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Nursing Career Advancement: Explore Your Options

It’s no secret that nursing is one of the world’s most rewarding careers. From hospitals to rehabilitation facilities to ambulatory clinics and homecare, nursing professionals are always in high demand.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were more than three million registered nurses working in the United States in 2018. When looking at registered professionals in all levels of nursing, this figure is rapidly increasing. As medical science progresses and new advancement opportunities for registered nurses become available, the number of nursing positions is expected to increase 12% by 2028, which is much faster than the country’s average industry growth rate.

When considering advancement opportunities for registered nurses, it’s important to understand where different nursing pathways will lead. Explore your options when it comes to educational degree programs, career possibilities and the future of nursing possibilities before choosing the next step in your career.

Explore Nursing Pathways

There are several nursing pathways that lead to RN advancement, so it’s vital to choose the one that’s best for your specific career goals. All salary information and job projections are from the BLS unless otherwise stated.

Diploma or Certificate in Practical Nursing

One nursing pathway often chosen by those pursuing a career as a licensed practical nurse (LPN) begins with earning a diploma or certificate in practical nursing.

Largely employed by hospitals, nursing homes, residential care agencies and physician’s offices, LPNs are responsible for providing basic medical care to patients under the supervision of doctors and RNs. The average annual salary for LPNs is $46,420.

Depending on their place of employment, responsibilities for LPNs may include:

  • Bathing or feeding patients.
  • Assisting in medical procedures.
  • Collecting blood and fluid samples for medical testing.
  • Composing reports for their supervisors.

Associate Degree in Nursing

An associate degree in nursing (ADN) leads to a career as an RN.

In 2018, 60% of RNs were employed by hospitals, with the remaining largely employed by emergency medical services, nursing homes, residential care agencies and educational facilities. The average annual salary of RNs with an ADN is $68,258, according to research published by PayScale.

Depending on place of employment, the responsibilities of RNs with an ADN may include:

  • Teaching patients and their relatives about their illness and treatment plan.
  • Collaborating with doctors and other nurses to develop patient care plans.
  • Administering medication to patients.
  • Operating various medical equipment.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing

For those seeking advancement opportunities for RNs, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is the next step. Individuals without prior nursing education can earn this degree through a four-year BSN program, while RNs with an ADN can complete this nursing degree through an RN-BSN program, which allows RNs to apply their previously earned ADN credits to a bachelor’s degree and graduate within two years. The average annual salary of RNs with a BSN is $71,730.

The number of RNs who choose this nursing path is increasing due to the advanced knowledge and expertise gained through bachelor’s degree programs compared to the education provided by associate degrees. BSN programs provide advanced nursing education to assist students to expand critical thinking and clinical decision-making skills, apply evidence-based research to practice, and develop leadership capacity. General studies courses help nurses strengthen their physical and social science knowledge. For this reason, many health facilities seek to employ an RN who has earned a BSN rather than employ a nurse with only an ADN.

In 2017, the state of New York passed the “BSN in 10” law, which requires all RNs to earn a BSN within 10 years of earning a nursing license or face license suspension. When defending the decision of this bill, former New York Assemblyman Joseph Morelle said, “It has been widely demonstrated that additional learning translates to better patient outcomes and improved care. With these new standards in place, we are ensuring that New Yorkers continue to receive the highest possible treatment and care.” As the first law of its kind in the United States, it has sparked interest among law makers in other states who are eager to improve patient outcomes in the future.

A BSN serves as the credential RNs need to pursue career advancement opportunities and eligibility for various clinical specialty certifications such as:

  • Cardiovascular nursing
  • Oncology nursing
  • Pediatric nursing
  • Labor and delivery

Master of Science in Nursing

After earning a bachelor’s degree, the next step would be a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). It serves as the key to advanced clinical and leadership roles in nursing and greater salary potential. This nursing degree is offered through two-year MSN programs and RN-BSN-MSN programs, which allow RNs to apply ADN credits to their advanced degree and graduate with a BSN and MSN within four years.

This nursing pathway serves as the credential RNs who seek to advance their careers in such roles as:

  • Nurse educator
  • Clinical nurse leader
  • Nurse manager or director
  • Nurse practitioner

Doctor of Nursing Practice

Your nursing education doesn’t have to end with an MSN. To advance your career even further, the next step on your nursing pathway would be a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). Regarded as the practice doctorate in nursing, a DNP program typically takes three years to complete and will prepare you for both advanced clinical and nonclinical careers in nursing. According to PayScale, the average annual salary for nurses who complete a DNP is $102,000.

With this degree, you can pursue leadership roles in organizational systems improvement, evidence-based practice, health policy and many other areas.  Many nurses with this level of education succeed in careers such as:

  • Chief nursing officer
  • Quality improvement director
  • Director of clinical services
  • Hospital administrator

Advance Your Nursing Career Online

Whether you’ve earned an ADN or a diploma in practical nursing, you have the academic credential to continue your education and pursue the next step in your career with an advanced nursing degree.

Each of our online nursing degree programs is offered with flexible course options and personalized education from faculty with extensive academic and clinical expertise. Our programs provide an opportunity for continuing your education while maintaining your responsibilities as a practicing nurse. Explore our online nursing pathways infographic to get started on the next step in your education today!