Nursing career paths, options, and outlooks

    Nursing is one of the most varied roles within the healthcare system; there are many different nursing career paths and specialties, each vital in its own right. As a result, one of the biggest challenges you might face when starting a nursing career is where to start or go next in your career.

    In this guide, we’ll walk through the requirements for different nursing pathways, walk through the steps of how to become an RN, and share information to help you decide if medical/ nursing services are a good career path for you.

    The path to nursing: how to become a Registered Nurse

    Nurses play a vital role in the healthcare system. Nurses advocate for patients, educate the public, and deliver care and support for the sick. This article will discuss how to become a registered nurse, some of the key career paths for RNs, and the salaries for various types of nurses.

    Becoming a registered nurse is the first step in your journey as a nurse. As a registered nurse, you will coordinate patient care and inform patients about their conditions. There are many stages to becoming a registered nurse; let’s walk through them step-by-step.

    The stages of becoming a nurse

    1. Earn your Associates or Bachelor’s Degree (Or Nursing Diploma)

    The first step on your journey is to earn an undergraduate degree in nursing. Thankfully, there are many options – most large universities offer nursing courses. There are two major pathways to earning a nursing degree; firstly, you can study at a traditional university and earn a bachelor’s. Getting a BS in nursing usually takes 3-4 years.

    Associate degrees and nursing diplomas are other options growing in popularity, as it takes far less time (only two years at most). There are many nursing options after graduation, but this step is necessary to access any of them.

    2. Pass the NCLEX-RN exam to become an RN

    Students interested in becoming registered nurses should sign up for the NCLEX-RN exam before graduating. The exam lasts 6-hours and tests students’ knowledge of nursing fundamentals. It includes topics such as what makes an effective care environment and how to maintain physiological integrity. Passing this exam is essential to finishing the RN path in most states.

    3. Get on-the-job experience as a Registered Nurse

    If you pass the prerequisites, the next step is to get on-the-job experience. Learning on the job is the best way to develop your skills, connect with mentors, and develop the mindset needed to succeed in nursing. While this is a challenging process for many, it is still the best way for registered nurses to improve their career prospects.

    4. Advance by earning your MSN or DNP to specialize

    As you continue looking at your nursing career options, taking time to study nursing more in-depth can be a significant boost to your future growth. An MSc in Nursing is a great way to stand out for registered nurses interested in moving up. On the other hand, if you are interested in a specific part of nursing or becoming a leader, earning a Doctorate is the best way to fast-track your career.

    Nursing Career Paths

    Now that we have laid out all the prerequisites, we can discuss the diverse selection of career options nurses can pursue. This article will cover the CNA, LPN, RN, ADN, and BSN pathways – including the meaning of these acronyms and what nurses can expect along each path.

    CNA Paths

    Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA), working under the supervision of RNs and other senior staff, help keep the healthcare system running smoothly.

    CNAs perform many vital duties daily, such as checking a patient’s vitals, cleaning rooms, and acting as a go-between for the patient and other staff. While usually the first step on a nurse’s career path, CNAs are still highly respected for their vital work.

    According to Regis College, CNAs can expect to make around to $29,000 each year. Unlike RNs, you do not need a bachelor’s degree to qualify as a CNA – only a high school diploma. CNAs also rank as some of the most satisfied in the nursing profession, according to

    LPN Paths

    A licensed practical nurse (LPN) works with RNs to help keep patients as comfortable as possible while under their supervision. LPNs can find work in all healthcare settings. However, many LPNs make their career in rehab facilities, schools, and immunization clinics.

    Successful LPNs need to be patient, compassionate, and knowledgeable as they are frequently the first point of contact in a severe health crisis. Licensed Practical Nurses can also specialize in patients with developmental disabilities.

    RN Pathways

    Registered Nurses (RNs) are respected members of the healthcare profession and face many different complicated tasks that need robust training. These tasks include the collection of samples (such as blood) and wound care.

    RNs also have to take a broader view than CNAs, accounting for hospital strategy and long-term outcomes for the patient. Due to the nature and complexity of these tasks, RNs need at least a bachelor’s degree in nursing. RNs must also complete the NCLEX-RN exam to be fully qualified. There are two primary RN pathways we will analyze below.

    ADN Pathway

    There are a variety of RN career options. Many starts with an Associate Degree in Nursing. Associate degrees are a step above a high-school diploma but not a bachelor’s degree.

    There are a few benefits to an ADN, a key benefit being that it takes less time than a bachelor’s in nursing. ADNs take between 18 and 24 months to finish, meaning you can get to work quickly after completing the program. Clinical topics like community health and informatics would be the main focus of your ADN.

    BSN Pathway

    A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is the second main RN career path. Compared to an ADN, a bachelor’s degree in nursing typically takes more time to complete but is usually needed to get into more high-paying fields.

    As well as the clinical knowledge taught in an ADN, a bachelor of science in nursing also focuses on developing leadership and research skills. One of the benefits of a BSN is that it opens the doors to many different fields.

    Registered Nursing jobs at Children’s Minnesota

    There indeed are many pathways and career options for nursing graduates. However, while there are many stages to being a nurse, it is widely regarded as one of the most rewarding careers.

    There are also many paths to nursing for those who don’t have the means for higher education – even CNAs can find employment in many high-paying roles. Becoming a registered nurse is an outstanding achievement and opens the door to many exciting positions.

    If you’re interested in exploring the nursing field or other jobs like nursing and wonder which options may suit you, discover what’s available at Children’s Minnesota for residency, internships, and careers.

    Liz Burwell