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Types of Nursing Degrees: Which Nurse Path is Right For You?

Opportunities in healthcare are plentiful. Especially for nurses. The U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics projects jobs in nursing to grow faster than all other occupations between 2016 and 2026, estimating that an additional 1.1 million nurses will be needed. Practicing and aspiring nurses interested in advanced and leadership positions should take the time to understand their career options and the corresponding education and licensing requirements.


To learn more, check out the infographic below created by Maryville University MSN degree online.

How different nursing degrees can lead to different careers within a fast-growing market.

Overview of Various Types of Nursing Degrees

With the right education, nurses can confidently pursue careers across all levels of nursing, from licensed vocational nurse (LVN) and registered nurse (RN) to chief nursing officer (CNO).

Growing Demand for Nurses

There are 29 million nurses and midwives in the U.S. worldwide, 3.9 million of which are in the U.S. Yet there is an increased demand for nurses due to several factors. One factor links to an aging population, as there were 30 million more Americans aged 65 and older in 2019 than there was in 2011. The aging nursing workforce is also a factor, as 1/3 of the nursing workforce will be at retirement age in the next 10 – 15 years. Additionally, the average national turnover rate for RN’s ranges from 8.8% to 37%, a figure that indicates professional burnout.

Career Opportunities in Nursing

While there are open career paths in the nursing field, the education requirements for nurses vary, depending on the role. Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) are required to complete a state-approved educational program. Licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) are required to complete a state-approved educational program. Registered nurses (RNs) are required to complete an associate degree or bachelor’s degree. Nurse practitioners (NPs) are required to complete a master’s degree.

What to Expect in a BSN Degree Program

The student goals of a BSN degree typically involve preparing for potential future leadership roles, cultivating interpersonal communication skills, and gaining a deeper understanding of healthcare technologies and clinical informatics. Common courses typically focus on concepts like nursing informatics, end-of-life nursing care, leadership in contemporary healthcare, and family assessment.

Advanced Nursing Degrees

Nurses interested in pursuing advanced leadership roles in the healthcare industry will benefit from an advanced degree in nursing. Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), and post-master’s nurse practitioner certificate program offer students the opportunity to gain specialized knowledge and develop career-specific skills, such as leadership and communication.

What to expect in an MSN Degree Program

The goals of students enrolled in an MSN degree program typically involve gaining a well-rounded background in clinical practice techniques, skills, and concepts. The foundational courses are commonly built around courses focusing on theoretical foundations of nursing practice to develop analytical skills, leadership in the healthcare industry, healthcare policy, advanced health assessment, and professional role development.


MSN degree programs also usually have various concentration options. These concentrations usually focus on a specific patient demographic and/or need, such as adult-gerontology acute care, adult-gerontology primary care, family care, pediatric care, and psychiatric mental health.

What to Expect in a DNP Program

The student goals pertaining to a DNP program are usually built around developing skills to pursue advanced healthcare positions like roles in specialized advanced nursing administrative leadership, policy, and academia. The curriculum itself tends to feature foundational courses that build on the concepts featured in an MSN curriculum. DNP programs also usually feature concentrations that focus on the same demographics focused within a DNP program.

What to Expect in a Post-Master’s NP Certificate Program

The student goals associated with a post-master’s NP certificate program are typically concentrated on advancing knowledge, gaining specialization, or pivoting an individual’s nursing career. The concentrations offered in this type of program typically focus on the same demographics as MSN and DNP concentrations.

Careers for Nursing Graduates

Nursing graduates can expect a booming job market offering many exciting career opportunities, such as registered nurse and nurse practitioner.

Registered Nurse (RN)

A registered nurse’s responsibilities include assessing patients’ health and recording systems, observing patients and recording observation, administering medicine and treatments, collaborating with doctors and other healthcare professionals, and educating patients and their families on how to manage illnesses or injuries. The 2018 median pay for registered nurses is $71,730.

Nurse Practitioner (NP)

A nurse practitioner’s responsibilities include performing physical exams and observing patients, performing and requesting diagnostic tests, diagnosing health conditions, analyzing test results, analyzing patient conditions, analyzing treatment plans, and conducting research. The 2018 median pay for nurse practitioners is $113,930.

Conclusion: There Are Many Paths to a Satisfying Career

A quality nursing education can help graduates advance their nursing careers and make a significant, measurable impact on the healthcare industry, benefiting patients, and alleviating the nursing shortage.

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