Advancing your Nursing Career Through Education: A Step-by-Step Guide
With nursing, as with any field, the path to career advancement is simple: more education leads to higher compensation and more job opportunities. Refer to this guide to identify where you are currently in your nursing career, what your options are for career advancement, and what steps can take to get there. (Positions are listed in order of required education/experience, from least to greatest.)
Education is now more affordable than ever–check out our article on affordable top nursing schools to get started.
Certified Nurse's Assistant (CNA)
According to data published by the National Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2017, CNAs make $28,540/year on average, almost 90% more than the federal minimum wage.
CNA programs typically last 3-8 weeks and are available in a variety of institutions, including technical colleges, nursing homes, and the American Red Cross. There are part- and full-time options available. After completing the program, you will sit an exam to become state certified to work as a CNA.
Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
As of 2018, LPNs made on average $47,050/year, or $22.62/hour. This is influenced by your location, of course. Salary varies state-to-state by as much as $20,000 or more.
To secure a job as an LPN, you don't need a Bachelor's Degree, but you do need to go to nursing school for an LPN program, which typically lasts 1-2 years. Before attending, you will sit the Test of Essential Academic Skills or TEAS exam, which tests basic academic skills, similar to the SAT or ACT. After passing the TEAS exam and completing the nursing program, you'll need to pass the NCLEX-PN exam, and then you're ready to enter the workplace as a Licensed Practical Nurse.
Registered Nurse (RN)
The mean annual wage for RNs in 2019 was $77,460, or $37.24/hour. The lowest 25% made $52,080 a year or less, but the highest 25% made $90,760 or more annually.
The absolute minimum required education to be a Registered Nurse is an Associate's Degree in Nursing, which can be completed in 1.5-2 years. However, employers are increasingly requiring RNs to have Bachelor's Degrees. If you're an RN with an Associate's looking to widen your job opportunities, many nursing schools offer RN to BSN programs, which are accelerated and can often be completed in 1-2 years. After getting your ADN (Associate's Degree in Nursing) or BSN, you'll need to sit the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) before you can be hired as an RN.
Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN)
APRNs made on average $111,840 annually, as of May 2019. The bottom 25% had an income $92,790 or less, while the top 25% made $127,030 or more.
To become an APRN, or Nurse Practitioner, you need a Master's in Nursing. Most programs require you to have your RN license, and prefer you have a BSN rather than an ADN. After earning your degree and completing any clinical experience your specialization requires, you probably will have to take a national certification exam, depending on your specialty and what state you plan on working in.
If you're feeling stuck, unchallenged, or restless in your current profession, it's time to consider your other options. Thankfully, nursing is an area that allows for plenty of career growth, and nursing school doesn't have to be expensive. You have a lot to gain from continuing your nursing education.