In the United States, nurses are crucial when it comes to providing superior patient care. Nursing is a profession that’s well respected and in high demand. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for registered nurses is projected to grow by 15 percent by 2026. This is largely due to an aging population and the prevalence of chronic conditions such as diabetes and obesity. Anyone contemplating a career in nursing will benefit from researching the field in advance to learn a little about its history and ensure the right decision regarding what degree and career path they want to pursue.

Education Needed for a Nursing Career

There are several factors that determine the educational requirements for pursuing a nursing career. One way to determine the level of education that is needed is to consider the type of nursing job that the student is pursuing. Becoming a licensed practical nurse (LPN), for example, does not require a college degree. Instead, individuals who are pursuing this course can either earn an associate degree or complete a state-approved training program, which typically only lasts a year, then take the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN). Registered nurses (RN) typically pursue an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). An ADN can be earned from a community college or a hospital-based nursing program and typically takes two to three years to earn; for a BSN, a four-year degree program is required. The educational requirements for both an ADN and BSN included courses such as microbiology, anatomy, physiology, chemistry, nutrition, and psychology. Further educational requirements for BSN programs may focus on critical thinking, research, communication, and leadership.

People who wish to pursue a higher education may take two more years at a college or university upon completing their BSN to obtain a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). This must be completed in order to obtain a doctoral degree. Doctoral degrees come in two types: a Doctor of Nursing Practice, which is focused more on clinical practice, or a Ph.D. in nursing, which has a more research-based focus.

Jobs Nurses Do in the Medical Field

There is a wide range of nursing jobs in the medical field, which translates to many employment options, particularly for RNs with the proper experience. Advanced practice careers for nurses can include cardiac care, emergency care, and trauma nursing. Some nurses may focus on women’s health, pursuing careers as labor and delivery nurses, certified nurse midwives, lactation consultants, or perinatal nurses. Nurses interested in medical jobs that involve management may seek to become a case management nurse, health policy nurse, legal nurse consultant, nurse manager, or nurse life care planner. Other possible positions include transplant nurse, nurse anesthetist, geriatric nurse, or pediatric nurse.

Nursing Uniforms Then and Now

When Florence Nightingale first began attending the injured, there was no specific uniform code for nurses. Often, nurses simply wore an apron tied at the waist over their clothing. During the Crimean War, Nightingale introduced a more standardized uniform of a long-sleeved dress and an apron. Women were also required to wear caps to hold their hair back and for a sense of uniformity. The aprons would extend above the waist to cover and protect the front of the nurse’s dress. During World War II, nurses’ uniforms gained short sleeves and shorter hemlines. Dresses were simple in style and often solid white. The highly regulated uniform give a professional appearance that put patients at ease and made nurses and their role more identifiable. In the 1970s, as feminism was on the rise, more men entered the field, and as a result of both factors, the uniform white dress and cap began to decline. In the 1980s and 1990s, uniforms began to transition to scrubs and a lab coat.

Legal Regulations

Nurses and nursing are regulated by a Nurse Practice Act (NPA). This is a set of laws that are meant to protect patients and reduce the risk of harm. They do this by defining the range of services and responsibilities of nurses. As a result, they also reduce the risk of nursing incompetence. NPAs vary by state and are enforced by the state board of nursing, which has the ability to make it more specific.

Pay Rate

The salary for nurses is based on various factors, including location, level of education, experience, and their specific career choice. For example, the median annual pay for an RN, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is $68,450, but this can increase to more than $100,000 if the individual is a psychiatric nurse practitioner with an RN license and an MSN or DNP degree. This level of pay is earned by the highest-paid 10 percent of RNs. The lowest-paid 10 percent earn an annual pay of $47,120 or less.