Nursing Degree Guide: 2021 Costs, Requirements & Job Opportunities

in Research   Posted on July 8, 2021  Author: Imed Bouchrika,

The nursing profession is one of the most vital healthcare-related jobs in the world. In the United States, the number of nurse practitioners reached 2,986,500 in 2020 with an average annual wage of $80,010 (BLS, 2021). However, if you do not know yet, there are different types of nursing credentials offered by different degree programs. All of these teach students the pertinent knowledge and skills required to provide vital healthcare services to people.

Even though there are different types of nursing credentials, they have more or less similar responsibilities. They take detailed patient health histories, provide counseling, help doctors, and conduct a variety of medical tests. And, in terms of care, nurses do not only provide physical support but also emotional ones.

If you are still wondering what degree you should do and a nursing career is among your prospects, you have come to the right place. In this article, we will look into different types of nursing degrees, their costs, requirements, and the different jobs available to nursing graduates.

1. What is a Nursing Degree?

A nursing degree is an academic program that certifies individuals who can provide essential nursing and healthcare services. And, as mentioned, there are different nursing degree types that certify individuals for different nursing degree jobs. They serve as licenses for a person to perform particular tasks and medical operations with higher degrees allowing for more sensitive interventions. However, there are general responsibilities for nurses. And, these are guided by a more or less, generally accepted nursing definition of competency.

In her article “Nursing Competency: Definition, Structure, and Development” in Yonago Acta Medica, Fukada (2018), a professor and researcher at Tottori University, noted that nursing competency is generally viewed as a “complex integration of knowledge, including professional judgment, skills, values, and attitude, indicating that holism is widely accepted. In nursing practice, nurses are required to apply their acquired knowledge, skills and innate individual traits to each situation and be able to adapt that knowledge and those skills to different circumstances.”

Thus, students in nursing degree programs are trained to espouse a holistic approach with not only a focus on building competencies in particular skills but also to be able to adapt to different contexts in nursing and medical practice.

Nursing, however, is not just a job. For many, it is a calling. And, this calling is deeply ingrained in the professional identity of nurses. This, too, is the main motivation to provide top-notch quality nursing care.

In a landmark paper published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, Raatikainen (1997), a scholar from the Department of General Practice and Primary Health Care of the University of Helsinki, defined calling as “a deep desire to devote oneself to serving people according to the high values of the task or profession.”

She showed that 70% of nurses who experience their job as a calling care for patients better, saying, “They were aware of the needs of dying patients and their concern with spiritual questions, and satisfied these needs well. It was characteristic for them to collaborate closely within a team, to experience the content of their work as enriching and to possess proficient professional abilities. They were therefore excellent in supporting both the individual patient and his or her family. They had a deep understanding of the whole process of patient care.”

So, it is important for prospective nurses to feel a calling to the profession. This is because the pay can be great but hours can be long and days can be stressful. So, it takes a good amount of fortitude and good humor to become effective and last longer in the profession.

What can you do with a nursing degree?

Nurses are virtually needed in all areas of healthcare. And, there are many career paths. For instance, you can choose to be a paramedic, a children’s nurse, an adult nurse, a mental health nurse, or a physician associate, among many others. There are different fields and many different specializations to choose from.

And, there are many types of organizations that are in need of nurses. These include voluntary organizations, public hospitals, schools, the armed forces, prisons, the police force, and even nursing homes.

Moreover, there are other jobs that are not specifically connected to nursing where your degree can be useful as well. These include jobs like that of a social worker, health service manager, medicinal chemist, counselor, and even police officer (Prospects, 2019).

2. Cost of Nursing Degree

The cost of a nursing degree in the US varies depending on the institution and the type of degree you want to get. It also depends on how you get your degree. For instance, a nursing degree tuition from online programs is generally cheaper than those offered on-campus. In-state tuition is also usually cheaper than out-of-state tuition.

How much does it cost to get a nursing degree?

The cost of a nursing degree can range from $6,000 to $100,000. This depends on what type of degree you are getting. The general rule of thumb, however, is the higher the degree and the more prestigious the school, the higher the cost of attending would be. Moreover, it also depends on the number of credits required for graduation. For instance, a bachelor’s degree costs from $40,000 to $100,000 as it normally requires 120 credits.  This is more expensive compared to associate degree programs that only require students to get 60 credits.

A general look at the cost of a nursing degree is presented below.

Nursing Degree Tuition

Degree TypeYears to CompleteCredits RequiredTuition Rates
Associate's Degree2 Years60 Credits$6,000 to $40,000
Bachelor's Degree4 Years120 Credits$40,000 to $100,000
Master's Degree1 to 2 Years30 to 60 Credits$35,000 to $100,000
Doctoral Degree3 to 5 Years60 to 80 Credits>$30,000 to $70,000
Source: NurseJournal, 2021

Moreover, for public schools, there are many scholarship and financial aid opportunities. They also offer lowered tuition rates for veterans and military members (NurseJournal, 2021). And, there are states that offer government-sponsored financial aid to students taking up nursing. So, you should check around your area for such opportunities.

Is a degree in nursing worth it?

Nursing can be a very fulfilling profession. This is especially true for people who are passionate to help others in terms of providing top healthcare services. Moreover, as mentioned, the pay is not that bad. the average annual wage of nurses in the US is $80,010. However, the hours will be long and the work can be quite difficult. This is especially true in times of disasters, including the current COVID-19 pandemic.

But, for people passionate enough to be in healthcare, this is a most important time. Furthermore, a nursing degree can also be a pathway to enter other medical professions, such as that of a medical doctor. Nurses can also be administrators, researchers, managers, and consultants. So, there are many career options that can keep nurses interested in their chosen field.

3. Nursing Degree Jobs

As mentioned in the previous sections, there are many jobs available to nursing graduates. The demand has also been high, especially after the COVID-19 outbreak. But, even before that, nursing degree jobs are often in good demand. This is because nurses are needed in a wide range of organizations, spanning from private health institutions to non-profit organizations.

Is nursing in high demand?

The job outlook for nursing professionals, according to BLS (2021), is demand will grow by 7% from 2019 to 2029. And as the American Association of Colleges of Nursing noted (2020), the US will experience a shortage of nurses. This is especially true as baby boomers age and their need for care grow. Of course, there are other areas in healthcare that need quality nurses. In this section, we will discuss the most common ones that they can fill (NurseJournal, 2021; GMERCYU, 2021).

key stats for nursing profession, US

What jobs can you get with a nursing degree?

  1. Registered Nurse. A registered nurse (RN) in hospitals or residential care facilities is tasked to coordinate and provide various healthcare needs. These include patient care and patient education. Also, they provide emotional support and counseling as well.
  2. Critical Care Nurse. They work in the intensive care units (ICU) of hospitals. They usually work in teams to provide health services in emergency situations. Critical care nurses are also expected to be able to treat serious wounds and monitor life support systems.
  3. ER Nurse. These nurses work in teams in the emergency room (ER) of hospitals. They perform a wide variety of tasks and interventions, ranging from stabilizing and evaluating a patient to tending to ailments and wounds.
  4. Geriatric Nurse. Geriatric nurses provide care and treatment to older patients. They help anticipate future care for long-term illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s disease or cancer.
  5. Perioperative Nurse (Surgical/OR Nurse). Also known as surgical or OR nurses, these healthcare professionals are trained to perform both pre-operation and post-operation care on a patient. They help doctors by setting up the room for operations. They also manage the tools and equipment and control bleeding during surgeries.
  6. Mental Health Nurse. Mental health nurses are often stationed in psychiatric facilities and rehabilitation centers. They have a wide variety of tasks—from diagnosing and treating disorders to providing counseling services to patients.
  7. Pediatric Nurse. Pediatric nurses specialize in providing care to children, from infancy to their teenage years. They, like other nurses, perform physical examinations, diagnose illnesses, and develop plans for treatment.
  8. Nurse Midwife. This type of nurse specializes in providing care for pregnant women by helping them with child labor and delivery. They also manage prenatal care appointments and provide post-delivery support through counseling.
  9. Public Health Nurse. Public health nurses usually work in community clinics and hospitals. They are tasked to provide people with critical health information and education.
  10. Perianesthesia Nurse. These nurses are trained to assist doctors in anesthesia during surgeries. Also, they are tasked to provide care for patients who are coming out of anesthesia. This is a highly specialized practice and graduate-level training is required.

What kind of salary can I earn with a nursing degree?

The median pay is $75,330 per year with a rate of $36.22 per hour. The number of jobs generated in 2019 reached 3,096,700. And, employment change from 2019 to 2029 has been estimated to reach 221,900. In the United States, the states with the highest annual mean wage are California ($120,560), Hawaii ($104,830), Massachusetts, ($96,250), Oregon ($96,230), and Washington ($91,310) (BLS, 2021).

Source: BLS, 2021

4. Types of Degrees in Nursing

There are many types of degrees in nursing as mentioned. Also, there are a variety of specializations that one can earn through graduate-level studies and certifications. Degrees and certificates act as licenses for practice. And, the higher and the more specialized they are, the more sensitive and specialized the tasks that a nurse can perform. In this section, we will look at the most common degrees and educational paths to becoming a nurse.

What kinds of nursing degrees are there?

Associate Degree in Nursing

An Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) can be earned in two to three years. Usually, the curriculum for this degree is a mix of nursing and liberal arts courses (Giorgi et al., 2021). This is also very popular among registered nurses (RNs). And, it provides them with opportunities to find entry-level nursing jobs in different organizations.

Because of the practical nature of nursing, course delivery is a mix of lectures and practical activities. Students need to pass the NCLEX-RN or the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses to earn their degrees. The degree is for those who want to enter the nursing profession but do not have the time to pursue a Bachelor of Science (BSN) degree.

Entry-level jobs: clinical nurse, pediatric nurse, oncology RN, care coordinator

Bachelor of Science in Nursing

A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree usually takes four years to complete. This is ideal for RNs who intend to fill supervisory roles and qualify for higher-paying job roles (Cain, 2021).

Courses are a combination of classwork and clinical training. Classwork includes courses like biology, chemistry, and anatomy. Practical training includes those for treatment plan designs, laboratory testing, surgery assistance, and patient care. There are also schools that offer specializations for infectious disease, geriatric nursing, psychiatry, pediatrics, and many more.

Entry-level jobs: case manager, legal nurse consultant, occupational health nurse, school nurse, public health nurse

Master of Science in Nursing

A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree usually gets completed in two years. It is a graduate program for professionals who want to pursue an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) track. It is more specialized and the curriculum is more tailored. So, students get to dive into concentrated areas.

Advanced courses are offered on a wide variety of topics. These include management, research, healthcare policy, and leadership.

Entry-level jobs: certified nurse midwife, certified nurse anesthetist, nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist

Joint Master’s Degrees in Nursing

If you want to earn an MSN and a complementary degree, then a Joint Master’s in Nursing might be the right one for you. Also, this takes a lot less time than completing two separate degrees. By taking a joint master’s, you will be able to gain deeper theoretical knowledge and advanced skills.

Also, you can tailor your courses for your ideal career. Typically, they are for students who want to pursue a leadership position. Moreover, the time it takes to complete these types of degrees ranges from 18 months to three years. There are three common combinations (Cain, 2021).

  • Joint MSN/MPH. A pairing of MSN and a Master of Public Health (MPH) caters to students that want to pursue a leadership track in public health and community organizations.
  • Joint MSN/MBA. This is also known as the Nurse Executive Program. These programs train students to possess the key skills in holding executive-level jobs in hospitals and other healthcare institutions. So, a good amount of leadership development training is included.
  • Joint MSN/MHA. With an MSN degree paired with a Master of Health Administration (MHA) degree, students will get a broader set of skills that can be applied to management and educational positions. They will develop aptitude for making key decisions in the aforementioned areas.

Doctoral Degrees in Nursing

There are different types of Doctoral Degree in Nursing and they train students to gain the necessary knowledge for teaching at the university level. Many students who pursue these degrees have the intent to be researchers or pursue high-level management roles as well. Usually, these types of degrees take about two years to complete.

The three common degrees are (Cain, 2021):

  • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). This degree is practice-oriented. Courses emphasize advanced theoretical knowledge and leadership in clinical settings. This is perfect for those who seek higher-paying positions in healthcare organizations with executive-level responsibilities.
  • Doctor of Nursing Philosophy (Ph.D.). The program has a deep focus on scientific content. This is geared towards students who wish to create new research in the nursing field. So, students are required to complete a dissertation and research papers. When you complete the degree, you will be qualified for higher positions in academia and research.
  • Doctor of Nursing Science (DNS/DNSc). This, too, is a research-oriented doctoral degree. Students are trained, like the Ph.D. program, to become researchers or nurse educators at the university level.

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) Certificate or Diploma

The CNA certificate is a non-degree diploma. This is usually offered in vocational schools and community colleges. Students also have the option to take on-campus or online certificate programs. However, they must render clinical hours. The program trains students to provide basic healthcare services to patients.

These include taking vital signs, recording data, changing beddings, transferring patients, feeding and bathing patients, and communicating with their family members. They are also trained in infection control, personal care skills, and emergency procedures.

The curriculum usually takes four to 12 weeks to complete. Also, programs typically require 75 hours of education with a minimum of 16 hours of supervised clinical training.

Entry-level jobs: nursing assistant in hospitals, home healthcare services, and retirement communities

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) Certificate

This is another non-degree program that a student can pursue without earning a college degree. The curriculum and requirements are more comprehensive than that of a CNA program. And, they are completed in a longer set of time. Usually, it takes around 12 months. Clinical hours are also required for certification. State-approved programs may require students to train from seven to 24 months (Cain, 2020).

In order to be certified, one must pass the NCLEX exam for LPN.

Entry-level jobs: Practical nurse at hospitals, home healthcare services, clinical research facilities, diagnostic testing centers

5. Nursing Degree Requirements

In order to get a nursing degree, one must complete prerequisites. Common nursing degree prerequisites to get into nursing school include completing basic courses in anatomy, biology, psychology, and physiology. Often, nursing schools require a minimum grade of “C” for incoming students.

Admission Requirements

Institutions of higher education require applicants to provide proof of graduation like a high school diploma or something equivalent. This can also be a GED transcript. Moreover, it is also best for students to submit other certificates completed during or after their secondary education.

GPA requirements can vary for different non-degree and degree diplomas. Also, these depend on a particular institution as well. For instance, CNA and LPN programs may not have a minimum GPA required. On the other hand, associate’s programs, on average, require at least a 2.5 GPA from prospective students (All Nursing Schools, 2021).

Bachelor’s and graduate degrees also require a higher GPA. This is usually 3.0 or higher. As a general rule, the higher the degree or the more prestigious the school, the higher the GPA requirement will be. So, it is recommended that you do your best in your post-secondary education to get into the best nursing programs available.

SAT or ACT Scores

Typically, different institutions prefer different ranges of SAT or ACT scores. There are those that require students to land a score between 1440 to 1560 on SAT and 32 to 35 on the ACT. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, institutions today have been relaxing these requirements. Like GPA, the general rule is the more prestigious the program, the higher the score requirements go.

Entrance Exams

The majority of programs require prospective students to take entrance exams. This is to gauge their abilities in a wide variety of areas, such as reading and math. These skills are important to succeeding in nursing schools. Common tests utilized in higher-education institutions include the Kaplan Admissions Test, The National League for Nursing Pre-Admission Exam (NLN PAX), the ATI Test of Academic Skills (TEAS) Exam, the Health Education Systems, Inc (HESI) Exam, and the Psychological Services Bureau Aptitude Exams.

Other Requirements

Because nursing is in the healthcare field, there may be additional requirements. You may need to provide proof that you are up to date on your vaccines. Also, some may find a CPR certification valuable. Of course, there are necessary fees for processing too. Other general requirements include:

  • Essays
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Career statement
  • In-person interviews

Skill Requirements

In order to be successful in a nursing program, there are many different skills that one must possess. Firstly, an individual must be willing to learn and develop core nursing degree skills. And, this takes knowledge in a variety of science-based disciplines like basic anatomy, physiology, and biology. But, willingness to learn is central in this regard.

Secondly, nurses usually work in teams. So, candidates that fare well in degree programs are team players and leaders. So, communication skills are a must. They also must be flexible and have individual initiatives.  Lastly, a general aptitude in computer skills is also a big requirement as healthcare, in general, relies on a lot of technological products.

Literacy in healthcare technologies is in high demand in industries. This is why it will likely be incorporated more in nursing education as University of Wisconsin researchers, Cassidy and colleagues (2020), proposed in their paper “Exploring telehealth in the graduate curriculum” in Nursing Forum.

They argued that while 99% of healthcare organizations have already “implemented telemedicine programs into their practice even though few United States schools have incorporated telemedicine education into the curriculum. Developing a comprehensive telehealth curriculum is necessary to ensure student success as they transition to practice and begin providing care via health visit… this is not only to ensure the patient receives the best possible care but so that the student obtains the education necessary to understand the legal and ethical implications that go along with caring for a patient through telehealth.”

Because of the changing dynamics of the healthcare sector, leaning towards heavier technology-assisted methods, expect technological literacy to become a key requirement in the future.

6. What to Look for in a Nursing Program

There are many institutions that offer different types of nursing programs. And, it can be very challenging for fresh high school graduates to find the best program for them. Aside from the basic cost and logistics aspects, there are other important factors to consider. These include accreditation and available specializations.

Available Specializations

As discussed, there are many areas for nurses to specialize in. Starting from certificate diplomas to doctoral degrees, there are many concentrations. They include geriatric care, psychiatry, and nursing administration, among others. These allow you to take on more sensitive responsibilities particular to a specific area or a higher-level position. So, it is best to take a look at the specializations being offered in various colleges and universities, especially if you wish to have a particular career path in mind.

Accreditation

There are different accreditation institutions in the nursing profession and education. So, it is best to check with these agencies to understand the scope of your chosen program. The primary accrediting bodies are (NursingCAS, 2018):

  • The Commission on the Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)
  • The Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs (COA)
  • The American College of Nurse-Midwives Division of Accreditation (ACNM)

Student-Teacher Ratio

Another important aspect to consider when it comes to choosing a program or a university is the student-teacher ratio. This is because institutions with lower student-to-teacher ratios can cater to students more when it comes to training, academic support, and counseling. This is generally beneficial but more so when it comes to degrees like nursing that require practical hands-on training. So, it is also best to consider the student-to-teacher ratio when choosing an institution.

Financial Aid Options

Lastly, but probably the most important thing to check, is the available financial aid options that a school offers. Public schools, in general, have various government-sponsored grants and aids specifically for students who are looking to enter the healthcare profession. Other private institutions do as well. So, it is best to check not just on the state or government website but also on individual school websites. Moreover, if you are a fresh high school graduate, it can also be tremendously helpful if you check in with your guidance counselor or principal. They might have a good network relation with grant-giving bodies that can help you shoulder your studies.

Source: College Board, 2020

7. Majors Related to Nursing

Nursing is pretty much an interdisciplinary practice. It has intersections with other scientific fields especially biology, chemistry, anatomy, and physiology. Moreover, it also involves other aspects such as management, mathematics, and even jurisprudence. So, nursing has many related majors. They include (College Factual, 2021):

  • Medicine
  • Medical Science
  • Clinical/Medical Laboratory Science
  • Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences
  • Dentistry and Dental Support Services
  • Bioethics or Medical Ethics
  • Movement and Mind-Body Therapies
  • Social Work

And, nursing can serve as a good education and career path towards these other majors or disciplines. So, if you decide to take a nursing degree, there are tons of options when it comes to fields of study and work.

Is nursing the right profession for you?

Many choose to work in healthcare because they feel like it is their calling. Of course, the pay can be good. But, personally and socially, contributing to the community by becoming a health provider can be quite fulfilling. This is especially true for individuals who like to see the immediate positive results of their work and make a positive impact on other people’s lives.

Nursing is not only an occupation but a vocation for many. And, many nurses experience their profession as a calling. So, if you feel the calling, a nursing degree would be a good choice.

If you are not sure yet whether you want to become a nursing professional, it is best that you ask around your friends, professional nurses, and your guidance counselors. There are tests that you can take that can tell you if you are a good fit.

 

References:

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  6. College Factual. (2021). Top majors related to nursing. Find Your College at CollegeFactual.com: Compare Colleges, Costs and Value via Rankings and Profiles. College Factual.
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  10. GMERCYU. (2021). Types of nurses: 20 growing nursing specialties to start your career. Gwynedd Mercy University.
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  12. NursingCAS. (2018, September 24). What’s the deal with accreditation? NursingCAS.
  13. Prospects. (2019). What can I do with a nursing degree? Prospects.ac.uk.
  14. Raatikainen, R. (1997). Nursing care as a calling. Journal of advanced nursing, 25(6), 1111-1115. PubMed.