Career Advice for Job Seekers

How to choose your path in a nursing program

Image Source: Envato
Image Source: Envato
Ryan Wood
Taylor Haskings (Guest Author)
September 2, 2021

Deciding to be a nurse means you’ve embraced a career where you hope to help doctors take care of patients and practice the field of medicine. However, once you actually enter a nursing program, you need to make another decision: choosing your specific path within the nursing profession.

A Career That Is Both Demanding and in Demand

According to the United States already has more than 3 million nurses serving the population. However, at least 300,000 – 400,000 more may be needed by the end of the decade. That’s due to two things, both related to aging:

  • Many current nurses are older and will retire before then.
  • The overall population is aging, which means a growing need for more health care services.

Anyone that successfully becomes a professional nurse will have plenty of job options. This is a big reason why so many different paths are available in nursing programs.

Once employed, you’ll find there’s plenty of work available not just in terms of employment possibilities but also hours. Most nurses work full-time. Even nurses that are scheduled for three 12-hour shifts per week often wind up pulling 14-16+ hour shifts.

Nursing School Paths

When choosing a nursing school program, you may have as many as five different options available to you:

  • CNA
  • LPN
  • ADN-RN
  • BSN-RN
  • APRN
  • CNA


CNA stands for certified nursing assistant.

CNAs are professionals who help patients requiring assistance with daily living activities or other healthcare needs that they may have. They typically work under the direct supervision of RNs or LPNs.

One to three months of state-approved training is necessary for certification, leading to an average salary of $28,500 annually.


LPN stands for a licensed practical nurse.

LPNs monitor the health of patients and administer some basic care, although their duties are more narrow in scope than actual RNs.

LPN programs are typically a year-long diploma program or a two-year associate degree. Their average annual salary is $46,000.


ADN-RN stands for an associate degree in nursing registered nurse.

An RN works with patients directly. They monitor vital signs and record them. They can also administer medication and even offer medical guidance.

Several years of associate degree studies are necessary before an NCLEX licensing exam. The average salary for these nurses is just under $70,000 annually.


BSN-RN stands for a bachelor’s of science degree in nursing registered nurse.

BSN nurses handle more leadership roles and complicated duties than most other nurses. They also get to specialize and advance their careers more.

To become a BSN-RN, you need four to five years in a bachelor’s degree program, along with successful completion of your NCLEX licensing exam. Average salaries are $83,000 annually.


What does APRN stand for? The acronym stands for advanced practice registered nurse.

Some states certify APRN nurses the same as RNs, but in many states, the certification path is actually quite different. APRNs usually need less physician supervision than RNs, as many states let them only be loosely supervised by a specific physician while others let them practice without physician oversight. Some can even prescribe medications and fill in service gaps where there are shortages of primary care physicians, particularly in rural areas.

Advance practice registered nurses currently practice in four specific roles:

  • Certified nurse anesthetist: These professionals administer anesthesia to patients who might need localized or general anesthesia during various procedures.
  • Certified nurse-midwife: Nurse-midwives work with pregnant women and infants. They handle neonatal care, coming up with a delivery plan, and caring for newborns.
  • Clinical nurse specialists: These medical professionals work in specialized areas based on kinds of care, the type of issue, specific settings, population groups, or certain diseases.
  • Nurse practitioners: Nearly two dozen states let nurse practitioners fulfill the same roles as physicians, including diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions, as well as writing patient prescriptions.

To become an APRN, you need one of the following:

  • A master’s certificate
  • Post-master’s certificate

Practice-focused DNP degree

These have to be in the four roles listed above.

APRNs have an average annual salary in excess of $100,000.

After Your Nursing Program

Once you finish your nursing program and enter the profession, you’ll find that you can go into many different specialties. Many of them hire both RN and APRN candidates. The differences are often in the duties and settings:

  • Acute care nurse: Commonly seen in primary care offices dealing with urgent appointments.
  • Cardiac nurse: Typically working under the supervision of a cardiologist to help heart patients.
  • Dialysis nurse: Providing medical care to those suffering kidney failure.
  • ER nurse: Works in hospitals for the most acute and urgent patients.
  • Family nurse practitioner: Often found in clinical office settings.
  • Geriatric nurse: Dedicated to working with the oldest members of a local population.
  • Nurse midwife: Works with pregnant women before, during, and after birth.
  • Psychiatric mental health nurse: Deals with patients battling depression, suicide, abuse, and other psychiatric ailments.
  • Public health nurse: Informs and educates the public about general health issues common to everyone.
  • Oncology nurse: Assists patients who are battling cancer and going through chemotherapy.
  • Orthopedic nurse: Helps patients with foot and ankle issues.
  • School nurse: Serving educational institutions with first aid for students.

In summary, nurses, like doctors, help patients maintain their health and wellness by practicing medicine as professionals. However, there are many different career paths within nursing. Choose the one that appeals to you the most so you can enjoy the work that you do for other people.

Taylor Haskings is a freelance writer born in Denver, Colorado. She graduated with a bachelor’s in English from the University of Colorado, Denver. She enjoys hiking in the Colorado Rockies and loves the fine arts, such as playing the violin. Her true strengths include networking with others and expressing herself through the written word.

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