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Nursing is a varied, in-demand, and specialized field that is constantly evolving to address society’s needs. As a result, there are several different types of nursing degrees students may explore as they try to identify their career path. 

Choosing the right nursing degree is a big decision, but learning about your options and considering factors including curriculum, cost, and time commitment can help you pick the program that will help start your career off right. 

Whether you’re interested in becoming a registered nurse (RN) or an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), understanding nursing degree levels is beneficial to charting your career trajectory. Read on to learn more about the various degree levels offered in nursing and whether one may be right for you.   

Types of Nurses

To pursue nursing, students generally complete a program of education and study in order to be able to work directly with patients, families, and communities based on the core values of the nursing process. Nurse credential categories students can choose from include non-degree, degree, and advanced degree with opportunities with non-degreed programs. A non-degreed program is a completed nursing education program that doesn’t culminate in a degree but offers the option to pursue careers as certified nursing assistants (CNAs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs).  

Undergraduate degrees for nurses include an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, while advanced degrees include the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degrees. 

Different Degree Levels in Nursing 

1. Certified Nursing Assistant 

A certified nursing assistant (CNA) is an important position in any hospital setting. Despite being an entry-level position, CNAs have many responsibilities that make them an integral part of the patient process in healthcare. Whether it’s helping patients with disabilities, chronic illness, or older adults that need assistance, a CNA assists individuals with their daily routines. 

CNA requirements vary by state but often include a state-approved training program. CNAs aren’t required to hold a college degree, however training is required to outline how to care for patients, basic medical skills, and important ethical and moral understanding of the job. CNAs earn an average hourly salary of around $16.04, or $33,371 per year. 

2. Licensed Practical Nurse

A licensed practical nurse (LPN) takes care of basic nursing duties in settings such as hospitals, nursing homes, and long-term care facilities. Also known as a licensed vocational nurse (LVN), LPNs are critical to providing patients with the quality care they need. 

An LPN certificate or diploma prepares an individual to become a licensed practical nurse, with many employers requiring licensure in the state of practice as well as one year of training. High schools, community colleges, trade schools, and hospital programs can offer this certificate. The average hourly earnings for an LVN are $32.49, or $62,380 per year. 

3. Registered Nurse 

A registered nurse (RN) provides and coordinates care for patients in hospitals, doctor’s offices, clinics, schools, nursing homes, and other medical facilities. RNs support other medical professionals as they work to improve patient outcomes. They also communicate with patients’ families about their progress.  

RNs can pursue three education options: a nursing diploma, an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Nurses receiving a diploma or associate degree will be qualified to become RNs once they take the NCLEX exam. Generally, a bachelor’s degree program puts candidates at an advantage over those who graduate with a diploma or from an associate degree program. RNs earn an average annual salary of $92,712

4. Advanced Practice Registered Nurse 

Advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) is an umbrella term for nursing professionals who have earned a master’s or doctoral degree to fill more advanced roles in health care. APRNs include clinical nurse specialist (CNS), nurse practitioner (NP), certified nurse midwife (CNM), and nurse anesthetist (CRNA). 

Advanced practice registered nurses have considerable autonomy since they can diagnose and treat conditions. They can also prescribe medications. In some states, they must work under the supervision of or in collaboration with a physician. They often supervise RNs. The average annual salary for APRNs is $99,787

5. Doctor of Nursing Practice 

Individuals with a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree have more opportunities to work as independent healthcare providers and in leadership roles. Nurses with a doctorate lead the way in healthcare and have the clinical skills and knowledge to manage and implement changes to improve caregiving and patient outcomes. 

To become a DNP, a nurse must complete a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree. DNP programs typically require three to five years of full-time study. However, for those already working as a registered nurse, it can take only two years to complete a DNP program. Students must also take and pass their NCLEX-RX exam and apply for licensure if required by the state where they will be working. The average annual salary earned by a Doctor of Nursing is $107,000

6. Nurse Manager 

In healthcare settings, nurse managers are responsible for fostering a culture that works to improve patient quality of life. Because of their own medical experience, nurse managers assume an authoritative role over other nurses in healthcare environments. Nurse managers also make critical decisions that influence the way hospitals and clinical organizations perform daily.  

To pursue a career as a nurse manager, students complete educational steps including obtaining a nursing license and a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Individuals can pursue a bachelor’s degree and RN license at the same time through a BSN program. For those already working as a registered nurse with a nursing diploma or an ADN, there are RN-to-BSN programs that can help them gain the credentials needed. The next step toward becoming a nurse manager is to obtain a Master of Science in Nursing Leadership and Management degree. This program builds on your understanding of the nursing field by teaching you additional management and leadership skills. The average annual salary for nurse managers in the U.S. is $92,119

Choosing the Right Nursing Degree Level

Selecting the right nursing degree is an important decision that will play a defining role in the direction of your future career. Thinking about short- and long-term career goals and exploring the environments you find most challenging and exciting may help guide you toward the nursing degree to pursue. Education will be the most important requirement for any nursing career and continuing to learn and become knowledgeable about the field will help you advance.

WGU’s nursing degree programs provide a solid foundation for your career and prepare you to work directly with patients in various healthcare settings. With the option to earn an accredited bachelor’s or master’s degree via 24/7 access to our online programs, WGU’s Leavitt School of Health is an ideal choice for busy professionals. Whether you’re an RN looking to pursue a 

BSN or you’re ready to become a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) or a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP), WGU has the right program to fit your goals. 

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