A career in nursing opens many doors. It is a journey that offers lifelong professional and personal development, with many specialization branches from which to choose.

There will always be a demand for nurses throughout the various fields in the healthcare industry. The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the crucial role nurses play in all societies around the globe.

Renowned consulting and advisory firm McKinsey recently cast a spotlight on the dire shortage of nurses. In its 2022 report, the company predicted a scarcity of 20%, or 450,000 nurses, in the United States by 2025.

Although this forecast seems bleak, it also means that a lot of positions opened in the wake of the taxing coronavirus. Those considering a nursing career or aiming to upskill in nursing can bank on steady-income jobs combined with continued growth.

Motivations for a nursing career

Before we look at how to enter and start a nursing career, let’s examine the key reasons choosing this road is a good decision. With a bachelor’s degree, you can become a registered nurse (RN). The US Bureau of Labor Statistics pegs the median salary of an RN at approximately $77,600 per year.

Sense of personal accomplishment

Nursing is about more than just the routine performance of healthcare tasks. It creates opportunities to make a tangible difference in the lives of people.

As a nurse, you are a comforter, confidant, consoler, and invaluable member of your community. Nurses are there to carry people through their worst times and also celebrate good news, such as the birth of a baby.

This career opens avenues for travel and volunteering. It is stimulating and never boring. Nurses are healers, leaders, educators, and advocates. The culmination of everything about nursing harbors a sense of true achievement and fulfillment.

Enter the workforce relatively quickly

Once you qualify, you can start your nursing career. Keep in mind that you do not necessarily need a bachelor’s degree in nursing science to enter this market.

Many people first obtain a two-year associate nursing degree, start working, and then further their studies with a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) while earning an income. Online nursing education makes these endeavors a workable reality.

Specializing in different fields

As mentioned, the nursing sector has many branches for further growth and specialization. With a two-year associate nursing degree, you can work as a nursing assistant or care worker in certain healthcare settings. Your choices include working as a:

  • Travel nurse
  • Medical nursing assistant
  • Neonatal nurse
  • Pediatric nurse
  • Nurse anesthetist
  • Critical or intensive care nurse
  • Psychiatric nurse practitioner

Added benefits

The healthcare industry acknowledges the need for skilled nurses. Most facilities, such as hospitals, clinics, and doctors’ offices, offer attractive benefits to attract and retain high-quality nursing staff. Keep in mind that these benefits come on top of a viable salary:

  • Paid sick leave
  • Paid vacation and holiday time
  • Paid family leave
  • Overtime pay
  • Health insurance
  • Life insurance
  • Retirement benefits
  • Wellness programs
  • Childcare
  • Sponsorships for continued studies

How to start your nursing career

As you can see, nurses are in high demand, not just in the United States but throughout the world. It is a fulfilling career with diverse opportunities, and getting your foot in the door is easier than you might think.

First things first: Getting a qualification

Any career in nursing requires a suitable qualification regardless of whether you’re interested in becoming a licensed practitioner, nurse educator, administrator, registered nurse, or vocational nurse. You need a certificate, diploma, or degree from an accredited nursing educational institution.

Fortunately, it is not difficult to find an educational institution offering qualifications in nursing. The National Center for Education Statistics ranked healthcare-related study fields as a top priority in the United States. This means easy accessibility and a wide scope of choice.

Remember, a nursing assistant certificate can be a stepping stone to entering the job market. Then, thanks to online nursing education, you can continue studying while working and qualify yourself as a registered nurse. Once you have an accelerated Bachelor of Science in nursing, you can zoom in on your preferred areas of specialization.

Online nursing studies incorporate a practical element. Credible institutions use your present clinical facility, such as a hospital, or place you in applicable facilities for this purpose.

Therefore, advances in digital education make it possible to further your nursing studies online while earning a steady income. It is, however, important to choose a reputable and accredited online education institution to ensure you achieve a recognized and valid qualification.

Elmhurst University is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), making it a safe choice for an online Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN). You can join this program from anywhere in the country. An Elmhurst University ABSN fast-tracks your theoretical and practical nursing education and qualifies you as a registered nurse.

A highly specialized course like this equips you with everything you need for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) and entry into the nursing profession. It is also structured around your schedule and needs as a working professional.

Experts describe an ABSN as an ideal opportunity to change and reskill for a new career in nursing. Any bachelor’s degree qualifies you for admission to this accelerated program.

All nursing qualifications can serve as a basis for further studies, such as an associate degree, which helps you to enter the market earlier than a four-year program. You can study for and build on the following qualifications:

  • Nursing diplomas at community colleges or vocational institutions
  • Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) at a community college
  • Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) at a nursing college or university
  • Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) at nursing colleges or universities
  • Doctoral degrees in nursing at a nursing college or university

Choose a nursing branch

The potential learning opportunities described above highlight the many directions available in nursing. It also shows you how basic qualifications can pave the way for further education and development.

Before diving into a nursing study program, consider where you would like to work. Your selected setting largely determines the patient mix you will deal with and defines the qualification you need.

For example, registered nurses are qualified clinical practitioners who can engage in the active delivery of healthcare, act as managers of specific units, or even become pharmaceutical representatives. Once they specialize, they often work in specific disciplines such as neonatal care. Registered nurses work in hospitals, doctors’ offices, and many other medical settings.

On the other hand, a certified nursing assistant (CNA) can either work in a hospital and render basic healthcare or in environments such as nursing homes. Many of these also engage in home-based care services.

You should also think about your desired nursing role. Some nursing assistants or staff nurses are happy to support medical staff and work as part of a team. However, when you have an eye on a management role, you will need a Master’s in Nursing Science to hone your leadership and administrative skills.


After completing your qualification, you must take an exam to earn your nursing license. This is a prerequisite for all nurses.

A certified nursing assistant takes a state competency exam to obtain a state-based license. This means taking the test in every state where you work.

As a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), you need to complete the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX-PN, for a state license.

If you wish to become a registered nurse, you will need a diploma, associate degree, or bachelor’s degree in nursing science. Depending on your chosen program, it can take up to four years to complete one of these.

However, the condensed Accelerated Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing can be completed in 18 months. This means you qualify more quickly. Keep in mind, however, that this focused course is demanding but ultimately worth all the effort. After completing your diploma or degree, you need to pass the NCLEX-RN exam for a state license.

A nurse practitioner (NP) needs a Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) to take the NCLEX-RN exam. Additionally, you will need to complete a national certification exam with a recognized professional organization such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center or the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. It seems like a lot, but with this in hand, you can run your own nursing practice.

Nurse midwives (CNM) also need an MSN. After passing the NCLEX-RN exam, they need further national certification from the American Midwifery Certification Board (AMCB).

If you want to specialize as a nurse anesthetist (CNA), you will need an MSN to start. However, if you graduated from high school after January 1, 2022, you will need a Doctorate in Nursing Practice (DNP). For licensing, you also need to pass the NCLEX-RN exam and a certification exam administered by the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists.

This may sound overwhelming, but keep in mind that obtaining your nursing qualification and a relevant license is a step-by-step process that is well worth it in the end.

Most accredited online nursing programs offer excellent support and encourage active peer networking, so you are not alone in this endeavor.

Ongoing learning

In nursing, learning never stops because technologies and treatment regimens change and improve all the time. This requires nurses to keep up with the latest advances to give their patients the best care possible.

Essentially, as a nurse, you will be a lifelong learner. Immerse yourself in opportunities offered by companies or online nursing institutions.

As a rule, you must complete continuing education courses every two years. Your state nursing board can supply all the details you need.

When specializing, you need professional certification. These certificates confirm your commitment to nursing and those you care for. It also reflects your expertise and ranking.

Advanced degrees, such as master’s or doctorate qualifications, can take you to the top of a career in nursing. Once you have a Master’s of Science in Nursing, you can specialize as a nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, certified nurse midwife, or certified nurse anesthetist.

Entry-level nursing and advanced-level nursing

There are different levels in nursing, each with its own requirements. These alternate qualifications and licenses define the scope of your practice and outline what you can and cannot do.

However, few careers hold as many advancement opportunities as nursing. Each nursing qualification can serve as a stepping stone toward higher qualifications.

The entry-level positions are where all nurses start their careers. To do this, you will need one of the following:

  • A state-approved certificate or diploma as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA). It takes between four and 12 weeks to complete this qualification and helps with rapid entry into the workforce.
  • A state-approved certificate or diploma as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN). This qualification takes 12 to 18 months to complete.
  • An Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is needed to qualify as a registered nurse. These take anywhere between two and four years. Once completed, you can enter the market with a solid qualification and earn a higher income.

Advanced degrees focus on post-graduate studies and usually require an element of research and presentation. These also tend to focus on one specific area. Possible qualifications include:

  • An Advanced Practice Registered Nurse focuses on the clinical and healthcare rendering side of nursing. With a Master’s of Science in nursing (MSN), you can practice as a certified registered nurse anesthetist, a certified registered nurse midwife, a nurse practitioner, or a clinical nurse specialist. This qualification takes two years to complete.
  • A Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) focuses on management, education, and research. This qualification concentrates on non-clinical specialties such as hospital management. Typically, nurses with a doctorate occupy nursing director and other top positions. It also takes two years to complete this degree.

As mentioned, you can follow different career paths with an entry-level qualification. Bridging programs enable you to advance from an LPN to an RN and from an RN to a BSN. Most institutions also recognize previous learning and experience.

Duties and earnings at different levels of nursing

Certified nursing assistants help with tasks of daily living such as bathing and eating. In a hospital setting, they attend to call bells, clean rooms, administer bed baths, and record and report concerns to a registered nurse.

These nurses can also work in elderly care facilities and offer home-based care when people require basic assistance or need to rehabilitate after hospitalization. A Certified Nursing Assistant earns approximately $30,000 per year.

A Licensed Practical Nurse – also referred to as a Licensed Vocational Nurse in Texas and California –provides basic patient care under the supervision of a registered nurse. This includes changing wound dressings and bathing.

In some states, a Licensed Practical Nurse can also administer medication. On average, these nurses earn $48,000 per year. Many tertiary institutions recognize and credit licensed practical nurse qualifications and experience.

Registered nurses:

  • Coordinate and supervise patient care
  • Administer medication
  • Assist medical doctors with exams and surgeries
  • Educate patients on health issues and post-operative care
  • Manage certified nursing assistants and licensed practical nurses

It is possible to become a registered nurse with a nursing diploma or associate degree in nursing. However, most healthcare employers prefer registered nurses with a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing, especially in acute care environments.

This pathway offers diverse experience and ample opportunities for further growth and learning. Registered nurses earn roughly $77,000 annually.

Any advanced degree in nursing requires a bachelor’s degree for admission. Some courses allow students to first complete their Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing and then immediately move on to their Master’s of Science in Nursing.

Certified registered nurse anesthetists work with patients before, during, and after surgical procedures. This specialization focuses on pain management and decides on the amount and type of general, local, or regional anesthesia required.

Keep in mind that you will need a doctoral qualification by 2025 to fulfill this role. A certified registered nurse anesthetist earns an estimated $195,000 per year.

A certified nurse midwife focuses on prenatal, postpartum, and newborn care. They also educate mothers and families about health and wellness. In this capacity, you will refer complicated cases to a physician. The yearly income averages $112,000 right now.

Nurse practitioners specialize in primary care, which includes diagnoses and prescriptions. You can run your own practice in many states with this qualification and earn around $120,000 per year.

You can also fulfill nurse administrative and leadership roles with an MSN. Here, the emphasis lies on the management of nursing staff while earning an estimated $100,000 per year.

A doctorate is the top qualification in nursing. With it, you can further specialize, educate, or conduct research.

Final word

A career in nursing is a viable choice with many integral upskilling and reskilling possibilities. Few jobs will give you this sense of purpose and achievement.