Nursing Major Career Paths

Female nurses laughing in hospital

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If you are considering being a nursing major, you should fare well after you graduate. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that employment in this field will grow faster than the average for all occupations through 2020. Meaning? Nurses are expected to be in high demand for the next several years, and students good in STEM fields, oriented toward caring for others, and have strong communication, organization and critical thinking skills should consider this area of study.

High schools students who are thinking about studying nursing should take science classes including biology, chemistry, and physics, in addition to English, social studies and computer science.

Preparation for entry-level jobs involves formal and clinical training ranging in length from one to four years. To become a nurse, one must earn a certificate in practical or vocational nursing, a Diploma in Nursing, an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor's of Science Degree in Nursing (BSN).

While in school students learn how to deliver physical care and emotional support to people who are ill, injured or recovering from surgery. They learn about drug administration, care of different populations, nutrition and the use of information technology, for example. Advanced practice or leadership nursing positions require additional education, usually in the form of at least a master's degree.

Expected Major Courses

Coursework will vary by level of education and occupational pursuit.

  • Fundamentals of Nursing
  • Dosage Calculation for Nurses
  • Nursing Care of the Older Adult
  • Nursing Care of Children
  • Nursing Informatics
  • Adult Mental Health Nursing
  • Health Assessment
  • Nursing History
  • Pathophysiology
  • Community Health Nursing
  • Obstetrics and Neonatal Nursing
  • Trends in Nursing
  • Leadership and Management
  • Research in Nursing

Career Options

  • One-Year Training Program: Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) or Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN)
  • Diploma in Nursing, Associate Degree, and Bachelor's Degree: Registered Nurse (RN)
  • Master's Degree: Advanced Practice Nurse including Nurse Practitioner (NP), Nurse Educator, Nurse Anesthetist and Nurse Midwife; or Administrator
  • Doctoral Degree: Advanced Practice Nurse, Researcher or Administrator

Typical Work Settings

Nurses care for patients in hospitals, urgent care centers, nursing care facilities, doctors' offices, schools and camps, and correctional facilities. Some work for home health care agencies supervising home health aides and providing patient care. Other nurses serve as members in the military.

Nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, and nurse midwives work in all these settings and may also work on their own or in other NPs' private practices. Nurse educators teach in vocational schools, colleges and universities, and hospitals. Researchers work in academic, research, healthcare and practice settings.

What Else You Need to Know

  • Nurses must be licensed before they can begin working. To become licensed as a practical nurse one must pass an exam called the NCLEX-PN. One who wants to become a registered nurse must pass the NCLEX-RN.
  • RNs who have an associate degree or diploma in nursing may apply to RN Bachelor's or Master's Degree programs.
  • An LPN can often transfer the credits he or she earns in school to an RN program.
  • An RN usually specializes in a particular area of clinical practice, for example, pediatrics, geriatrics or adult medicine, oncology, cardiology or obstetrics.
  • One must be certified to work as an advanced practice nurse, for example, a nurse practitioner, nurse midwife or nurse anesthetist. Certification usually involves fulfilling certain requirements and passing an exam.
  • Credentialing agencies offer voluntary certifications to nurses in various specialties, for example, pediatrics and geriatrics.

Professional Organizations and Other Resources