Nursing is hot! According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 194,500 nursing positions will be created each year over the next decade. Finding a job will not be an issue for Registered Nurses anytime soon.


The duties of a Registered Nurse include treatment of patients, education of both patients and the public about medical conditions, and providing advice and support to the families of patients. Some RNs specialize in the type of care they provide.  


There are three major paths to a career as a registered nurse:  a bachelor’s degree (BSN), an associate’s degree (ADN) from a community college, and a diploma from an approved nursing program.  Of these paths, the bachelor’s degree provides graduates with the largest number of career possibilities as well as the option to earn an advanced degree leading to employment as a nurse practitioner.   


Diploma programs do not grant a college degree.  Instead, these are strictly vocational programs, generally hospital-based, and involve three years of study and clinical work.  ADN programs are offered by junior and community colleges and take between two and three years to complete.  Colleges and universities that offer the BSN can prepare their graduates for licensing in about four years.  Many RNs will earn their ADN degree and begin their nursing career before returning to school to earn a Bachelor’s degree in nursing. All three paths allow graduates to take the national licensing exam, known as the NCLEX-RN.  Once licensed, a nurse is eligible for employment as an entry level staff nurse.


RN to BSN programs allow practicing nurses to earn their bachelor’s degrees, thus making them eligible for higher level nursing positions.  A bachelor’s degree would be necessary for administrative and teaching positions, as well as for advanced practice positions such as nurse anesthetist, nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, and clinical nurse specialist.  The advanced nursing practice specialties also require additional study leading to a master’s degree.

Nursing education programs include classroom instruction in such areas as anatomy, physiology, chemistry, nutrition, psychology, microbiology and nursing.  Supervised clinical experience is provided in hospital settings and generally involves rotations in pediatrics, surgery, psychiatry and maternity.  Shortage of clinical placements along with a lack of qualified nursing instructors has severely limited the number of students who can earn nursing degrees, thus fueling the ongoing scarcity of nurses.  Nursing programs have found themselves becoming more and more competitive, with high grades in high school or in the first two years of college becoming a requirement.  Experience in a health care setting may also be considered in the application process.


A recent report from the Georgetown Center on Education & the Workforce found that 37% of qualified applicants were not accepted by BSN programs and that 51% of qualified ADN students failed to gain acceptance because of a lack of available spaces. Accomplished high school students who want a BSN degree might want to explore direct-entry nursing programs, such as those offered at Boston College or the University of Pennsylvania.  Rather than taking a general college curriculum for the first two years, students begin their pre-nursing classes immediately and generally begin clinical rotations by their second year of college.  Other colleges such as Regis University offer their pre-nursing students a guaranteed spot in their nursing school as long as the pre-nursing prerequisites have been completed at a satisfactory level. To become a competitive applicant, choose the most rigorous high school program you can handle.


Career Paths for Nursing Majors

  • Nurse midwife
  • Nurse practitioner
  • Nurse anesthetist
  • Nurse case manager
  • Cardiac nurse
  • Clinical nurse specialist
  • Staff nurse or clinician
  • Flight nurse
  • Forensic nurse
  • Holistic nurse
  • Military nurse
  • Emergency nurse
  • Geriatric nurse
  • Travel nurse
  • Health educator
  • AIDS care nurse
  • Nurse administrator/Director/CEO
  • Nurse Manager/Administrator
  • Consultant/Entrepreneur
  • Nursing informatics specialist
  • Pharmaceutical/Medical device sales/Marketing representative
  • Public health researcher
  • Medical editor/writer
  • Research nurse
  • Nurse educator
  • Teacher / Professor


For more information about nursing careers, visit the following websites:

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) Homepage

Bureau of Health Professions | Official web site of the U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration