The health care industry is a growing field. Because people need medical care even in tough economic times, the job outlook for health care providers is often positive even when job growth is scarce in other industries. The field of nursing, in particular, is in high demand. Just how positive your job outlook with a nursing degree would be depends on what credentials and specialization you work in, but overall, if you earn a nursing degree, your career prospects are bright.
High Demand for Nurses
Across the United States, there are more than 2,955,200 registered nurses (RNs), according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). There are more than 724,500 licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) practicing basic nursing and 203,800 advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) offering more advanced patient care. Given the seemingly high rates of employment, you might be surprised to learn that there’s actually a shortage of nurses.
Yet it’s true, and it’s a real concern. The nursing shortage is one of the biggest reasons why nursing school is so competitive, because there just aren’t enough qualified nursing instructors to teach all of the students who want to be a nurse. The number of nurses enrolled in an RN to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree programs has tripled in just a decade, proving just how strong the demand for advanced nursing degrees really is.
More than 60 percent of RNs work hospitals, while more than one-third of LPNs and LVNs work in nursing homes. Unfortunately, these facilities are often understaffed, which has negative effects on patient care.
Growing Demand for Bachelor’s Degrees in Nursing
Registered nurses are the type of nurses that is most prevalent in the health care system. They provide and coordinate direct patient care in hospitals, doctors’ offices and ambulatory care facilities. RNs work in a wide range of specialties, and with the right education and experience, they can often move into well paid supervisory roles. Registered nurses earn a median wage of $70,000, with those in supervisory roles having the highest earning potential.
The health care industry is in the midst of a massive transformation, with nurses at the center of it. RNs are a crucial part of the shift from “provider-based, fee-for-service care” to “to team-based, patient-centered care” that aims to be both higher in quality and lower in cost, according to the journal Orthopedic Nursing. In particular, RNs play an increased role in health care under this new model, coordinating patient care.
There are multiple educational paths into a career as an RN. You can become an RN with in just two to three years of study if you choose to enroll in a diploma program or associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) program. If you really want to be in demand, however, you should earn your BSN degree and pursue a certification or additional work experience in your desired area of specialization, according to the BLS. An ADN is not sufficient for many supervisory roles in nursing today. As more employers give preference to BSN holders and more states enact laws requiring ADN holders to advance their education or risk losing their licenses, a bachelor’s degree is quickly becoming an important factor in a nurse’s success. Further, evidence supports the idea that more education makes for better nurses, as nurses with a BSN are linked to better patient outcomes.
RN to BSN programs can be completed in as little as one year – or less, at certain schools that offer competency-based credit toward a degree.
Why Are APRNs in Such High Demand?
One kind of nurse is seeing a much faster increase in career opportunities than all others. APRNs, who have an advanced degree and provide patient care on a level above what an RN is authorized to do, are seeing jobs grow at a rate of 31 percent, according to the BLS. By 2026, that will translate to 64,200 more jobs across the United States.
APRNs work as nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives and nurse practitioners. These nurses have a great deal of responsibility. Nurse anesthetists administer the medications used to put patients to sleep for surgeries and to relieve pain. Nurse midwives deliver babies and care for expectant and new mothers. Nurse practitioners, who provide many of the same services as doctors in primary and specialty care, are increasingly important parts of the health care team under the evolving model of health care, the BLS reported. APRNs are especially in demand in communities where there aren’t enough doctors to care for patients.
Becoming an APRN isn’t easy. You must already be a registered nurse – typically, though not always, with a BSN degree – and pursue an advanced education. While most APRNs currently have a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree, according to the BLS, there has been a push for APRNs to have a doctoral degree like the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). For registered nurses with a BSN degree, a master’s degree program will typically take 18 to 24 months of full-time study, while a DNP degree will take three years or longer.
APRNs earn a median salary of $110,930, with nurse anesthetists earning the highest median salary of $165,120.
The exact job outlook and salary potential for a nursing degree depends heavily on what level of study you pursue and how you use that degree. However, in the current economic climate, the demand for nurses of all kinds and with all levels of education is strong.