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Certified Nursing Assistant

If you consider yourself to be a people person, a career as a CNA or certified nursing assistant could definitely be the right move for you. This health care career gets you up close to your patients, and your daily tasks will mostly be focused on providing hands-on care. CNA certification also serves as an excellent stepping stone for other health care-based careers in the future, giving you a way to make money while you are taking advanced classes.

Job Description

CNAs work in many different areas and in a variety of types of health care organizations. However, they most frequently serve as the eyes, ears and hands of nurses in hospitals and nursing homes. Other places that regularly hire CNAs include clinics, urgent care centers and assisted living facilities. While most CNAs work with geriatric patients, some work with adults of other ages or with pediatric patients.

A certified nursing assistant will perform many of the most common daily duties for patients while LPNs and RNs perform advanced duties. Some of the most common tasks include the following:

  • Taking patient vital signs
  • Helping patients with activities of daily living, such as eating, bathing and dressing
  • Helping with patient mobility
  • Performing some charting
  • Administering some medications, depending on state laws

To become a CNA, you must typically have your high school diploma or GED. You will also have to undergo a physical examination showing that you are physically able to carry out your responsibilities, and you must have up-to-date immunizations.

CNA courses are offered many places, including community colleges and community education centers, and numerous hospitals and nursing homes offer classes for incoming employees. Classes can take from 4 to 16 weeks. Some facilities allow prospective CNAs to work for them while taking classes


After completing CNA training, you must pass a certification examination, which includes both a written as well as an oral section. The written portion is computerized, and you will answer 50 to 70 questions demonstrating your knowledge of CNA tasks. You will also be asked to demonstrate hands-on skills in five areas. You will find out if you have passed the test on the same day. If you cannot take your certification examination immediately, you may be allowed to work as a CNA for up to four months depending on your state’s laws.

Earnings and Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual pay for a CNA in 2018 was $28,530 or $13.72 per hour. Those working in government-run facilities as well as general metropolitan hospitals tend to make the most while those working in assisted living communities tend to make the least.

The job outlook for CNAs is quite positive with the profession expected to grow by 11 percent by 2026. This is mainly due to the aging baby boomer population, which is sure to require increased medical care in coming years. The BLS expects that there will be an added 173,000 CNA jobs by 2026.

Licensed Vocational / Practical Nurse

Starting off your health care profession as a licensed practical nurse or licensed vocational nurse gives you a great way to get your feet wet without having to commit to the lengthy amount of schooling that registered nurses must complete. You have several options for how you can start your career based on the amount of time you wish to take and on your professional goals for the future.

Job Description

An LPN or LVN typically works beneath an RN providing hands-on care to patients while also performing more advanced tasks that CNAs cannot do. They will take vital signs, help with activities of daily living, give medications, do charting and assist doctors and nurses while also communicating regularly with patients’ family members. They may work in nearly any type of health care setting, including hospitals, nursing homes and other skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, urgent care clinics and home health agencies. Some even work for private agencies performing health consultations and providing basic medical care.


Before deciding on an educational track, aspiring LPNs must decide whether they want a certificate or diploma, which can be obtained quite quickly, or a degree, which usually takes one to two years on average to complete. These days, most choose to go the degree route so that they can advance their careers more easily in the future. Certificate programs are often available through community colleges and even high schools or hospitals.

LPN education will include in-depth studies of a variety of medical subjects, including anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, nutrition, adult and pediatric care and human growth and development. Schooling will also include plenty of clinical hours for practicing hands-on skills.


Once you have successfully completed an approved educational track, you will be eligible to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses, called the NCLEX-PN. This computerized test includes from 85 to 205 questions and will automatically adjust question subject matter and the number of questions based on how well you are doing. Each question offers multiple choice answers.

Once you are working as an LPN, you may wish to advance your career with additional certifications. Some of the most common ones for practical nurses include the following:

  • Long-term care
  • Pharmacology
  • Palliative care
  • Dialysis
  • IV therapy
Earnings and Job Outlook

The average annual salary for an LPN according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is $46,240 as of May 2018. However, the highest-paid 10 percent of LPNs in the country make over $62,000 annually and are usually those who have worked for many years or who have advanced certifications.

The job outlook for LPNs is currently quite strong due to the aging U.S. population. Employment in this profession is expected to increase by 14 percent with over 800,000 jobs being added between 2016 and 2026.

Registered Nurse

Registered nurses are in great demand these days as the rapidly aging U.S. population and the increase in new medical technology create a strong need for knowledgeable health care workers. All RNs must be licensed by the state in which they practice and undergo rigorous training before working with patients.

Job Description

Of the nearly 3 million RNs currently working in the United States, well over half of them work in hospitals where they can work in nearly any unit, including pediatrics, oncology, critical care, medical/surgical and more. However, numerous RNs also work in clinics or serve as unit managers in skilled nursing facilities or home health care agencies. Still others work as school nurses or are employed by private businesses to help with insurance claims or provide general medical care for employees.

Many RNs work directly under doctors, providing direct supervision to other health care employees, including CNAs and LPNs. While providing a great deal of hands-on care to patients, they also spend much time providing patient education, charting, creating care plans, working with advanced medical equipment and performing and analyzing diagnostic tests.


There are three main ways to become an RN, which include the following:

  • Receiving a diploma
  • Receiving an associate’s degree in nursing
  • Receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing (BSN)

Any of these three routes will qualify you for an entry-level RN position. However, some employers may require a bachelor’s degree. In addition, you will need a BSN to get into more advanced positions, including management, beginning research and teaching roles.

A diploma or associate’s degree is a very fast route, and you may be able to complete it in only 18 months. A bachelor’s degree program typically takes four years and includes more classwork as well as far more clinical hours.


No matter which educational track you choose, you will need to pass the licensure examination, known as the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses or NCLEX-RN, before beginning work. Before taking the test, you must apply to your state board, which will allow you to take the test after you successfully complete your coursework. This multiple-choice test is totally computer-based and will give you anywhere from 75 to 265 questions depending on well you are doing. You will then pay applicable fees to become a registered nurse in the state in which you desire to practice.

Earnings and Job Outlook

Across the nation, the average RN makes around $71,000 per year although those working in government facilities can make up to $8,000 more than this each year on average. Those working in educational systems or in residential nursing facilities make the least at an average of $62,000 per year according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In addition, RNs who have only a diploma or an associate’s degree can make far less at an average of just over $40,000 annually.

Employment opportunities for RNs are growing at a much faster clip that other occupations are on average. This profession is expected to grow by 15 percent by 2026, adding well over 400,000 jobs in the 10 years prior to that.

Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing

If you are currently licensed as a registered nurse in your state but only have a diploma or an associate’s degree, you may be interested in completing an RN to BSN program. This program will allow you to move on to more advanced work in a variety of health care areas and may also allow you to make more money than you would with your current entry-level degree.


While a typical bachelor of science in nursing degree would take four years, it should only take two years if you already hold your RN ADN degree or an RN diploma. If you plan on only following a part-time enrollment plan, it will take longer than this. Your educational program will include both classwork as well as hands-on clinical work at local nursing institutions. Most of your classes will focus on science or on nursing topics, such as emergency care, community nursing, global health, nursing research and nursing trends. You may also need to complete some basic college classes, such as English and history, on top of your health care-focused classes to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Job Opportunities

As a nurse with only an RN degree, you are limited in the fields in which you can work. For example, you may only be able to work as a general floor nurse and may not be allowed to branch out into advanced practice areas. However, once you earn your RN to BSN degree, you can work in a variety of specialty areas, including the following:

  • Pediatrics
  • Critical Care
  • Surgery
  • Public Health
  • Clinical Education
  • Oncology
  • Research
  • Nursing administration
  • Case management

Because research has clearly shown that patients fare better when they are under the care of more highly trained nurses and that patient mortality decreases on units with higher percentages of BSN-trained nurses, many hospitals require this degree for all of their nurses.

Earnings and Job Outlook

Going back to school to earn this advanced degree can be amazing for your annual earnings. While RNs with associate’s degrees or diplomas make only $40,250 on average, those with bachelor’s degrees can make upwards of $71,000 annually. These extra earnings reward you for your advanced learning and skills and for the higher amount of responsibility you will take on in your career.

Registered nurses of all types are in high demand with well over 400,000 jobs expected to be added between 2016 and 2026 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, the need for nurses with BSN degrees is also expected to rise as more health care organizations and states make the push away from ADN nurses and toward BSN nurses. Therefore, taking these extra two years of education can definitely advance your career and give you a large number of job prospects no matter where you live.

Master of Science in Nursing

If you already have your BSN degree but wish to take on more advanced roles in your health care institution or wish to focus your nursing knowledge on one particular area, an MSN degree may be the way to go. A master’s degree in nursing will allow you to take on more responsibilities and can even open up unique job opportunities for you in which you can provide health care more independently than ever before.

Education and Types of Degrees

It typically takes two to three years to complete an MSN degree. The majority of schools require that you already hold a BSN degree. However, some do offer RN to MSN bridge programs if you currently have only a nursing diploma. Your educational path will be specific to where you hope to focus your future work. For example, you may choose to focus on a specific type of nursing, such as oncology or gerontology, or you may choose a specific career path, such as nursing administration. Besides the most common RN to MSN degrees and BSN to MSN degrees, you can also choose an ADN or ASN to MSN program if you currently hold an associate’s degree in nursing or an associate of science in nursing.

Job Opportunities

Those with MSN degrees have a wide array of job opportunities. While they can still work as bedside nurses, many instead focus their attention on a specific clinical specialty or work outside patient rooms. Some job opportunities include the following:

  • Nurse practitioner
  • Nurse anesthetist
  • Nurse midwife
  • Nurse educator
  • Clinical nurse specialist
  • Health systems manager
Earnings and Job Outlook

Three of the highest-paid nursing positions require an MSN degree and make you an advanced practice registered nurse or APRN. These positions include nurse anesthetist, nurse practitioner and nurse midwife, and these individuals pull in $113,930 per year on average according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Of these three positions, nurse anesthetists make the most at an average of over $167,000 per year with nurse midwives making the least. However, using your master’s degree in a different area, such as for nursing education, management or research will also pull in far more per year that you would with only a BSN.

The job outlook for many nurses with master’s degrees is quite good. For example, the need for nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives and nurse practitioners is expected to increase 31 percent by 2026, a huge leap that far outpaces most other professions, with nurse practitioners being in the highest demand.

Doctor of Nursing Practice

A doctor of nursing practice or DNP is the highest nursing-related degree that you can achieve. This is generally seen as a leadership degree that you would use to work in the upper echelons of nursing care. It also requires a huge focus on research and scholarly writing.

Education and Types of Degrees

This doctoral degree requires plenty of schooling with most people taking from three to six years to complete the degree depending on how many classes they wish to take each semester. Most schools require DNP applicants to hold master’s degrees already, but some do accept nurses with only bachelor’s degrees. However, a BSN to DNP program will take significantly longer than the typical path would.

Courses for students looking for a health systems or organizational focus spend less time on bedside nursing concerns and instead delve into statistics, research, data analysis, nursing philosophy and nursing leadership. Other direct care-focused programs build on advanced practice registered nurse programs and allow these students to specialize as advanced nurse midwifes, nurse practitioners or nurse anesthetists. Eventually all APRNs will need to get DNP degrees to continue advancing in their practices.

All DNP students will have a final project or thesis to show off their newfound expertise in the field. These projects usually allow students to dig more into the area of nursing that most interests them. Common projects include the following:

  • Practice portfolios
  • Pilot studies
  • Research studies
  • Quality improvement projects
Job Opportunities

Because a DNP is a degree and not a specific role in a health care institution, it can be difficult to enumerate job opportunities for individuals with this degree. However, many work as nurse midwives, nurse practitioners with advanced specialties or nurse anesthetists. On the other hand, many choose to pursue nurse management or research roles, working with health care policy at institutional and even federal levels. Others work with health informatics systems, clinical education or public health.

Earnings and Job Outlook

Typical annual earnings for those with DNPs are also difficult to determine because these individuals work in a wide array of health care roles. However, they make far more than those with BSNs or MSNs do in similar roles. The average earnings across all sectors for DNPs is over $120,000 per year with nurses having over 20 years of experience making over $144,000 per year on average. Nurse anesthetists and nurse practitioners holding doctoral degrees make far more than this.

DNPs in clinical practice areas are expected to see huge job growth by 2026 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. A growth rate of 31 percent ensures that DNPs continue to have great job security and will most likely be able to see increased earnings during this time as well.