Nursing Degrees

Depending on your degree nursing work can be different, from helping patients (if you are a CNA or LPN) to making scientific advances (doctoral degree).

According to a study carried out by The Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for nurses, depending from their educational level, will grow by 8-31% from 2016 to 2026:

  • employment of nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners is projected to grow 31%
  • registered nurses – 15%
  • licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses – 12%
  • nursing assistants – 11%
  • orderlies – 8%

So, almost all the nursing specializations are supposed to experience faster growth than average, except the orderlies segment, where the demand will be growing about as fast as the average for all occupations. An incredible shortage – around one million employees – is expected in the nursing field by 2022.

So, it looks like now is an excellent time for getting an education in health care. Read on to find out what the levels of nursing degrees are.


Nursing Assistants (Certified Nursing Aids) and Orderlies

The median annual wage (May 2017): $27,520 per year (nursing assistants) and $27,180 (orderlies)

Education: 1-2-months long training program (for nursing assistants), at least a high school diploma plus a short on-the-job training or basic life support certification (for orderlies)

Employment change, 2016-26: 438,100

Degree cost: varies (a Red Cross CNA course costs $1,300)

Sample jobs: home health aide, physical therapy aide, occupational therapy aide or assistant

An entry-level position with minimum educational requirements. A nursing assistant completes a state-approved training program lasting 4-8 weeks, then passes the state’s competency exam, after which he or she is placed on a state registry. The training program consists of two parts: the basic principles of nursing and supervised clinical experience.

Titles are not the same throughout the country. In some states, a nursing assistant or a nursing aide is referred to as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA). In some areas, a CNA can get additional credentials with a broader range of responsibilities. A Certified Medication Assistant (CMA), for instance, has the right to give medications.

The employees at these levels of nursing experience stressful situations daily, while their salaries are comparatively low, so a lot of them leave the occupation. Others start asking themselves: “How can I get a nursing degree and move to a higher position?”

LPN (licensed professional nurse) or LVN (licensed vocational nurse – in Texas and California)

The median annual wage (May 2017): $45,030 per year

Education: a year-long state-approved program (two years for part-time programs)

Employment change, 2016-26: 88,900

While LPNs don’t need a degree, they have to successfully pass the exam called the National Council Licensure Examination-Practical Nurse (NCLEX-PN). Otherwise, they do not get the license and are not allowed to work.

Generally, their duties include checking patients’ vital signs, communicating with them, and providing basic medical care. It is not unusual for an LPN to go back to school to earn a BSN or MSN. It can be a smart choice, as it is easier to decide which specialization to choose when you are working at a hospital as an LPN than when you do not possess any experience in health care at all.

An important point to take into consideration while choosing an LPN program is whether it grants college credit or not. While vocational and technical schools do not grant college credit, many colleges and universities do. If you choose this type of curriculum, you can remain in college for another year and become a registered nurse.

UNDERGRADUATE levels of nursing

Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN)

Earning potential: $55,719

Education: a two-year degree program

Degree cost: $12,000-35,000

Sample jobs: registered nurse, travel nurse, school nurse

If you want to work as a registered nurse, the ADN is the minimum educational requirement. Having completed a two-year program, a student takes the NCLEX-RN exam and consequently gets credentials from the state nursing board. While the duration of the program is typically the same across the US, the courses required vary from one state to another.

In fact, there are several two-year degrees referring to ADN degree nursing, and, therefore, there are variations what an associates degree in nursing is called:

  • Associate of Nursing (AN)
  • Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)
  • Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN)
  • Associate of Applied Science in Nursing (AASN)

While the programs are basically the same, they vary in terms of additional coursework students need to take outside of main courses.

Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing

Earning potential: $81,240

Education: a four-year degree program

Degree cost: $25,000-120,000

Sample jobs: nursing manager, psychiatric nurse, flight nurse, neonatal intensive care nurse. While the minimum nursing IT degree is BSN, employers tend to look for candidates with the MSN degree.

BSN degree programs not only prepare the students for a diverse variety of professional roles but also make them eligible for higher-level nursing degree programs, including MSN or Ph.D. in Nursing. Baccalaureate comprises several liberal arts courses, professional education and training, as well as hands-on clinical experience including thorough professional nursing instruction. Candidates are licensed after they sit for the NCLEX-RN.

GRADUATE nursing degree programs

Master of Science Degree in Nursing

Earning potential: $87,719; $110,903 for such specializations as nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners; $104,860 for physician assistants

Education: 18-24-months program

Tuition cost: $38,000-80,000

Sample jobs: clinical nurse specialist, nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist, nurse educator, clinical nurse specialist

This is an advanced degree that gives you a chance to choose a more specialized role. Each role requires a specialized certification exam. A certified nurse midwife, for instance, has to sit for the American Midwifery Certification Board exam.

Doctor of Nursing Practice Degree

Sample jobs: acute care nurse practitioner, adult nurse practitioner, adult-gerontology nurse practitioner, family nurse practitioner, pediatric nurse practitioner

The DNP program prepares nurses to lead healthcare innovations and advance the practice of nursing. The range of duties includes assessing, diagnosing, prescribing, consulting, and more.

Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing

If you are wondering what the highest nursing degree is, this is the answer. These programs place the emphasis on the abstract thinking that helps move the profession forward rather than on practical experience. Nurses with a Ph.D. are supposed to lead the development of nursing science.

At this level, scholarships are used very often. For instance, while the degree cost in John Hopkins School of Nursing is $41,580 (full-time per year), the majority of full-time students are 100% funded with a stipend.

Health care system needs educated nurses

While it is perfectly natural to concentrate on your own needs and plans while choosing a training program, there is also another significant point to consider – the fact that the industry is changing requiring employees with higher levels of education.

According to studies carried out by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), by 2020, around 80% of all nurses will need at least a bachelor’s degree to be able to perform their duties up to scratch. So, there is every possibility that employers will be more willing to hire applicants with BSNs and MSNs while those with an Associate Degree in Nursing or CNAs may have increasingly hard times trying to find a job and, therefore, may be forced to work for smaller wages.

As mentioned above, the demand for different nursing degrees of higher levels (such as nurse anesthetists, clinical nursing specialists, and nurse midwives) will increase by 31% by 2024.

Why is the need for educated nurses increasing? The main reason is that the health care system itself is becoming more complex, with new methods appearing every month. The aging, increasingly diverse population is another factor resulting in a growing demand for nurses with BSNs and MSNs.

Taking into consideration the predicted nursing shortage in the US, however, it is very likely that increasing number of nurses will have a chance to get their BSN or MSN using reimbursement from their employer.