Your guide to nursing degrees and certifications
Written by Coursera • Updated on
Interested in a job in nursing? Find out which degree or degree will get you there.
Nursing is one of the largest healthcare professions in the US According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of nursing positions is expected to grow much faster than average compared to other occupations.1]. But there is more than one path to becoming a nurse.
Getting started in this in-demand field can involve earning a certification or earning a master's degree, depending on your career goals. We'll take a closer look at the types of nursing degrees and certifications you can choose from, and why each could be best for you.
Types of Nursing Degrees and Certifications.
If you're interested in starting or advancing your nursing career, you have a number of different degrees to choose from. It is possible to become a nurse even without a diploma. Let's go through your options.
are earningcertified nursing assistant(CNA) allows you to jump-start a career without having to earn a degree. CNAs help people with mental or physical disabilities with daily needs. Many CNAs work in assisted living facilities, rehabilitation centers, or nursing homes, or provide home care services.
The day-to-day duties of a CNA may include:
Assist patients with bathing and dressing
Certification Requirements:To become a CNA, you must complete a state-approved training program. This generally includes four to 12 weeks of study and a set number of supervised clinical hours. Most programs require a high school diploma or equivalent.
CNA-salaris:The median annual salary for CNAs and male nurses (as of 2021) was $30,290 per year or $14.56 per hour according to the BLS .
For who is it?Opt for a CNA certification if you want to work in patient care right out of high school. It's also a great way to see if a nursing career is right for you without a huge financial commitment.
Deposit:If you decide that a career in nursing is a good fit for you, you can use your CNA certification as a springboard to earn a nursing degree.
Licensed Practical Nurses (known as Registered Vocational Nurses in Texas and California) work on the front lines of patient care, assisting physicians andregistered nurses.
LPNs and LVNs often work in hospitals, nursing homes, and long-term care facilities. Day-to-day duties are similar to those of CNAs, but more extensive, and may include supervision of CNAs.
Certification Requirements:To become an LPN, you must complete a state-approved training program. These programs provide classroom learning in nursing, biology, and pharmacology, as well as supervised clinical experience. Once you complete the program, you can take the National Council Licensing Examination (NCLEX-PN) to obtain your license.
Salary LVN and LPN:LVNs and LPNs earn an average salary of $48,070 per year or $23.11 per hour (as of 2021) according to the BLS .
For who is it?Getting your LPN/LVN credential is a good option if you know you are interested in a career in nursing and want to get started within a year.
Deposit:Once you are an LPN, you can improve your job prospects with specialized certifications (such as IV therapy or CPR). Complete an LPN to RN degree program to become a registered nurse.
Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)
One of the fastest ways to get oneregistered nurse(RN) is through an associate degree program. An associate's degree in nursing typically takes two years of full-time study at a community college or university. The degree qualifies you to take the NCLEX-RN licensure exam in your state.
These programs combine nursing education with more general education in the sciences and liberal arts.
RNs work in a variety of healthcare facilities and organizations, including hospitals, doctor's offices, schools, and clinics. In this role, you will typically work with physicians and other healthcare professionals to:
Design treatment plans
Operate medical equipment
DNA Requirements:While admission requirements vary by school, most include a high school diploma or its equivalent, standardized test scores (SAT or ACT), and a passing score on the Health Education Systems Incorporated Admissions Assessment (HESI) exam.
RN Salary:The median salary for registered nurses in 2021 was $77,600 per year or $37.31 per hour according to the BLS . This also applies to RNs at the undergraduate level. In general, the more advanced your degree, the more you can expect to earn as an RN.
For who is it?Consider an ADN if you want to start your nursing career or progress from an LPN/LVN position. With this degree, you can start earning money and experience without the cost and time commitment of a four-year degree. ADN programs generally offer more flexibility with evening and weekend classes.
Deposit:Once you are a licensed RN, you can earn your nursing degree through an accelerated RN to BSN program. Your DNA credits can be transferred, so that you can fill in a BSN in just one extra academic year.
With this higher degree, you can qualify for higher paying and more supervisory positions. Some hospitals offer tuition reimbursement for bridging programs for employees.
Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
Most entry-level RNs have a bachelor's degree in nursing. Earning a BSN typically requires four years of full-time study. This is usually split between general education courses and nursing courses and clinical rotation. Like DNA, it qualifies you to take the NCLEX-RN exam.
In addition to improving your chances of getting better paying jobs, BSN courses help you improve your clinical skills so you can provide better, more effective care to your patients. Nurses with a BSN degree can often move on to administrative and leadership positions or get a job at the Magnet hospitals (referred to as the best in the country).
Social Security Requirements:Requirements vary by school, but generally include a high school diploma or equivalent, ACT and SAT scores, and interviews. Some programs require you to take two years of general courses with a minimum GPA before being accepted into the nursing program.
For who is it?Choosing a BSN degree opens up a wider range of opportunities in the nursing field. If you are considering pursuing a master's degree in the future, you will need a bachelor's degree as a requirement.
Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)
Earning a master's degree in nursing opens up numerous career opportunities in nursing as an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN). Serve as a primary or specialty care provider as a nurse practitioner (NP), or pursue a career in anesthesiology, obstetrics, or clinical nursing.
Most MSN programs require approximately two years of full-time study to complete. This can be longer for part-time courses or shorter for accelerated courses. The degree qualifies you to sit for an advanced licensing exam, such as:
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)
Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)
Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM)
MSN Requirements:Most MSN programs favor applicants with a BSN, although some schools offer bridging programs for RNs with an associate's degree. Typically, you need at least one year of clinical experience as an RN, as well as standardized graduate-level test scores (GRE, MAT, GMAT, or MCAT).
APRN Salary:APRNs earn an average salary of $123,780 per year ($59.51 per hour) according to the BLS . Nurse anesthetists typically earn the highest salaries, followed by NPs and nurse midwives.
For who is it?If you are a practicing registered nurse ready to advance your career, an MSN degree may be for you.
Deposit:While many APRNs drop out at the master's level, others earn a doctorate or doctorate in nursing.
Joint Masters in Nursing (MPH, MHA, MBA)
If your career goals relate to senior healthcare positions, consider dual training. In this model, you complete two graduate programs at the same time. Popular options include an MSN linked to:
Master of Public Health (MPH):Learn how clinical practice and community well-being go hand-in-hand as you work toward leadership positions in government andPublic healthorganizations
Master in Business Administration:Prepare for leadership roles in hospitals and large healthcare organizations with advanced courses in nursing and business strategy. This is best for experienced nurses with a Social Security number who want to move into leadership positions.
Master of Health Administration (MHA):This dual degree program provides nurses with a path to advance into management roles in education and healthcare settings. You will enjoy greater work flexibility by choosing between clinical or administrative roles.
Expect to study full-time for two to three years to complete a joint master's degree (longer for part-time students). In general, you must apply for each program separately.
Read more: ¿Is it worth an MPH?
doctorates in nursing
At the doctoral level, nursing students have two main options: a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) or a Doctor of Nursing. Both typically take three to five years to complete.
The DNP is the highest degree you can earn in clinical nursing. This terminal degree qualifies you for the most sought-after positions in nursing management and leadership. RNs with a DNP degree can also have their own private practice in 23 states. As training requirements for nursing shift to higher level learning, registered nurses in practice will likely need a DNP in the future.
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) programs in nursing prepare you for scholarly careers in nursing education, health care policy, and scientific research.
DNP and PhD Requirements:Depending on the school, doctoral nursing programs often require a master's degree from an accredited nursing program and nursing experience. DNP programs generally require an APRN license, while PhD programs may only require a valid RN license.
For who is it?Earning a terminal nursing degree will make you a respected leader in the nursing field with advanced skills that can keep you in demand for years to come.
Online Nursing Degrees Vs. on campus
No matter what level of nursing you're seeking, you likely have the option of getting your degree online or in person. Both options have their own pros and cons.
Accredited online programs are growing in popularity for their value and flexibility. Many programs allow you to study at your own pace so you can continue to gain valuable nursing experience, earn a salary, and meet other commitments. You can choose from programs across the country instead of being limited to programs in your area. Online classes are sometimes less expensive than their on-site counterparts, although they generally cover the same materials.
On-campus programs offer a structured schedule and personal interaction that can keep nursing students on track. Earning your degree in a campus environment also gives you access to university services and facilities that may not be available online.
Read more: How hard is nursing school? tips for success
Since nursing is a hands-on profession, most certificate and diploma programs require some supervised clinical experience. If you are enrolled in an online nursing program, you can often complete your clinical hours at an approved location near you.
Experience learning degrees online
Experience for yourself what it's like to earn a degree onlinetry an open course from one of the best universities.
Is a Nursing Career Worth It?
Working toward a nursing degree takes time and money. You should consider your personal career goals and lifestyle when deciding which degree or certificate is right for you. While you can start a career in nursing without a degree, earning a degree unlocks more advanced skills, new career opportunities, and greater earning potential.
|nurse level||average annual salary|
|Nurse Midwife (APRN)||$ 114.210|
|Nurse (APRN))||$ 118.040|
|Anesthesiologist Nurse (APRN)||$ 202.470|
Median Annual Salaries by Nursing Level in 2021 (BLS)
Remember that many nursing careers offer bridging programs. Start with a more basic degree or certification and work your way up to a higher level once you're ready.
Other healthcare jobs
Nursing may be the most popular field in healthcare, but it's not the only one. If you're interested in helping others live healthier lives, here are some alternative career paths to consider.
medical technicianscollect samples and perform tests on body fluids and tissues to help evaluate health problems.
Public healthexpertsworking to make communities as healthy as possible.
health administratorsAssist in coordinating the business practices of healthcare providers and facilities.
Paramedici en Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT's)perform emergency medical services and transport patients to hospitals.
pharmacistsdispensing medicines and advising on the safe use of prescriptions.
medical assistants(Nee)serve as caregivers alongside doctors and nurses.
Specialized therapists provide targeted care to patients with specific needs, such as shortness of breath (respiratory therapist), disabilities or injuries (recreational,professional, ophysiotherapists), of cancer (radiotherapist).
You don't have to enroll in a nursing program to get a feel for whether nursing is a good fit for your career goals. Experience what it's like to earn a nursing degree online by taking a course atVital functions,clinical terminology,infection prevention, omedical emergencies. If you're ready to take the next step towards a healthcare career, explore thehealthcare training coursesavailable through Coursera.
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This content is provided for informational purposes only. Students are encouraged to conduct additional research to ensure that the coursework and other credentials achieved meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.
Of all the nursing certifications, LPN or LVN programs are the quickest and most convenient options. Because training can be completed at a hospital, vocational technical school, community college and even online, LPN/LVN programs are ideal for students who work or have other obligations.Which certificate is best for nursing? ›
Of all the nursing certifications, LPN or LVN programs are the quickest and most convenient options. Because training can be completed at a hospital, vocational technical school, community college and even online, LPN/LVN programs are ideal for students who work or have other obligations.What is the hardest nursing certification to get? ›
Emergency nursing is considered one of the most difficult fields of nursing, and certification in this specialty is highly desirable.What is the highest certificate in nursing? ›
What is the highest level of nursing? The highest level of nursing education is the doctoral level. Positions that require doctoral nursing degrees include certain types of advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), as well as leadership positions such as chief nursing officer or director of nursing.What are the 4 A's in nursing? ›
As a systematic process for change, this article offers the AACN's Model to Rise Above Moral Distress, describing four A's: ask, affirm, assess, and act. To help critical care nurses working to address moral distress, the article identifies 11 action steps they can take to develop an ethical practice environment.Are certifications worth it in nursing? ›
But nursing certifications do more than benefit the individual nurses who attain them — they can also improve the healthcare facilities in which these nurses work. The more skills and specialties a nurse has, the better equipped they are to provide their patients with higher quality care.What is the difference between a nursing degree and a certificate? ›
Licensed practical nurse certificate programs prepare students to become licensed practical nurses. On the other hand, associate's degrees in nursing are programs designed to prepare nursing students to become registered nurses.What is the difference between RN and certified RN? ›
A certified nurse (CN) provides general patient care and works under registered nurses, while a registered nurse (RN) provides a higher level of patient care and coordination and works under a doctor.What is the easiest nurse to become? ›
An LPN or LVN program usually takes around a year to complete, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). What makes an LPN or LVN preparation program the easiest type of nursing education you can pursue is its focus on training for basic nursing services only and its quick completion time.What is the easiest and fastest nursing degree? ›
The fastest way to become an RN is through an RN diploma program, which can be completed in as little as a year. While completing this program does not lead to a degree, it does make the individual eligible to take the NCLEX and earn their RN license.
Benner (1984) also detailed the acquisition of nursing expertise and proposed five possible expertise levels: novice, advanced beginner, competent, proficient, and expert.What degree is higher than an RN? ›
There are five levels of nursing: Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), Registered Nurse (RN), Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN), and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).What is the highest GPA for nursing? ›
Requirements. After acceptance into the nursing program, each student must maintain a cumulative GPA of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale for coursework in the nursing major to remain in the nursing program.What are the 3 C's of nursing? ›
Perspective: Consistency, Continuity, and Coordination—The 3Cs of Seamless Patient Care. Amid our efforts to improve health care quality, we can easily lose sight of the most basic questions. Consider evidence-based clinical guidelines, protocols, and pathways.What are the 8 C's of nursing? ›
These caring elements can be described as: Compassion, Competence, Confidence, Conscience, Commitment, Courage, Culture and Communication.What are the 6 C's in nursing notes? ›
The 6 Cs – care, compassion, courage, communication, commitment, competence - are a central part of 'Compassion in Practice', which was first established by NHS England Chief Nursing Officer, Jane Cummings, in December 2017.Which nurse is the hardest? ›
The most stressful nursing jobs include ICU nurse, ER nurse, and NICU nurse. In these roles, nurses work in an intense environment with high stakes. They manage emergency situations and care for critically ill patients. Other stressful nursing jobs include OR nursing, oncology nursing, and psychiatric nursing.What state is the easiest to become a nurse? ›
- Maine: 1-2 weeks.
- Maryland: 2-3 days.
- Missouri: 2 weeks.
- Nevada: 1-2 weeks.
- North Carolina: 1-2 weeks.
- North Dakota: 1-2 weeks.
- Texas: 2 weeks.
- Vermont: 3-5 business days.
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists earn a median salary of $195,610 per year according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, making it the top paying nursing specialty. CRNAs typically work 40 hours per week, making the hourly wage average out to approximately $94.04 per hour.Are certifications more valuable than college degrees? ›
Whether you pursue a certificate or a degree might depend on your education and career goals. A degree can often provide you with more opportunities and higher salaries than a certificate. You might also earn a certificate to give you the foundation and prerequisites needed to get a degree.
The proportion of nurses with specialty certification varied widely by hospital. In the average Magnet hospital, over half (51%) of nurses were certified compared to only 34% of nurses in non-Magnet hospitals.What is RN BC certification? ›
Credential Awarded: RN-BC®
The ANCC Informatics Nursing board certification examination is a competency based examination that provides a valid and reliable assessment of the entry-level clinical knowledge and skills of registered nurses in the informatics specialty after initial RN licensure.
A BSN is a higher level of education by comparison to a sponsored diploma or ADN and opens you up to more nursing job opportunities and a higher salary. Regardless of which educational path you choose, your journey as an RN will start with one of these accredited programs and requires you to pass the NCLEX-RN.What is a nurse with a degree called? ›
BSN means bachelor of science in nursing, ADN means associate degree in nursing, and RN means registered nurse.Is there a pay difference between ADN and BSN? ›
Both degrees will equip you with the skills that will land you a high paying job in the nursing field. But when you compare the average BSN vs ADN salary, those with a bachelor's degree make over $15,000 more per year than their colleges with an associate degree.Is being an NP better than RN? ›
NPs tend to earn more than RNs, mostly because their positions require a higher level of education, additional clinical hours and certifications, and often work in private settings.What type of nurse is the least stressful? ›
These nurses administer more basic care and typically don't have to work long hours and overnight shifts, so this field of nursing tends to be low-stress. Even with less excitement, these nurses find fulfillment in providing basic and family care to those in need.
- Nurse Educator. Average Annual Salary: $62,000. ...
- Nurse Blogger. Average Annual Salary: N/A. ...
- Clinic Nurse. Average Annual Salary: $65,000. ...
- Traveling Nurse. Average Annual Salary: $70,000. ...
- School Nurse. Average Annual Salary: $50,000. ...
- Summer Camp Nurse. ...
- Nurse Administrator. ...
- Public Health Nurse.
Licensed vocational nurses (LVN) and licensed practical nurses (LPN) are some of the lowest-paid nursing roles, but that is due to the fact that the educational requirements are less than most other types of nurses.What type of nurse requires the least education? ›
There are two types of nursing that do not require a degree: Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) and Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN/LVN). You don't need to be in college to become a CNA or LPN, but both roles can be a starting point to long-term nursing career goals.
The Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist consistently ranks as the highest-paid nursing career. That is because Nurse Anesthetists are highly skilled Registered Nurses who work closely with medical staff during medical procedures that require anesthesia.What is the most common nursing degree? ›
Bachelor's in Nursing (BSN)
The average salary for an RN with a BSN will typically trend higher than salaries for RNs without a bachelor's degree.
- Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) Takes 2-3 years. ...
- Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Takes 4 years. ...
- Entry Level Masters Program in Nursing (ELM) ...
- LVN 30 Unit Option. ...
- Military Corpsmen.
What Is the Lowest GPA for Nursing School? The majority of nursing schools require GPAs of at least 3.0. However, some schools will accept GPAs as low as 2.0.What is the rule of 5 in nursing? ›
Most health care professionals, especially nurses, know the “five rights” of medication use: the right patient, the right drug, the right time, the right dose, and the right route—all of which are generally regarded as a standard for safe medication practices.How many years is a proficient nurse? ›
A competent nurse generally has two or three years' experience on the job in the same field. For example, two or three years in intensive care. The experience may also be similar day-to-day situations.What are the ranks in nursing? ›
- Certified Nursing Assistant. ...
- Licensed Practical Nurse. ...
- Registered Nurse. ...
- Advanced Practice Registered Nurse. ...
- Master of Science in Nursing. ...
- Doctor of Nursing Practice. ...
- Nurse Managers and Executives.
Nurse practitioner (level six): A level six nurse is a nurse practitioner who has a master's degree in nursing and assists medical teams in an advanced clinical role.What is higher than a nurse but lower than a doctor? ›
Many people have primary care providers that are NPs or PAs. But what's the difference? In basic terms, a nurse practitioner is a registered nurse (RN) with advanced education and clinical training. A physician assistant is a medical professional with advanced education who is trained in the same way physicians are.Can I be a nurse with a 2.5 GPA? ›
Yes, it is possible to get into a nursing program with a 2.5 GPA. Many programs accept students with a lower GPA. It may take some extra work from you, though, especially if you are applying to a school that typically requires a higher GPA.
GPA requirements vary from school to school, and some early admission nursing programs require an even higher GPA of at least 3.8 or higher (weighted or unweighted). In general, you can expect that any highly competitive nursing program will have a high GPA requirement for applicants.What is the average GPA graduating from nursing school? ›
Average GPA: 3.53
(Most schools use a weighted GPA out of 4.0, though some report an unweighted GPA.
Many different models have been proposed to better understand personality, but the model that is most widely accepted by psychologists today is the Big Five Model. According to this theory, personality can be narrowed down to five main factors: extroversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism.What is the difference between a RN and a certified RN? ›
A certified nurse (CN) provides general patient care and works under registered nurses, while a registered nurse (RN) provides a higher level of patient care and coordination and works under a doctor.What are the 6 Cs of nursing? ›
The 6 Cs – care, compassion, courage, communication, commitment, competence - are a central part of 'Compassion in Practice', which was first established by NHS England Chief Nursing Officer, Jane Cummings, in December 2017.What are the 4 C's of nursing? ›
The four primary care (PC) core functions (the '4Cs', ie, first contact, comprehensiveness, coordination and continuity) are essential for good quality primary healthcare and their achievement leads to lower costs, less inequality and better population health.What are the 7 domains of nursing? ›
The 7 domains are: Physiological: Basic, Physiological: Complex, Behavioral, Safety, Family, Health System, and Community.What is a Grade 6 nurse? ›
Band 6 nurses are often called 'Junior Sister', 'Specialist Staff Nurse' or 'Specialist Nurse Practitioner'. To exemplify, a nurse may choose to specialise in district nursing, intensive care or paediatrics. To successfully progress onto Band 6 level, you'll need to pursue further training within a specialist area.How do you rock a nursing interview? ›
- Know where you're going. Healthcare facilities are often big and confusing. ...
- Dress professionally. Professional attire tells interviewers you take them and the job seriously.
- Rehearse your nursing interview questions. Don't just prep answers. ...
- Pamper yourself. ...
- Listen and take notes.
Kindness, fairness, caring, trustworthiness, emotional stability, empathy, and compassion are aspects of your personality that serve you well as a nurse. You exhibit strong communication skills. You communicate well with patients and colleagues — sometimes at their worst life moments.
What type of RN is most in demand? All RNs are in demand more than other occupations. The BLS projects 6% job growth for all RNs between 2021 and2031, compared to 5% job growth for all occupations. Some specialties that are in especially high demand are neonatal nursing, surgical nursing, and critical care nursing.