accessing large medical practices, such as those who live in rural areas or underserved urban areas. NPs deliver primary care from a nursing perspective that is focused on education, wellness, and preventive measures.

The exact responsibilities of an NP will depend on their specialty, work setting, and state. While many states allow NPs to work completely independently, some states require NPs to work under the supervision of a physician. Similarly, some states grant NPs prescriptive authority (the ability to write prescriptions for medications) but other states do not.

Typical responsibilities of NPs across states and specialties include:

  • Providing primary care to patients within the scope of practice allowed in their state
  • Diagnosing illnesses, injuries, and infections
  • Performing in-office treatments for acute injuries and infections
  • Ordering and reviewing the results of diagnostic tests, such as electrocardiograms (EKGs) and X-rays
  • Gathering thorough patient data for patient records
  • Designing treatment plans for each patient
  • Educating patients about their health
  • Prescribing medication in states that grant prescriptive authority to NPs

Direct Care Vs. Primary Care: What’s The Difference?

One of the biggest differences between RNs and NPs is that RNs are responsible for direct patient care, while NPs are responsible for primary patient care. What makes each type of care distinct? Direct care is care patients receive to address a need, relieve pain, or treat a condition. For example, when an RN cleans and applies prescription creams to a wound before carefully covering it, they are providing direct care. 

Primary care is care that assesses, diagnoses, and orders treatments for injuries or illnesses. When an NP diagnoses a patient and writes a prescription, they are providing primary care. Often, primary care and direct care go hand-in-hand. An NP providing primary care might write prescriptions for a medication or treatment, and an RN providing direct care might administer medication or treatment.


You likely think of hospitals or medical offices when you think of workplaces for either RNs or NPs. While those standard workplaces are always an option, they’re not your only choice.  RNs and NPs can find work in a wide variety of healthcare settings.

RNs can find work in:

  • Hospitals
  • Specialty clinics
  • Health systems
  • Medical offices
  • Mental health facilities
  • Rehabilitation facilities
  • Community health clinics
  • Home healthcare agencies
  • Long-term care facilities
  • Urgent care centers
  • Health insurance companies
  • Law offices
  • Correctional facilities
  • Colleges and universities
  • Schools
  • Athletic facilities

NPs can find work in:

  • Hospitals
  • Specialty hospitals
  • Health systems
  • Medical offices
  • Independent practice
  • Community health clinics
  • Long-term care facilities
  • Urgent care centers
  • Health insurance companies
  • Corporations and industrial complexes

Experienced NPs can also find work in specialty care centers. Specialty care is healthcare that goes in-depth on a specific condition. This is different from primary care, which is focused on overall health and wellness.

“NPs have many opportunities in specialty care in addition to primary care,” says Alving. “For example, my practice is in the specialty of pediatric endocrinology. Most of my colleagues also work in specialty care.”


RNs and NPs specialize in different areas of care. For RNs, this often means specializing in patient care delivered in a specific unit or medical setting. For NPs, this means specializing in the population you’ll provide care to.

Common RN specialists and the type of care they provide:

Unlike RNs, NPs are required to choose a specialty before they can earn licensure. Some common NP specializations and the care they provide:

  • Family nurse practitioners (FNP)s provide primary care to patients of all ages and offer education, counseling, and more to the patients they see.
  • Adult nurse practitioners provide primary care such as assessments, diagnoses, and treatments for adults.
  • Geriatric nurse practitioners work with older adults and their families by providing primary care and education.
  • Pediatric nurse practitioners provide primary care to children ranging from a few months old to teenagers.
  • Neonatal nurse practitioners provide advanced care in labor and delivery units and in neonatal ICUs.
  • Women’s health nurse practitioners provide primary care with an emphasis on reproductive and gynecological health.
  • Acute care nurse practitioners provide advanced care to injured or ill patients in hospital or urgent care settings.

What Degree does Each Job Require?

There are a few paths to nursing licensure at either the RN or the NP level. Aspiring RNs can choose from an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or Bachelor of Nursing Science (BSN) degree. Either degree will prepare you to take the NCLEX-RN and apply for licensure in your state. The path to RN licensure is up to you. An ADN can generally be earned in half the time and might be much less expensive. However, a BSN might prepare you for higher-level roles and help you advance your career.

RNs can earn an ADN or a BSN. An NP must hold a master’s or doctoral degree.

Conversely, you’ll need at least a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree to earn NP licensure, and it’s not uncommon to earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. In fact, it’s likely that a DNP will soon be required.

Several nursing organizations, including the American Association of Colleges of Nursing and the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties (NONPF), have announced support for the DNP becoming the entry-level degree for NPs in the near future.

For now, you can choose either an MSN or DNP as a path to NP licensure. You’ll need an RN license in good standing to enter an MSN program. Some programs will ask that you have a BSN, but some schools offer RN-to-MSN bridge programs that allow students with ADNs to enroll.

You can also go directly from a BSN to a doctorate through a BSN-to-DNP bridge if you know that’s the path you want to take. Once you figure out the structure and program that works for you, you can choose a specialty and begin your NP education.

You don’t always need years of RN experience to enter an MSN or DNP program, but it can be a huge help.

“Most NPs have some RN experience,” says Alving. “For me, having some RN experience was important in preparing me for the NP role. However, there are many talented and competent NPs who were direct entry into NP programs with no RN experience.”

Licenses and Certifications

Both RNs and NPs need to be licensed before they can work.


Becoming an RN:

  1. Earn your ADN or BSN degree
  2. Take the NCLEX-RN
  3. Apply for licensure in your state

Becoming an NP:

  1. Earn your RN license
  2. Earn your MSN and/or DNP degree
  3. Take a certification exam in your specialty
  4. Apply for licensure in your state

RN Requirements

RNs must complete an educational program, pass the NCLEX-RN exam, and get licensed before they can practice. Most states will also ask for information such as a criminal background check and complete educational record when you apply for licensure. Once you’re working, you’ll need to take steps to maintain your RN license through continuing education classes.

RNs aren’t required to earn specific certifications. However, there are multiple certifications available, and earning them is a smart career move. Certification is a great way to prove your dedication and demonstrate your education and skills to employers. They can help you advance your career.

The right certification for you is often the one best aligned with your specialty. There are certifications for critical care RNs, emergency room RNs, operating room RNs, and more.

NP Requirements

NPs need to complete their MSN or DNP and then take the certification exam for their specialty. Certifications are offered by the American Association of Nurse Practitioners Certification Program (AANPCP), American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB), and National Certification Corporation (NCC).

Once you’ve taken and passed the certification exam in your specialty, you can apply for licensure in your state. In some states, you’ll need to apply separately if you want prescriptive authority. You’ll then need to maintain both your certification and your state license to keep working as an NP. Requirements vary by certification and state, but normally involve both clinical practice and continuing education hours.

RN and NP Salaries

Both RNs and NPs are in high demand and are well paid for their education and experience. RNs earn a median income of $75,330, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). As you might imagine, NPs earn significantly more, thanks to their advanced responsibilities and education—a median $111,680 annually, according to the BLS.

Median Annual Salary for an RN: $75,330


RN Job Growth by 2030

Median Annual Salary for an NP: $111,680


NP Job Growth by 2030

No matter which path you choose, nurses are in demand. The BLS is predicting 9% growth in RN roles by 2030. Some specialties are likely to see an even higher demand.

NPs are predicted to see even faster growth: a massive 52% increase in roles by 2030, according to the BLS. Primary care roles are opening up all around the country, and NPs will be needed to fill them.

Do RNs and NPs Ever Work Together?

RNs and NPs sometimes work together to provide quality patient care. This can happen in a variety of settings and situations.

“Similar to how MDs and RNs work together, NPs take on the medical decision making while RNs support patient care and carry out the medical plan,” says Alving.

“Not every RN works alongside nurse practitioners,” adds Ross, “but it does happen frequently in many settings. A lot of NPs work in family medicine or alongside internists, so the RNs in these settings often work with NPs daily. It’s not uncommon at all to see RNs working in tandem with NPs in family medicine private practices and urgent care centers.”

The right path for you is a personal decision. You might consider factors such as the time and money you’re able to dedicate to your education, the types of nursing roles you want to hold, and the type of care you want to provide. It’s also a good idea to consider if an RN role or NP role is a better fit for your skill and personality.

“In my opinion, the best (RNs) are the ones that are organized, confident, and pay attention to the details,” says Ross. “So much of nursing is process-based, meaning working off checklists, and you can’t miss a single step. You must be detail-oriented and not mind charting. In addition, sometimes you need to make quick decisions and respond to difficult situations, so you have to be analytical and confident. You’ve got to be able to use your best judgment and move swiftly without trying to make everyone happy.”

As for NPs, Alving says, it’s important to have strong problem solving and leadership skills, medical acumen, and a sense of inquiry. “Additionally, self-driven individuals who want to expand their medical knowledge and continue lifelong learning do best.”

With professional insight from:

erin alving

Erin M. Alving, MSN, ARNP, CDCES

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and Certified Diabetes Educator

alaina ross

Alaina Ross, RN, BSN

Registered Nurse

Recommended For You

Money Matters: Making a Plan to Pay for Nursing School

sheila mickool

Written and reported by:

Sheila Mickool

Contributing Writer

professional working on finances
professional working on finances

Decisions, decisions. Which nursing career do you want to pursue? What program? Which school? And how will you pay for it? The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports RNs with a bachelor’s degree earn a median annual salary of $75,330, with the lowest 10% earning less than $53,410 and the highest 10% earning more than $116,230. The BLS also projects employment of nurses to grow 9% between 2020 and 2030, a little faster than average for all occupations. There will be about 194,500 new nursing positions annually through 2030, making nursing a promising career with good job prospects.

The market looks strong, but figuring out how to pay for nursing school is a top concern for many nurses. According to a student debt report by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) in 2017:

  • 69% of nursing graduate students took out student loans for graduate school
  • 76% had taken out loans for undergraduate degrees
  • 50% expressed concern about the ability to afford monthly student loan payments after graduation

We checked in with three experts—those in-the-know because they lived it—to find out how they have addressed the financial aspects of nursing school. These are their stories.

Snapshot: Damion Jenkins, RN, MSN
CEO, The Nurse Speak

damion jenkins

Few can explain “critical thinking,” as it is tested in the NCLEX, better than Damion Jenkins—and that’s only one of his accomplishments. Based in New York City, Jenkins, 40, is a nursing business owner, an educational consultant, an NCLEX expert, a staff development specialist, and a clinical education specialist. He currently works remotely part time for a large hospital group in Baltimore, Maryland, and runs his business full time.

Preparing for School

Jenkins’ secret to success: ask for help. “Since I was the first person in my family to pursue a college education, I didn’t have much experience or guidance to help me prepare for this. I spent a LOT of my time in the financial aid office speaking with advisors who helped me learn about my options. There were days when I felt I was running in circles trying to wrap my head around the process. I found the staff in the financial aid office to be of tremendous help! I learned about filing for FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), Pell Grants, and Stafford Loans. I learned how to budget for repayment, and what taking out loans for school would entail. All of this preparation was provided directly by the school—which was a major blessing for me, as I was clueless on where to start.”

Paying for School

“Nursing is a second career for me; I went to college later in life. Most of my (associate degree) nursing program was covered by Pell Grant money. I was a waiter and picked up additional shifts to supplement the expenses that were not covered by grant money. Towards the end of my senior semester, it was getting really tough to pay rent, pay for school and keep up with my studies. I actually relied on the generous support of friends, who provided me with inexpensive living arrangements, so I could spend more time studying and less time working. Honestly, if it weren’t for my friends, I might not have been successful in completing my program.”


“Back when I went to nursing school, I had to manage my money the old-fashioned way—with a checking account and a checkbook. I worked hard to keep track of my cash tips from my part-time job, as well as all of my expenses. I made sure that my balances reflected how much grant or loan money I had and what I could afford to spend each month so that I knew when I had room to splurge and treat myself, or when to pinch my pennies so I could pay my bills. Keeping tuition, books, lab fees and all of that up to date was my priority, and I was so laser focused during that time. I counted every single cent I had in my accounts (and in my coin jar). Today there are so many resources out there that can help you track and manage your money—and most banks have pretty awesome online apps that do it all.”


“Have a plan and stick to that plan to the best of your ability. There are lots of resources out there that can help you budget for school, such as financial aid office staff. If you can, save money to cover unexpected expenses or a loss of income if you need to cut back on hours so that you can focus on your studies. Save a portion of your grant or loan money and begin repaying loans earlier, covering living costs, or investing in career start-up costs such as licensure fees, exam fees, and uniforms.”

Support and Inspiration

Topping the list of supporters is Jenkins’ family: his husband, their two kitties, and their extended families not far from New York City and in Louisiana. “Many people in my life helped inspire and motivate me to pursue a career in nursing! It all started with my good friends Cathy and Phil,” Jenkins explains. “Cathy and I worked at the same restaurant for years before I went to nursing school—her husband, Phil, was a nurse in the OR at Johns Hopkins.” After listening to Phil’s stories, Jenkins knew that he had found his true calling. “In nursing school, I had many professors, instructors and even classmates that continued to validate my decision” he says. “I feel very blessed to have found a career that provides me with so much passion and drive!” As for the friends who helped with living arrangements so he could spend more time studying, “I am forever grateful for them.”

Snapshot: Chardé L. Vance, LVN
Licensed Vocational Nurse


Chardé Vance is a busy licensed vocational nurse (LVN) at a post-acute rehab facility. She’s also an elementary school nurse. “I’m always eager to help others with information,” she says. In addition to her LVN education, she also holds an associate degree in nutrition science—and she’s not done with school yet. “I want to continue my education down the road and attend an RN program,” she says. She posts as @chardaily on social media.

Preparing for School

Before starting nursing school, Vance and her husband spent time learning about budgeting and money management. “Prior to enrolling in nursing school, I had obtained a degree and had student loan debt. A year before I enrolled in nursing school, my husband and I paid off our cars and decided to go debt-free.”

Paying for School

“I chose to enroll in a private nursing program that was a lot more costly than a traditional nursing program. Choosing to attend nursing school as a second career option left me with limited resources for paying for nursing school.” After careful consideration, Vance applied for a loan. She also received a scholarship that helped cover the cost of school and supplies. “I did worry about living expenses, gas, and childcare … but knew that whatever we borrowed, we could pay it off after I graduated as long as we stayed disciplined.”


Vance and her husband went debt-free by following Dave Ramsey’s 7 Baby Steps program. “This helped us gain a better relationship with money and the way we spend.” With the Baby Steps tools, Vance learned about saving money, setting goals, and budgeting for expenses.


“Investing in yourself is the best investment you can make.”

Support and Inspiration

Vance’s natural energy gets a boost from the support of her husband, caring for others, and working with groups like the Capitol City Black Nurses Association.

Snapshot: Julia Martir, LVN
Student (working at a skilled nursing facility)

julie martir

Julia Martir, 24, is enrolled in an LPN-to-BSN program at a private university. With school, work, and a new baby, her schedule is hectic—and she loves it. She posts on social media as @nursingbuddyjules.

Preparing for School

Martir established a savings account to provide a cushion and saved a significant sum. “I took a break from school and worked to save up enough money to be comfortable. I wanted to go back to school with at least some of my stress alleviated so I could enter with a clearer and more optimistic mindset. I want to be open about that because it was very hard to save that much. In the bigger picture, it isn’t enough to stop working,” she says, but saving was an important step for her peace of mind.


“(Vlogger) Aja Dang on YouTube was a big inspiration. She was very vulnerable about how much debt she was in, and paid off about $200,000 of her student loans. Her videos give you breakdowns on how she divides her checks to meet goals and cover expenses, and she gives helpful financial tips. She also released a financial planner to help with budgeting, goal setting, and organization!”


“Not everyone is in a financially comfortable position. But that doesn’t mean you can’t go to school to further your education. Do what you have to do in order to get through nursing school if this is your calling. You are going to have plenty of debts in your life (a house, a car, etc.); school is another debt that is worth it. Your education is an investment. You are betting on yourself. If you really want this, don’t let the fear of money hold you back. Remember, it is possible; you just need the motivation to do it.”

Support and Inspiration

Martir’s family tops the list of ardent supporters. This includes her partner, Fernando, new baby Kano (age 6 months), and her parents. “Even with my savings, I still lean on my partner and my parents for financial help,” Julie says.

Recommended For You

Salary Guide for Nursing Jobs

sheila cain

Written and reported by:

Sheila Cain

All Star Writer/Editor

three nurses in meeting with manager
three nurses in meeting with manager

Nursing salaries vary greatly, depending mostly on the degree you hold. You can jump into a job as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) after a short training program and earn a median salary of around $30,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), but if you want to top six figures, you’ll need to put in some time. Nurse anesthetists, for example, can earn more than six times the salary of a CNA, but they must hold a degree that can take more than six years to earn.

Popular Nursing Roles and Their Salaries

Those interested in nursing will find a wide range of educational programs for a great number of nursing roles. While the BLS reports median salaries for these jobs, your actual pay will vary depending on where you live, your workplace, your experience, and other factors.  

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

Median Annual Salary: $30,830

About the Job: A CNA provides a range of basic care to patients, such as helping them dress, eat, and walk. Most CNAs work in nursing care facilities, retirement communities, or assisted living facilities.

Education You’ll Need: Certificate or diploma

How Long It Takes: 4-12 weeks

Job Outlook: Employment of CNAs is projected to grow 8% from 2020-2030, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)/Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN)

Median Annual Salary: $48,820

About the Job: LPNs/LVNs work under the direction of physicians and RNs in healthcare facilities. They take vital signs, collect samples, administer medication, and ensure patient comfort. “LPN” and “LVN” are the same job. “LVN” stands for Licensed Vocational Nurse and is used in Texas and California; all other states use “LPN.”

Education You’ll Need: Certificate and license

How Long It Takes: About a year

Job Outlook: The job of LPN/LVN is expected to grow by 9% between 2020 and 2030.

Registered Nurse (RN)

Median Annual Salary: $75,330

About the Job: RNs provide and coordinate patient care in workplaces such as hospitals, clinics, and nursing care facilities. RNs can also focus on specific fields within nursing, such as pediatrics, oncology, emergency care, and more.

Education You’ll Need: Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), plus your RN license. Most workplaces prefer a BSN.

How Long It Takes: An ADN takes 2 years; a BSN takes 4 years

Job Outlook: RN jobs are projected to grow around 9% between 2020-2030, about as fast as the average for all jobs.

Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)

Median Annual Salary: $84,430

About the Job: A CNS is an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), which means they have an advanced degree and certification. They have both clinical and leadership skills and often work at a high level in a healthcare facility, implementing policies that improve patient care. They also can specialize in certain areas. For example, a pediatric clinical nurse specialist focuses on the holistic care of children and their families. The BLS categorizes CNSs as RNs who serve in the role of “healthcare diagnosing or treating practitioners.”

Education You’ll Need: Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

How Long It Takes: About 2 years (if you already have a BSN)

Job Outlook: Employment of RNs (the category in which CNSs fall, according to the BLS) is projected to grow 9% through 2030, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM)

Median Annual Salary: $111,130

About the Job: A CNM is an advanced practice registered nurse who provides care to women before, during, and after a pregnancy. They also provide general care such as gynecological exams and family planning services. They may act as a woman’s primary maternity care provider.

Education You’ll Need: Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) with a specialty in midwifery

How Long It Takes: About 2 years (if you already have a BSN)

Job Outlook: The demand for CNMs is projected to grow about 11% between 2020 and 2030, slightly faster than the growth projected for all occupations.

Nurse Practitioner (NP)

Median Annual Salary: $111,680

About the Job: NPs are APRNs who specialize in areas that allow them to work with a variety of patients, such as children, the elderly, or women. Some popular specialties include family nurse practitioner, adult nurse practitioner, and women’s health nurse practitioner. NPs often serve as primary care providers, and in some states, they can prescribe medicine.

Education You’ll Need: Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

How Long It Takes: About 2 years (if you already have a BSN). If you have a two-year associate degree and want to become an NP, you can consider an RN-to-MSN bridge program, which is designed for nurses who have completed an ADN training program.

Job Outlook: The BLS projects growth of 52% for nurse practitioners between 2020 and 2030.

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)

Median Annual Salary: $183,580

About the Job: A CRNA is an advanced practice registered nurse who administers anesthesia to patients prior to medical procedures.

Education You’ll Need: Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and national certification; a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree will be required by 2025.

How Long It Takes: 2-4 years for a master’s; 3-5 years for a doctorate

Job Outlook: Overall, employment of CRNAs is expected to grow 13% between 2020 and 2030, faster than the average growth of all occupations.

Salary Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2020

Recommended For You

New Year, New Goals: 7 Steps to Make Your Nursing Dreams a Reality

catherine ryan gregory

Written and reported by:

Catherine Ryan Gregory

Contributing Writer

kathryn dailey-deaton wearing personal protection visor in hospital room
kathryn dailey-deaton wearing personal protection visor in hospital room

There’s a reason why making resolutions is so common this time of year.

“The new year symbolizes a rebirth—new year, new me,” explains Tanya Peterson, MS, OTR/L, a healthcare career consultant with Polish2Prosper. “We feel as though we get a new start, and it motivates us!”

That makes this an excellent opportunity to identify and work toward your nursing goals. Whether you’re dreaming of getting into a nursing program or envisioning your ideal first nursing job, taking these seven steps could start you on the path to making your nursing dreams come true.

1. Reverse Engineer Your Big Goal

When you have a big goal—whether that’s getting into your first-choice nursing program or landing your ideal job after graduation—it can feel nearly impossible to get from where you are now to that outcome. “My biggest piece of advice is reverse-engineering a track to get you to your big, audacious goal,” Peterson says. “Work backwards by setting small, action-based goals.”

So if you want to get into nursing school this year, write down a list (or use a digital tool such as Asana or the Todoist app) of all your smaller steps. Then break those down further—no step is too small! So instead of writing down take prerequisite courses, slice your to-dos even smaller.

For example:

  • Research prereqs for your desired schools
  • Sign up for one course
  • Make a study plan

2. Be Flexible in the ‘How’

“It’s easy to be so focused on your goal that you put blinders on,” Peterson says. In reality, though, there are many ways to get to your dream destination.

For example, you might not get into a nursing program right away. “Getting into nursing school is challenging,” explains Kathryn Dailey-Deaton, RN, a perinatal nurse in Portland, Oregon. “It’s OK to be on a waitlist or apply multiple years in a row. Just stay open to what’s possible and know there are a lot of ways to get into nursing.”

Stay open to what’s possible and know there are a lot of ways to get into nursing.

You might start by volunteering at a local health clinic or applying for a job in an allied health field such as a phlebotomy. The important thing is to not get so set on one path that you become paralyzed at the first roadblock.

3. Gain the Skills you Need for Your Goal

If you have an idea of the kind of nursing position you want, work on gaining the skills that “future you” will need. It’s never too early to start.

Dailey-Deaton knew she wanted to work in reproductive health from day one. So she set about gaining the experience and skills that would help get her into nursing school and, later, on the labor and delivery floor. She volunteered at Planned Parenthood, joined the Nursing Mothers Council, became a doula, and volunteered as a doula in a local hospital.

If you’re not sure what you need to do, “look at your dream job title on job boards and break apart the career path to get there,” Peterson suggests. Pay close attention to the qualifications and education sections of job postings. What can you do now to ensure you can fulfill each of those must-haves in the future? If you’re in nursing school now, make sure your class schedule, practicum placement, or extracurriculars align with those qualifications.

Look at your dream job title on job boards and break apart the career path to get there.

4. Build a Community of Support

You will inevitably face setbacks as you work toward your nursing goals. Make sure you have the support you need to bounce back.

“Having a group around you that supports you and lifts you up is one of the best strategies to get through tough times,” Peterson says. It’s especially important to find a crew going through what you’re going through. They’ll truly understand and be able to empathize. Then they’ll cheer you on as you try again.

5. Lean on Advising and Career Services

One huge takeaway: You don’t have to do this on your own. If you feel overwhelmed at everything you need to do, make an appointment with an academic advisor or career services expert at your community college, university, or nursing program.

“They’re experts and can help you prioritize and make a game plan,” Dailey-Deaton says. “They know how to get each piece done and when you need to start to be ready for next steps toward your goal.”

6. Join Nursing Organizations

Make a point of joining organizations, clubs, and other groups related to your nursing goals. The collective energy of everyone focusing on the same thing—whether that’s community health or equity in healthcare—supercharges your motivation.

Make a point of joining organizations, clubs, and other groups related to your nursing goals.

Membership will also open up opportunities. For example, Dailey-Deaton joined the nursing student union at her school. “I went to conferences and networked on a statewide and nationwide level,” she says. Bonus: Membership in relevant organizations looks great on your resume.

7. Build your Network Thoughtfully

You’ve heard the advice to network a million times by now. But chances are you might not have heard specific how-tos.

First of all, connect with people who are a little further along the path to a goal you both share. If you want to get into nursing school, reach out to someone who’s in their first year at the school you’re aiming for. If you’re already in a nursing program, connect with recent graduates. “Someone a little bit ahead of you has already blazed the trail,” Peterson explains. “Ask them for advice, especially what they’d have done differently.” That one question can reveal a gold mine of tips that can help you reach your nursing goals.

Connect with people who are a little further along the path to a goal you both share.

Secondly, expand your professional network. Find people working in the position of your dream job. “Generally, even people you don’t know in person are willing to help others in the healthcare field because we’re all in this together,” Peterson says.

She recommends a specific tactic to connecting with people you don’t know—cold emailing, in other words. After you briefly introduce yourself, “find and mention three levels of similarities,” Peterson says. Note how they went to the same nursing program you’re attending, that they work in the field you’re most interested in, and any contacts you have in common. You can even find out more personal details by looking at their LinkedIn or other social media profiles. (“I saw you own a rescue dog—I adopted my chihuahua from the animal shelter last year!”)

Finally, avoid the temptation to go straight into “how can you help me mode.” Start by asking them to tell their story, like how they got into nursing. “The best tool you have is active listening,” Peterson says. Look for ways you can apply their experience to your own path. As your relationship develops, it may become possible to shadow them in their job or even ask for a LinkedIn recommendation.

tanya peterson

With professional insight from:

Tanya Peterson, MS, OTR/L

Healthcare Career Consultant, Polish2Prosper

kathryn dailey

Kathryn Dailey-Deaton, RN

Perinatal Nurse

Recommended For You

Take Your Nursing Education to the Next Level

stephanie behring

Written and reported by:

Stephanie Behring

Contributing writer

nurse studying on laptop computer
nurse studying on laptop computer

A nursing career is filled with options. Although many people still think of nurses as delivering patient care in hospitals or doctors’ offices, this is only part of the picture. There are many paths a nurse can follow. If you’ve been considering changing the trajectory of your nursing career, or want to advance the path you’re already on, pursuing additional education is one of the best ways to meet that goal. Taking your education to the next level can put new workplaces, advanced nursing roles, and more within your reach.

Taking your education to the next level can put new workplaces, advanced nursing roles, and more within your reach.

Plus, you’ll be adding to the skills and knowledge you already use every day as a nurse. In fact, if you attend a bridge-style program such as an LPN-to-BSN bridge, RN-to-BSN bridge, or RN-to-MSN bridge, your program will be designed to build on everything you’ve already learned. And an additional bonus: These programs are structured with working nurses in mind, making them a great fit for many nurses looking to advance their education.

“Bridge programs are often accelerated because the curriculum depends on the knowledge base that nurses already have,” says Jenna Liphart Rhoads PhD, RN, CNE, an assistant nursing professor at University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. “Another advantage of these programs is that students generally find school to be easier than someone who is not a nurse because of the experience they have.”

Bridge programs are often accelerated because the curriculum depends on the knowledge base that nurses already have.

Bridge programs aren’t your only option to advance your career. You can also enter a traditional bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral-level nursing program. If you want to advance in your specialty but not change roles or directions, earning a certification is another good option.

“It is a personal decision that depends on personal lives and employer support,” Rhoads explains, “especially since some employers offer financial assistance to nurses who wish to obtain a higher degree or certifications.” 

Already an LPN? Consider Making a Career Move and Earning RN Licensure

If you’ve been working as a licensed practical nurse (LPN) and are ready to advance your nursing career, working toward registered nurse (RN) licensure is an ideal next step.

Moving from being an LPN to an RN will not only increase your pay but will allow you to work in a broader range of nursing specialties,” says Rhoads. LPN jobs tend to be limited to long-term care facilities, nursing homes, and physicians’ offices, while RNs, with their additional skills and expanded licensure, can work more autonomously in a greater number of workplaces.

Moving from being an LPN to an RN will not only increase your pay but will allow you to work in a broader range of nursing specialties.

Two Bridge Programs Toward RN Licensure

There are two bridge program paths LPNs can take to become an RN: by earning a two-year Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or earning a four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Both programs will build from your existing LPN education and experience and position you to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) for RNs.


This path will generally take one to two years. You will earn an ADN that will allow you to seek licensure and work as an entry-level RN. You may also have some opportunities to manage LPNs.


This path will take most students two to four years to complete. Upon completion, you will earn a BSN, which will position you to earn your license and work as an RN. RNs with a BSN are more likely to manage other nurses, receive higher pay, and work more autonomously than RNs with an ADN.

“A BSN can help further the career of an RN because many RN roles, and advancement within those roles, require a BSN,” says Rhoads. “RN roles such as case management, assistant unit management, educator, or lead RN require BSN degrees.”

Working as an RN with an ADN? Consider Leveling Up

An ADN is a great way to get your start in nursing. You’ll get the education you need to get your foot in the door and start working as an RN. But if you’re ready to broaden your nursing career, earning your BSN can be a smart choice. You’ll expand your nursing knowledge, and you’ll be able to take on higher-level nursing roles.

You can use the nursing education and experience you already have as an entry-level RN to build the foundation of your BSN degree. RN-to-BSN bridge programs are designed with working RNs in mind. Courses expand on your nursing background and teach you advanced clinical and leadership skills. You’ll also take classes in broader liberal arts subjects since you’ll be earning a full bachelor’s degree.

RN-to-BSN bridge programs expand on your nursing background and teach you advanced clinical and leadership skills.

There are online RN-to-BSN programs available that allow you to set your own pace, although you’ll need to complete clinical hours in person at a hospital or other clinical setting. Most of your classmates in a bridge program will be working RNs, and part-time schedules are an option in many programs.

Looking to Take on Advanced Nursing Roles? An MSN Could Open New Career Doors

Are you currently working as an RN but looking to become a nursing leader? Have you thought about providing primary care from a nursing perspective? Are you interested in assisting with childbirth and new parent education? Have you considered mastering anesthesia so that you can assist with surgeries?

You’ll need to be an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) to take on any of these challenges. To become an APRN, you’ll need a graduate degree. This means at least a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), although a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) is becoming increasingly standard. APRN roles include:

Certified Nurse Midwives: Nurse midwives care for mothers and newborns during childbirth. They make sure deliveries are safe and handle emergencies that arise. They also provide prenatal care and new parent education on topics such as breastfeeding.

Clinical Nurse Specialists: Clinical nurse specialists take charge of how nursing care is delivered in a hospital setting. They teach new nurses the best ways to provide safe and effective care. They also make changes and improvements to improve patient safety and care.

Nurse Practitioners: Nurse practitioners act as primary care providers. They specialize in an area such as pediatrics, gerontology, family health, or women’s health. They’re able to assess, diagnose, and treat injury and illness.

Nurse Anesthetists: Nurse anesthetists determine the correct amount of anesthesia needed to keep a patient safe during a surgery or procedure. They monitor the patient during the procedure and then make sure they wake up without any complications.

If you are an RN with an ADN seeking an APRN role, consider an RN-to-MSN bridge program. This will allow you to earn your master’s degree without having to spend four years earning a separate BSN.

If you’re an RN who already has a BSN, you might consider a BSN-to-MSN program. This program is essentially the same as a traditional educational path since you aren’t “bridging” over a lesser degree.

Both programs will earn you a master’s degree and are a smart way to use your current RN standing as the foundation of your advanced degree. You’ll gain an advanced understanding of clinical nursing and explore new topics relevant to your specific nursing goals.

What Else Can I Do with an MSN?

APRN roles aren’t the only nursing roles that require at least an MSN. There are also master’s-level roles available for RNs who’d like to transition away from direct patient care. For instance, you could become a nurse educator and teach new nurses skills they’ll need to succeed. If you want to combine your nursing experience with technology and data, you could become a nurse informaticist. Leadership and administrative paths are also options with roles such as clinical nurse leader or nurse administrator.

What About a DNP?

Earning a DNP is a good idea if you know you want to take on advanced nursing roles. In fact, DNPs will soon be required for all nurse anesthetists, and requirements for clinical nurse leaders and nurse practitioners will likely follow over the next decade. Earning a DNP can help you meet your goals and put you ahead of the curve as APRN roles shift toward requiring DNP degrees.

Dedicating Your Nursing Career to a Specialty? Consider Earning Certification to Prove Your Expertise

Professional certification is a great way to demonstrate your experience and expertise in a particular nursing specialty. Nursing certification isn’t generally required, but it’s still a solid career move. It can help you stand out to employers and gain advanced roles.

There are multiple certifications available for RNs and APRNs. Generally, you’ll need an RN license in good standing and a set number of clinical experience hours to qualify, although some certifications do require a BSN or MSN. Examples of certifications include:

  • Trauma Nursing
  • OR Nursing
  • ER Nursing
  • Geriatric Nursing
  • Labor and Delivery Nursing
  • Psychiatric Nursing
  • Case Management
  • Forensic Nursing

Coming from a Non-Nursing Bachelor’s Program? Think About Earning Your BSN with an Accelerated Program

Switching careers can be daunting and overwhelming. It can feel like even more of a hurdle when you want to transition into a highly specialized field like nursing. Luckily, if you already have a bachelor’s degree in any field, you don’t have to start from scratch. Accelerated programs are designed to help you earn a BSN quickly so you can jump into a nursing career.

“Accelerated programs result in a BSN and the opportunity to sit for the NCLEX-RN, just like the four-year BSN programs do,” explains Rhoads. “They’re generally a good fit for those who have a bachelor’s degree in a different discipline and wish to switch to a nursing career, and those who can take time off from work to attend school.”

Accelerated programs are generally a good fit for those who have a bachelor’s degree in a different discipline and wish to switch to a nursing career.

Accelerated programs generally take about 12 to 18 months to complete. These programs are full time and very intense. They’ll teach you all the clinical skills and nursing knowledge you need to earn RN licensure and work as a nurse. You’ll study topics such as:

  • Biology
  • Pharmacology
  • Anatomy
  • Psychology
  • Health Assessment
  • Nursing Practice

Online programs are an option, but you will need to complete clinical hours in person.

No Time for School? Other Ways to Advance

You can still advance your career even if you don’t have time to commit to a new degree program right now. Some quick career boosts include:

  • Joining an association or organization in your specialty: Nursing associations are a great way to network, earn continuing education credits, keep up with the latest news in the field, and advance your career.
  • Connecting on social media: Building your nursing presence on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram is a great way to connect with other nurses and potential employers. Just make sure to keep your content professional and related to nursing.
  • Finding a mentor: It can be helpful to talk to a nurse who has been in the field for years, who is currently working your dream job, or who has achieved goals you’d also like to reach. Setting aside time to find a mentor and talk with them can be educational and inspiring.
  • Attending a conference: Nursing conferences are a fantastic way to gain new knowledge and meet people.

Taking Your Salary to the Next Level

Furthering your education can potentially increase your paycheck. Even if your title stays the same (for example, advancing from an ADN to a BSN as an RN,) your advanced education will likely allow you to apply for higher-paying positions. Your exact salary will always depend on your employer, your location, and your experience, but your education can give you a good idea of the range your salary might fall into.

Check out salaries for various nursing careers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and the degrees you’ll need to pursue them. Some positions, such as nurse practitioner, are projected to grow at an astonishing rate over the decade:

RoleDegreeMedian 2020 Salary
LPNLPN certificate$48,820
RNADN or BSN$75,330
Certified Nurse MidwifeMSN$111,130
Nurse PractitionerMSN or DNP$111,680
Nurse AnesthetistDNP$183,580
jenna rhoads

With professional insight from:

Jenna Liphart Rhoads PhD, RN, CNE

Assistant Nursing Professor, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay

Recommended For You

Nursing Programs You Can Complete in About a Year or Less

stephanie behring

Written and reported by:

Stephanie Behring

Contributing writer

nursing student raising hand in class
nursing student raising hand in class

If you’re ready to get your nursing career on track fast, consider one of these programs.

It’s no secret that healthcare is one of the fastest-growing career fields in the country. One reason? One of the largest generations in American history, the baby boomers, is aging. This will lead to an increased need for healthcare services and a continued demand for qualified healthcare professionals. Luckily, the educational programs of many important healthcare roles can be completed in a year or less, allowing eager nursing students to get to work quickly to fill the growing need.

In this Article

Home Health Aide | CNA | LPN | Accelerated RN

Statistics underscoring the demand for healthcare workers abound: For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that more than 85% of adults over 65 have at least one chronic health condition. And 56% of adults over age 65 have at least two chronic health conditions. This creates a significant need for healthcare.

The nursing profession has been experiencing an increase in demand for qualified nursing professionals for years and will continue to do so as the baby boomer generation ages, says Jenna Liphart Rhoads PhD, RN, CNE, assistant nursing professor at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay. 

“Additionally, nursing roles continue to morph and expand from bedside/acute care to preventative health and education roles,” she says.

The next decade will also lead to baby boomers leaving the workforce. By 2029, the youngest members of this generation will be at retirement age, leaving millions of jobs open. One huge area predicted to be affected by this generational shift is nursing. About half of all current registered nurses (RNs) are over 50. Together, these factors make right now a great time to jump into a nursing career.

Consider exploring these programs that can be completed in a year or less.

Home Health Aide

Program Time

4-6 weeks

Average Program Cost


Median Annual Salary


Home health aides are projected to see a staggering 34% growth over the next decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Programs can be completed in as little as 4 to 6 weeks, although full semester options that last several months are also offered. Your program will go over the skills you need to assist people in their homes with activities such as bathing, eating, dressing, and other daily hygiene tasks. You’ll also learn how to take vital signs and monitor patients for safety.

Certification isn’t required by all states. When it is, you’ll need to complete at least 75 hours of training in a program that’s been approved by your state. Programs might be offered by local home health agencies, hospices, health services agencies, or even online. Keep in mind that you’ll need to complete some in-person clinical training if you choose to attend an online program. Most states require at least 16 hours.

Home health aides generally take on tasks such as:

  • Providing companionship and support
  • Helping clients bathe and dress
  • Arranging transportation
  • Helping with housekeeping tasks such as laundry or dishes
  • Planning and scheduling appointments
  • Shopping for groceries and other necessities
  • Preparing meals that meet a client’s medical and cultural needs
  • Taking vital signs
  • Assisting clients with simple exercises
  • Reporting any changes in a client to nurses
  • Taking on any other care tasks assigned by a supervising nurse

Next steps for advancement: As a home health aide, you might choose to pursue a program to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN), which will give you the chance to take on much more responsibility, oversee nursing aides and assistants, and potentially double your salary.

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

Length of Time

1–4 months, with between 75 and 180 hours of training, depending on your state

Average Program Cost


Median Annual Salary


Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) complete programs that are approved by their state and earn certification. Programs can require as few as 75 hours or as many as 180 hours depending on your state. Program lengths will also vary depending on state requirements and the structure of your program, but most can be completed in 1 to 4 months. Nursing assistant programs are offered by nursing facilities, health departments, hospitals, community colleges, and technical skills.

“Home health aide or CNA programs are a good fit for people who want to enter the healthcare field quickly,” says Rhodes. “[They] allow people to get their foot in the door of healthcare. Many CNAs and home health aides eventually attend nursing school and can gain experience that is valuable for their nursing education.”

Nursing assistant programs offer the educational foundation you need to provide care for patients in hospitals and other facilities. You’ll cover topics such as:

  • Medical terminology
  • Patient movement and body mechanics
  • Basic patient assessment
  • Basic wound care
  • Infection control
  • Patient rights
  • Communication
  • Taking and recording vital signs
  • Caring for patients’ daily needs such as bathing

You’ll have plenty of opportunities once you earn certification. The BLS predicts 8% job growth for CNAs over the next decade. In addition to hospitals, you’ll find job opportunities in skilled nursing facilities, rehabilitation faculties, mental health hospitals, and more. On the job, you’ll take on daily tasks such as:

  • Ensuring patient rooms are clean and well-stocked
  • Helping patients with daily hygiene such as bathing, dressing, and using the bathroom
  • Helping patients eat and recording amounts if needed
  • Transferring patients from beds to wheelchairs
  • Transporting patients throughout the facility as needed
  • Taking and recording patient vital signs
  • Dressing patient wounds as instructed by a nurse
  • Reporting any changes in patient status to a nurse
  • Performing any other patient care tasks directed by a nurse

“CNA jobs are often physically and emotionally demanding and are best suited to those who enjoy working with people and want to make a difference in others’ lives,” Rhoads says.

Next steps for advancement: Without having to change jobs, CNAs can increase their employment opportunities and salary potential by earning a certification as a medication aide (CMA). This allows you to legally administer certain medications and report patient changes to the rest of the staff. Depending on the requirements of your state, you could complete a medication aide course in as little as six weeks before taking the MACE certification exam.

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

Length of Time

9–18 months, including various hours of clinical experience

Average Program Cost


Median Annual Salary


Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) take on more advanced duties than CNAs. You’ll spend at least nine months in school, but you’ll potentially see a significant jump in your salary and in your responsibility. You’ll work closely with doctors and registered nurses and take on tasks such as medication administration. You’ll often supervise CNAs and home health assistants. Plus, you’ll find plenty of opportunities: LPNs are predicted to see a 9% job growth in the coming decade, according to the BLS.

“LPN programs allow people to enter healthcare more quickly than RN programs and are great for those who enjoy working with people in a fast-paced environment,” says Rhodes. “Becoming an LPN would provide a higher-paying job than (that of) an aide, and there is a possibility for a wider variety of roles. LPNs generally have more autonomy and have a higher scope of practice as well.”

You’ll need to attend a nursing program approved by your state and earn licensure before you can become an LPN. All states have their own licensing rules for LPNs. In California and Texas, LPNs are called Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVNs). LPN programs are offered by community colleges and technical schools.

Programs can be as short as nine months and as long as 18 months. LPN programs are normally about 60% clinical training. Some programs might allow you to complete the rest of your education online. You’ll need to take and pass the NCLEX-LPN exam given by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) to earn your LPN license and begin looking for work. 

Once on the job, you’ll take on daily tasks such as:

  • Administering patient medications and treatments
  • Interviewing patients about medication history and current symptoms
  • Monitoring patients after treatments
  • Drawing blood for lab work
  • Administering vaccines
  • Updating and reviewing medical records
  • Administering breathing treatments
  • Preparing IV medications

Next steps for advancement: LPNs can often apply the credits they earn in their program to coursework for an associate degree, earning a registered nursing degree in as little as a year. By doing so, you can save money on school, increase your level of responsibility, and give yourself the chance to significantly boost your salary.

Registered Nurse (RN)—Accelerated Program

Length of Time

One year or a little longer, including clinical experience

Average Program Cost


Median Annual Salary


Earning your license to work as a registered nurse (RN) typically takes longer than a year. However, accelerated programs can allow you to earn your license quickly. These programs are designed to help address the nursing shortage and add more qualified RNs to the healthcare workforce.

Not everyone is eligible for an accelerated program. You’ll need to already have a bachelor’s degree in another field before you can begin. Your accelerated RN program will allow you to apply the credits from your current bachelor’s toward a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). It’s important to note that your current bachelor’s degree will need to have included enough science and humanities credits to fulfill the requirements of a BSN.

Your accelerated RN degree will allow you to earn a BSN by focusing solely on nursing credits and clinical work for a year. It’s important to note that these programs are intensive, demanding, and have strict requirements.

An accelerated RN program will allow you to apply the credits from your current bachelor’s toward a BSN.

“All nursing prerequisites must be completed prior to beginning a fast-track RN program because the programs consist of only nursing courses,” says Rhodes. “Due to the grueling nature of fast-track RN programs, students are strongly cautioned against working a job while attending school.”

However, a fast-track program will allow you to earn licensure quickly. The exact requirements for these programs depend on the school offering them and on RN licensure rules in your state. You’ll need to pass the NCLEX-RN exam before you can apply for licensure in your state.

Once you have your RN license, your daily job duties can vary depending on your specialty. Having a specialty is a great way to focus your nursing knowledge. You can get a quick overview of some popular RN specialties below.

Cardiovascular Nurse

What You’ll Do: Cardiovascular nurses work with critically ill patients in cardiac care units as well as patients recovering in cardiac rehabilitation facilities.

Community Health Nurse

What You’ll Do: Community health nurses are public health specialists. In this role, you’ll treat patients while working to identify health issues specific to your community.

Emergency Room Nurse

What You’ll Do: Emergency room nurses are on the front lines in busy hospitals. They work to treat acute illnesses, injuries, and accidents in a fast-paced environment.

Geriatric Nurse

What You’ll Do: Geriatric nurses focus on caring for elderly patients. In this role, you’ll focus on conditions that often affect older adults such as diabetes and heart disease.

Home Health Nurse

What You’ll Do: Home health nurses see patients in their homes. You’ll spend your days traveling to different locations in your community and providing medications, wound care, and other treatments.

Labor and Delivery Nurse

What You’ll Do: Labor and delivery nurses provide care to mothers and babies during childbirth. In this role, you’ll be the person spending the most time with the mother during their labor and delivery, offering support and providing care.

Legal Nurse Consultant

What You’ll Do: Legal nurse consultants put their nursing knowledge to work to advise on legal matters. This role will allow you to act as an advocate for people who’ve been injured by an accident or crime.

Neonatal Nurse

What You’ll Do: Neonatal nurses work with critically ill infants. You’ll work in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) to care for infants who were born premature or with health conditions.

Obstetrical Nurse

What You’ll Do: Obstetrical nurses work with women trying to conceive, women who are pregnant, and new parents. In this role, you’ll provide support, care, treatment, and education.

Occupational Health Nurse

What You’ll Do: Occupational health nurses take on the responsibility of making the workplace safer. In this role, you’ll make sure a company’s employees are able to work without being exposed to health and safety risks.

Oncology Nurse

What You’ll Do: Oncology nurses work with cancer patients to provide care and specialized medical treatments. You’ll support patients and their families and educate them about the disease. 

Operating Room Nurse

What You’ll Do: Operating room nurses help care for patients before, during, and after surgical procedures. You’ll help prep patients for surgery and answer any questions patients and their families have.

Rehabilitation Nurse

What You’ll Do: Rehabilitation nurses help people who are recovering from injury, surgery, or illness. You’ll work as part of a team with physical therapists, occupational therapists, and other professionals to provide care and treatment for patients.

School Nurse

What You’ll Do: School nurses oversee the health of students. You’ll keep student health records and monitor students for healthy development.

Trauma Nurse

What You’ll Do: Trauma nurses work with patients immediately after accidents. In this role, you’ll work with patients who’ve been in serious accidents and need urgent life-saving care.

Have More Than a Year? Consider an Advanced Degree

RNs who are looking to take on more advanced responsibilities can consider earning a master’s or doctoral degree. Nurses who earn these degrees are referred to as Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs). They’re able to take on leadership roles, work independently, and provide primary care.

You’ll generally need at least a Master of Science of Nursing (MSN) for any APRN role. Most MSN programs take between one and three years to complete. Some APRN roles, notably nurse practitioners and nurse anesthetists, are moving toward doctoral nursing degrees as a standard. 

  • Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNSs): A CNS is a leader who is able to make a change in a healthcare organization by training new nurses and advocating for changes to nursing policy. They also see patients and can act as primary care providers. The BLS currently includes CNSs among RNs for salary data, but the top 25% of RNs earn an average of $90,760.
  • Nurse Practitioners (NPs): NPs are able to act as primary care providers. They can see patients, diagnose medication conditions and injuries, provide treatments, order tests, and prescribe medication. NPs are well compensated for their expertise and earn an average annual salary of $111,680, according to the BLS.
  • Nurse Anesthetist: A nurse anesthetist prepares anesthesia for surgical procedures. They administer it to patients, monitor patients for safety during procedures, and ensure they recover safely afterward. Nurse anesthetists are in high demand in rural areas and earn a high average salary of $183,580, according to the BLS.
  • Nurse Midwives: Nurse Midwives care for women during pregnancy, labor, and delivery. They ensure deliveries are safe and provide education to new parents. Nurse midwives work at birthing centers or their own healthcare practices. The BLS lists their average annual salary as $111,130.

Source: Salary and job growth data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, as of 2020

jenna rhoads

With professional insight from:

Jenna Liphart Rhoads PhD, RN, CNE

Assistant Nursing Professor, University of Wisconsin

Recommended For You

Math Needed in Nursing School

When it comes to patient safety, math is an essential tool for nurses at all levels of practice.

sheila mickool

Written and reported by:

Sheila Mickool

Contributing Writer

two nurses studying at laptop
nurses looking at laptop computer in math class

In nursing, math isn’t just a prerequisite for admission to a college-level program or something you pass on a test for a license. It’s a core component of a nursing education and a skill set you’ll use every day throughout your career.

The safety of patients is the top priority in nursing—and math is an essential tool in accomplishing that at all levels of practice, says Donna R. Swope, an adjunct professor of nursing at Stevenson University.

Math skills are critical for nurses when they perform the basic yet important task of administering medication.

“Adopt the mindset that nurses and math are forever intertwined in the protection of the patient,” Swope says. “Don’t think of it as cramming for a test and then allowing the content to slip away.”

Math skills are critical for nurses when they perform the basic yet important task of administering medication. “In the process of testing, manufacturing, distribution, and prescription of medications, nurses stand as the last level of protection as they are the ones who actually administer the drug to the patient,” explains Swope.

Math calculations, measurement conversions, and data interpretation occur throughout the process, which includes:

  • Adhering to the “rights” of administering medication: the right patient, right medication, right dose, and right time.
  • Preparing a dose with a number of variables in mind, including the patient’s weight and the recommended dose per pound.
  • Preparing a dose according to patient ability; for example, considering whether a patient is only able to swallow the medication if it is crushed or in liquid form.
  • Adjusting dosage according to a patient’s response; for example, the flow rate of an intravenous drug is increased or decreased according to a patient’s blood pressure.

Nurses also use math in the creation and interpretation of research related to healthcare and nursing practice. That’s why undergraduate and graduate nursing programs require coursework in research and statistics.

“Nurses must be able read, analyze, and interpret research studies and make changes in procedures, protocols, and policies so that the standards of care that inform their practice are always up to date,” Swope says.

Practice Makes Perfect

You learned most of the math you’ll use in nursing in middle school and high school. If you don’t remember most of it, you’re not alone. Preparing to take a pre-assessment test like the PAX or TEAS (Test of Essential Academic Skills) for admission to a nursing program will help you review and solve math and algebra problems.

There are many practice guides and tests available. Community colleges also offer precollege-level math courses, should you need them.

Dosage Exams and Clinical Nursing Courses

In most programs, students generally take an introductory clinical class that includes a review of dosage and the math involved in handling medications. “Basics such as ratio/proportion, algebraic formulas, conversions, and apothecary measurements are reviewed and students are tested on their knowledge,” Swope says.

At the university where Swope teaches, “students have three tries to get 100% on the dosage exam at the completion of this review. They must withdraw from the clinical course if this score is not reached,” she says. “Every clinical course that follows includes a dosage exam on the first day of the course with the same standards: three tries to pass the exam.”

Students will find similar testing practices and policies at most nursing schools.

Nursing Program Math Requirements

Completion of two to three years of high school math is the prerequisite for admission to a nursing program at most colleges. However, some of the most competitive nursing programs prefer four years of high school math for Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) programs.

Here’s a rundown of the typical math prerequisites and courses required for graduation from nursing programs. These courses are in addition to the math tests that students take at the beginning of clinical courses.

Note: “One college-level math class” as cited below generally refers to undergraduate math classes such as an algebra, pre-calculus, or calculus class taken in the first two years of college.

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

  • Prerequisites: Solid knowledge of basic math
  • Requirements for graduation: No additional math required

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

  • Prerequisites: Two to three years of high school math, including intermediate algebra
  • Requirements for graduation: Varies from none to one year of college-level math

Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)

  • Prerequisites: Two to three years of high school math, including intermediate algebra
  • Requirements for graduation: One college-level math class

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

  • Prerequisites: Three to four years of high school math, including intermediate algebra
  • Requirements for graduation: One college-level math class and one introductory statistics course

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

  • Prerequisites: One college-level math class and one introductory statistics course
  • Requirements for graduation: Descriptive and inferential statistics or biostatistics courses

Doctor of Science in Nursing (DNP)

  • Prerequisites: Descriptive and inferential statistics or biostatistics courses
  • Requirements for graduation: Graduate-level courses in statistics and research design, evaluation, and outcomes 

Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing (PhD)

  • Prerequisites: One college-level math class and descriptive and inferential statistics or biostatistics
  • Requirements for graduation: Varies greatly but usually includes several graduate-level statistics and research methodology courses 

If Math Isn’t Your Strength, You Can Still Succeed

If you have math anxiety, you aren’t alone. Swope suggests students and experienced nurses take advantage of online practice programs, practice workbooks, and tutoring to hone their math skills.

“Nurses also have many resources in the clinical area that will be of help, like calculators on their phones, drug information websites, and built-in safety devices within computerized medication storage (such as allergy alerts),” she says. “And consulting with an experienced colleague is never a bad idea.”

donna swope

With professional insight from:

Donna R. Swope, MS, RN

Adjunct professor of nursing, Stevenson University

Recommended For You