Nursing Major Career Paths

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Do you want to become a registered nurse (RN) or licensed practical nurse (LPN), also called a licensed vocational nurse (LVN)? Perhaps you aspire to one day become a nurse practitioner (NP), nurse educator, nurse anesthetist, or nurse-midwife, or even a researcher or administrator. Whichever career you are considering, you will have to be a nursing major.

Your job opportunities after graduation should be outstanding, regardless of the nursing career you choose. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts nurses will be in high demand well into the future. Students who are good in STEM fields like biology, chemistry, and physics, enjoy caring for people and have strong communication, organization, and critical thinking skills should consider this area of study.

To become a nurse, first, decide whether you want to be an RN or LPN. If your plans ultimately include becoming a nurse practitioner or other advanced practice nurse, a researcher, or administrator, this is not something you need to decide yet. You will first have to become licensed as an RN and get experience in that occupation.

  • Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) or Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN): One-Year Training Program
  • Registered Nurse (RN): Diploma in Nursing (3 years), Associate Degree (2 years), and Bachelor's Degree (4 years)
  • Advanced Practice Nurse including Nurse Practitioner (NP), Nurse Educator, Nurse Anesthetist, and Nurse Midwife; or Administrator: Master's Degree (1-3 years after becoming an RN and getting experience) or Doctorate
  • Researcher: Doctorate

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

How to Find a Nursing Program

Choose an LPN, RN, or advanced practice nursing program that is accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or, if you want to earn a bachelor's (baccalaureate) or graduate degree, one the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) has accredited. ACEN accredits all levels of nursing education, while CCNE accredits baccalaureate, master's degree, or doctoral programs. Search for all nursing programs on ACEN's website. Use CCNE's search tool to find bachelor's and graduate degree programs only.

Expected Major Courses

Coursework will vary by level of education and the occupation you are pursuing.

LPN Curriculum

  • Survey of the Human Body
  • Pharmacology Safety and Dosing Calculations
  • Practical Nursing
  • Nursing Care of Adult Clients
  • Pediatric Nursing
  • Care of the Older Adult
  • Maternity

RN Curriculum

  • Fundamentals of Nursing
  • Dosage Calculation for Nurses
  • Nursing Care of the Older Adult
  • Nursing Care of Children
  • Nursing Informatics
  • Adult Mental Health Nursing
  • Lifespan Human Development
  • Medical Microbiology
  • Health Assessment
  • Nursing History
  • Pathophysiology
  • Community Health Nursing
  • Obstetrics and Neonatal Nursing
  • Trends in Nursing

NP Curriculum

  • Advanced Pathophysiology
  • Advanced Pharmacology
  • Advanced Practice Nurse
  • Advanced Health Assessment
  • Dynamics of Family Health Nursing
  • Evaluation and Instrumentation in Nursing

Nurse Administrator

  • Leadership and Management
  • Research in Nursing
  • Nursing Informatics and Advanced Nursing Practice
  • Developing World Class Human Resources
  • Nursing Administration Theory and Practice
  • Hospital and Healthcare Policy and Management

Typical Work Settings

Your work as a nurse will most often revolve around patients and the settings where patients receive care. 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 in the military.

Nurse practitioners (NPs), 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.

Some nurses also make housecalls to patients’ homes, or even travel long distances to provide healthcare services in underserved areas.

Learn more about some of the best travel nursing agencies in the U.S.

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. To become a registered nurse, an individual 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 specific 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