One Title, Four Jobs: The Nuances of the Nursing Field

The healthcare industry is a driving force in the U.S. economy, and one of the strongest contributors to the labor market. The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts increased growth, saying, “The healthcare industry is projected to add more jobs–over 4 million–than any other industry between 2012-2022 …And it is projected to be among the fastest growing industries in the economy.” 

Simply Hired’s August 2015 data shows that the growth is mounting; more than 14 percent of postings were seeking candidates to fill healthcare positions, surpassing hiring needs in the tech industry by nearly five percent. Approximately 680,000 jobs in the healthcare field posted last month, an 11 percent increase from open positions available in August 2014.

Nursing positions dominate the thriving healthcare field; 7 of 10 available healthcare positions seek nurses. As the need for nurses has grown, so have the various ways that medical practitioners can be certified in the field of nursing. Here are some of the basics:

Registered Nurses (RNs)

RNs are the most in demand; 72 percent of positions seeking nurses are looking for RNs. The first step to becoming an RN is to secure either a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing Degree (BSN) or an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN).

A BSN is a four-year degree. Many variables impact the cost of earning a BSN–whether you study at a state or private school, what financial aid and scholarship you may qualify for, etc. A BSN establishes a good professional basis for advancement. After taking the National Council Licensing Examination (NCLEX-RN) and earning its certifications, a BSN qualifies nurses for most entry level positions. The degree enables practitioners to advance to higher positions such as department chiefs or nurse practitioners.

Incoming nurses can also get certified as an RN after completing an ADN at a college or university. Their term of study is usually 2-3 years. Again, the cost of their certification depends on several factors, but costs run about $20,000-30,000, depending on where they study and how long it takes them to complete their courses. Nursing students do not need a high school diploma to enter ADN programs; most schools will accept a GED. ADN students have a very focused study track that emphasizes fundamentals. While BSN’s require more coursework, pursuing an ADN is demanding and rigorous.

Upon completion of their coursework, students can take the NCLEX-RN and earn their RN upon passing. In order to enjoy the full range of professional advancement, they are encouraged to continue their studies.

Nurse Practitioner (NP):

Nurse Practitioners need to have at least a Master’s Degree in nursing, and there may be additional certifications that vary by state. Again, it is difficult to estimate the cost associated with Master’s-level courses because there is a wide range.

NPs have the authority to practice independently. They can perform physical exams, diagnose and treat common injuries and illnesses, prescribe medications including controlled substances and interact with patients in a variety of other ways. Approximately 15 percent of nurse practitioners have their own private practice. This is a field that is expected to increase in demand.

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN):

An LPN (also called a licensed vocational nurse in some states) provides basic care to patients such as administering medications, charting vital signs, changing wound dressings, giving feedings and performing CPR in emergencies. The specific duties vary by state, but in general, LPNs provide basic care to their patients as instructed by the RN who oversees their work.

LPN training takes about 18 months to complete and includes a clinical rotation where students get hands-on experience. At the end of their coursework, students are required to pass the NCLEX-PN to earn their certification.  

The average cost of LPN certification is $10,000-$15,000 nationally. This figure can vary depending on where students chose to study. 

Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA):  

CNAs make patients feel comfortable by providing basic care such as bathing, grooming and feeding. They also help patients strengthen their abilities to perform basic functions for themselves such as dressing and eating. Patients often bond with their CNAs because they spend a lot of one-on-one time working with them.

Working as a CNA is a fast-paced and rewarding job. It is also a great introduction to the medical field. To qualify, it takes a high school diploma or a GED plus a CNA certificate. CNA candidates take a course to learn the basics in the field. Courses are available online and can take two-to-six weeks to complete. At the end of the course students are required to take a state skills exam to earn certification. The total cost of the training is about $1,500, but this can change depending on where students choose to study.

Nursing is a thriving and lucrative field. There are plenty of open positions, and there is ample room for advancement. Forging a trajectory may require additional training, but the job opportunities are plentiful at every level, and all indicators suggest that this trend will only continue. It’s a great time to be a nurse.