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Ways to Advance a Nursing Career: Leveraging Higher Education & Workforce Training to Get the Nursing Job You Want


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Posted In: Workforce Insight

Jun • 7 • 2019

ways to advance nursing

Idea in brief: If you’re passionate about healthcare and want a career with strong growth potential, exploring the different types of nursing jobs available and ways to advance a nursing career could be right for you.

“There are several pathways to get into nursing,” said Carol Allen, lead nursing faculty at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). “It really depends on where you’re going and what you want to be doing.”

Nursing is one of the fastest-growing industries in the U.S. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs for registered nurses (RNs) are projected to grow 15% over the next several years, from 2.9 million in 2016 to 3.4 million in 2026.

This demand is fueled by a number of factors, including an aging patient population in need of more healthcare and an aging nurse population nearing retirement. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nurses (AACN), more than one million nurses are projected to retire by 2030.

With growing opportunities for work in the nursing field, now is a great time to explore ways to advance a nursing career through degree programs, workforce training and continuing education.

Types of Nursing Jobs

If you’re interested in getting started as a nurse or want to advance your nursing career, it’s important to understand the types of nursing jobs available, the education required and the opportunities for career and salary growth.

Some of the common types of nursing jobs with an associate degree or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) include:

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA): As a nursing assistant, you could provide basic care for patients in doctor’s offices, nursing homes and other medical facilities. Nursing assistants typically must complete a state-approved vocational program and sit for a certification exam in order to get started in the field. According to BLS data, nursing assistants earn a median salary of $28,500. Nursing assistant jobs are projected to grow 11% between 2016-2026.

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN): With a licensed practical nursing job, you could work under registered nurses and doctors to monitor patients’ health, educate patients about at-home care and maintain health records. LPNs must complete a one-year certificate or diploma program and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN) in order to work in their field. According to BLS data, LPNs earned a median salary of $46,240 in 2018. Jobs for LPNs are projected to grow 12% by 2026.

Registered Nurse (RN): Registered nurses assess patients’ conditions, observe patients’ symptoms, plan for patient care and operate and monitor medical equipment, tests and medication. As an RN, you could work at a doctor’s office, hospital, school or healthcare facility. Registered nurses must complete a two-year associate degree program or a four-year Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree program and pass the NCLEX-RN licensure exam. According to BLS data, registered nurse jobs are projected to grow by 15% between 2016-2026, with RNs earning a median salary of $71,730.

Earning a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) can prepare you for specialty areas of advanced practice. Some of the common types of nursing jobs with a master’s degree include:

Nurse Practitioner (NP): Nurse practitioners serve as primary and specialty care providers, delivering advanced nursing services to patients and their families. While a master’s degree is the most common educational path to becoming an NP, some nurse practitioners may earn a Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) or PhD. To practice in specialty areas such as pediatrics, acute care or mental health, nurses must pass a certification exam and apply for advanced practice licensure. According to BLS, job opportunities for nurse practitioners are projected to grow 36% between 2016-2026. Nurse practitioners earned a median salary of $107,030 in 2018, according to BLS data.

Nurse Midwife (CNM): Nurse midwives provide care to women, including gynecological exams, family planning services and prenatal care. They also deliver babies and may provide surgical assistance to physicians during cesarean births. To work as a nurse midwife you must hold an MSN, be a licensed RN and pass a national certification exam. According to BLS, job opportunities for nurse midwives are projected to grow 21% between 2016-2026. Nurse midwives earned a median salary of $103,770 in 2018, according to BLS data.

Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA): Nurse anesthetists provide anesthesia and related care before, during, and after surgical, therapeutic, diagnostic, and obstetrical procedures. To work as a nurse anesthetist you must hold a master’s degree in nursing, hold an advanced RN license and pass a national certification exam. According to BLS, job opportunities for nurse anesthetists are projected to grow 16% between 2016-2026. Nurse anesthetists earned a median salary of $167,950 in 2018, according to BLS data.

Nurse Educator: Nurse educators work in post-secondary institutions, hospitals and other healthcare organizations to educate and train other nurses. Nurse educators are typically required to hold a master’s degree in order to teach, while some will earn a DNP, EdD or PhD. Certification as a Nurse Educator (CNE) may also be beneficial qualification for some institutions. According to BLS, jobs for nurse educators are projected to grow by 35% by 2022. Nurse educators earn a median salary of $71,260, according to BLS.

Ways to Advance a Nursing Career

With so many job opportunities available for nurses, it can be challenging to determine your ideal career path. But no matter what your professional goals, when it comes to advancing your nursing career, education is key.

“With an associate degree, you’re not going to have any problems finding a job – the challenge is going to be where you’ll be working,” said Sandy Strouse, clinical nursing faculty at SNHU. “Earning a bachelor’s degree opens up more leadership, managerial and hospital positions. Earning a master’s degree is when you can think about higher leadership, education or NP routes.”

Advanced nursing education is only becoming more important, thanks to a goal set by the Institute of Medicine to increase the percentage of RNs with BSN degrees to 80% by 2020. This goal has changed hiring practices, particularly at major hospitals, and led many healthcare institutions to require that RNs hold a BSN or go back to school to earn their BSN after hiring.

So what are the best ways to advance a nursing career?

If you’re already working in the nursing field, start by exploring educational opportunities offered by your employer. Many large healthcare organizations and hospital systems offer tuition reimbursement plans for employees to help them earn advanced nursing degrees.

Other companies may offer personalized healthcare workforce development programs to make advancing your nursing education simple. Healthcare workforce development and training programs can ensure learning reflects real-world challenges personalized to your particular organization, and are a great way to further your education while saving money.

If your employer doesn’t offer workforce development or tuition reimbursement opportunities, there are plenty of other ways to earn a degree while working in the field.

An RN to BSN program can fast-track the path to a BSN degree for registered nurses, leveraging your existing diploma or associate degree and hands-on work experience to complement course learning.

Interested in gaining a leadership position or pursuing a career as a nurse educator or nurse practitioner? An accelerated RN to MSN program offers a seamless academic pathway to advance from an associate degree to a bachelor’s degree to a master’s degree, saving you both tuition and time.

MSN degrees are available in a variety of concentrations depending on your career goals, including nursing, clinical nurse leader, nurse educator and patient safety and quality.

Earning a doctoral degree can help you grow your career even further, opening up additional opportunities in nursing education, hospital leadership and medical research.

Getting Started with Nursing Career Advancement

If you’re ready to advance your nursing career, it’s important to focus on continuing your education. Not only is continuing education required to maintain nursing licensure, it can also help set you apart from other nursing job seekers.

Earning certifications in specific areas of interest, such as pediatric nursing, diabetes management, oncology, prenatal care and behavioral health, can help you stand out and make your specializations clear to potential employers.

No matter what your career goals, advancing your nursing degree and earning an RN license will only help your career and earning potential, Strouse said.

“If somebody chooses to go into nursing by getting that first licensure as an RN, you open up so many doors and opportunities into whatever you want to do: research, technology, caring for patients at the bedside,” Strouse said. “Whatever you enjoy doing, you can find something in nursing to help you do that.”

Contact the Workforce Partnerships team at Southern New Hampshire University to learn about our tailored learning solutions.

Danielle Gagnon is a freelance writer and marketer focused on higher education. Connect with her on LinkedIn.