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Nursing Career Ladder - Path to Growing in the Nursing Field


Approximately 3.8 million registered nurses (RNs) work in the U.S., according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). Registered nurses currently hold approximately 30% of all U.S. healthcare positions, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that more than 175,900 new registered nurse positions will become available each year from 2019 to 2029, taking into account job growth and nurses exiting the profession or retiring.


Current and prospective nurses may be wondering how they can climb the nursing career ladder. Nurses have a number of opportunities to grow their careers, earn higher salaries, challenge themselves, and help more patients. Earning a bachelor’s in nursing such as Maryville’s RN to BSN online degree can be a great place to start.

What Can You Do with a BSN?

One option for beginning a nursing career is to earn a certificate or diploma in nursing. After completing a one- to two-year state-approved program and passing the NCLEX-PN exam, nursing students can become licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) or licensed practical nurses (LPNs).


Another option is to earn an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN); these programs typically take between two and three years. After passing the NCLEX-RN exam, a nursing student can become a licensed RN and begin practicing in a number of different medical environments. Some employers, such as hospitals, require RNs to have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree.


LVNs, LPNs, and RNs with certificates, diplomas, or associate degrees in nursing have many opportunities to advance their careers by earning a BSN degree. A BSN can increase a nursing student’s job prospects after graduation, make them more eligible for BSN-specific nursing careers, and increase their salaries. BSN-equipped nurses also have a wider clinical skill set and can offer more well-rounded patient care. RNs with experience working in nursing can accelerate the process and earn a BSN in as few as three semesters by completing a specialized RN to BSN program.

The Path to Growing in Nursing

Nurses who are passionate about their work can widen their career horizons with a BSN degree. However, the nursing career ladder doesn’t lead to just one place. RNs can develop diverse skill sets as they pursue any of a variety of clinical, educational, or administrative roles.

Clinical Careers

While RNs don’t need a BSN to qualify for some entry-level positions — only an ADN, ASN, or diploma, as well as their NCLEX-RN credential — many healthcare employers prefer that RNs have a bachelor’s degree. Approximately 56% of RNs have a BSN, and 88% of employers strongly prefer baccalaureate-level nurses, according to the AACN.

Job Description

In a clinical career, RNs have the following job duties:


  • Assessing patients’ medical needs
  • Conducting diagnostic tests
  • Administering medication
  • Setting up IVs and giving shots
  • Making notes about patients’ conditions and symptoms
  • Communicating with doctors and other nurses

Growing in the Clinical Field

With the right experience and education, RNs can advance to managerial roles. RNs with a BSN often work as nurse managers or serve as department heads. Those who demonstrate expertise, technical knowledge, and soft skills can also become RN supervisors. RNs with a BSN and experience in the field may also move into nursing specialty fields, such as gerontology or genetics nursing, or into business-related roles in areas such as research, quality assurance, marketing, consulting, or technology.


After earning a BSN, RNs who are interested in advanced nursing positions can pursue a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and become clinical nurse specialists, nurse anesthetists, nurse practitioners, or nurse midwives. These four roles are considered the highest-level jobs for clinical nurses.

Job Outlook and Salary

The number of jobs for RNs is projected to grow by 7% between 2019 and 2029, according to the BLS, and the median salary in 2019 was $73,300. Salary can vary due to education level and years of experience, work environment, and location. For example, approximately 60% of RNs worked in hospitals and had a slightly higher median salary of $75,030 in 2019.

Educational Positions

Many nurses choose to climb the nursing career ladder by pursuing educational positions after working as RNs and earning advanced degrees. To qualify as nurse educators and instructors in hospitals, colleges, and universities, RNs typically need an MSN and two to three years of hands-on clinical experience. Some job options include:


  • Nursing instructor
  • Clinical nurse educator
  • Professor of nursing
  • Lab instructor
  • Dean of nursing

Job Description

While job duties vary based on a nurse educator’s specific role, common responsibilities include:


  • Supervising clinical rotations in a teaching hospital or university
  • Creating and teaching curricula in nursing courses
  • Training students in labs
  • Lecturing, assigning homework, grading essays, and meeting with students one-on-one
  • Conducting research and publishing articles or studies
  • Creating long-term plans for an institution’s nursing program

Job Outlook and Salary

The BLS projects that the postsecondary nursing instructors and teachers profession will grow by 18% between 2019 and 2029. Growth in the field is driven by the rising need for healthcare services for an aging population, as more teachers will be needed to educate the growing number of healthcare providers. The median salary of nursing instructors in 2019 was $74,600, with the highest 10% of earners making around $133,460.

Administrative Roles

RNs who want to explore managerial aspects of nursing might consider working in administration. Nurse administrators can combine their knowledge of business and organizational leadership with their passion for helping patients.


After gaining experience as RNs and earning a BSN, MSN, MBA, or related degree, nurses can pursue administrative healthcare roles in hospitals, physicians’ offices, rehabilitation facilities, outpatient clinics, or other medical organizations. As mentioned above, nurses with BSNs may qualify for roles as nursing managers and supervisors. More advanced roles, such as chief nursing officer or director of nursing, often require a master’s degree.

Job Description

Medical and health services managers and nurse administrators typically have the following responsibilities:


  • Establishing a facility’s long- and short-term goals
  • Managing finances, including budgets, fees, and billing
  • Ensuring a facility meets federal and state regulations and standards
  • Hiring and training employees
  • Representing staff at board meetings

Job Outlook and Salary

The BLS projects the number of medical and health services managers positions will grow by 32% between 2019 and 2029, much faster than the labor market as a whole. According to the BLS, medical and health services managers had a median salary of $100,980 in 2019.

Earn Your Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing

Whether you’re interested in clinical, instructional, or administrative roles, earning a BSN is an essential step in climbing the nursing career ladder. If you’re already an RN, Maryville’s accelerated RN to BSN online program can open new opportunities for you, offering expert instruction and reliable support on a schedule that accommodates your busy career. Learn more about how Maryville can help you pursue your professional goals as a nurse in whatever area you choose.


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