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Degree Programs for a Nursing Career

If you are compassionate, detail-oriented, and responsible, nursing could be the right career for you. Nurses hold more jobs than any other occupation in the health care industry, so with the right nursing degree, you could have many jobs from which to choose.

Selecting the best degree in nursing to reach your career goals is vital if you want to set yourself up as a competitive job applicant. Consider the following top degree programs for a range of nursing careers.

Degree Programs for Certified Nurse Assistants and Licensed Practical Nurses

Nursing assistants and aides can often obtain jobs with merely a high school diploma. Certified nurse assistants (CNAs), on the other hand, are formally certified assistants who must complete approximately 75 hours of coursework and an examination (requirements vary by state).

Some CNAs go to college to become licensed practical nurses (LPNs).The top degrees for LPNs are state-approved training programs or associate's degrees that typically take one to two years to complete, usually through a community or vocational college.

BSN is a College Degree for Registered Nurses

While registered nurses can enter the workforce with an associate's degree in nursing (ADN) or diploma, a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) is the degree for those wanting the widest range of job opportunities. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that nurses receiving training through a bachelor's degree program may be better equipped to handle the complexities of the nursing field.

Degrees for Nursing Specialties

A BSN also offers the best degree for registered nurses who want to pursue additional education to become advanced practice nurses (APNs). APNs hold master's degrees, usually a master's of science in nursing (MSN), as well as certification specific to their area of expertise. An MSN is the best college degree for nurse practitioners (NPs), certified nurse anesthetists (CNAs), clinical nurse specialists (CNSs), and certified nurse midwives (CNMs).

An MSN is also usually required for heads of nursing and nursing directors, although some may obtain positions with a master's in business administration (MBA) and nursing experience.

These nursing specialties are some of the highest-paying in the field. According to a survey by the magazine ADVANCE for Nurse Practitioners, NPs earned an average of $81,397 in 2007 and their data show impressive wage gains over a 10-year period. Compare that to the mean annual wage of $63,750 for all RNs in 2009 reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and its clear higher education in nursing pays off.

The Doctorate: The Highest Educational Achievement

A doctorate in nursing can assume a couple of forms. A doctor of nursing practice (DNP) is a practitioner's degree, generally designed for nurses working in the field as APNs or top administrators. A doctor of nursing science (DNSc), on the other hand, is a research degree that best prepares nurses for positions in academia and in research facilities.

Choosing the top degrees in nursing for your intended career helps ensure that you have the training you need for a long and successful career. Whichever nursing path you choose, it is hard to go wrong: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that most nursing occupations are still in high demand, and predicts excellent employment growth through 2018.

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