Nursing Majors Guide

Table of Contents

What Does it Mean to Study Nursing?

Nurses must be compassionate, responsible, and detail-oriented. They must be willing to take control of stressful situations and to ask for assistance when necessary. Nurses also need the emotional stability to handle emergency situations and to engage with emotional and physical suffering, illness, and injury.

Types of Nursing Degrees

Nursing school programs vary in length and intensity depending on the desired degree or certification.

Certificate and Diploma Programs in Nursing

Certificate programs in nursing are, generally speaking, geared around teaching students the skills necessary for entry-level vocational nursing jobs such as Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) or Licensed Practical or Vocational Nurse (LPN/LVN). CNA programs usually take just a few months to complete, while LPN/LVN programs regularly require a full year of education. Both are likely to include some type of hands-on training component. Core courses might include:

  • Medical Terminology
  • Basics of Healthcare Systems
  • Fundamentals of Nursing Arts
  • Introduction to Geriatric Nursing
  • Pediatric Nursing

Associate Degrees in Nursing

Earning an associate degree in nursing is an important component of becoming a Registered Nurse (RN). These programs typically take two years to complete and can be completed through traditional campus-based colleges as well as online (though practical clinical requirements must usually be completed in person). Courses in an associate-level degree program may include:

  • Introduction to Pharmacology
  • Complex Patient Management
  • Mental Health Nursing
  • Surgical Nursing
  • Advanced Maternal/Infant Nursing

Bachelor's Degrees in Nursing

RN-to-BSN programs and other bachelor's in nursing degree programs can be a convenient way for registered nurses to increase their potential in the field. A nursing major at the baccalaureate level must complete general education studies in basic science and liberal arts courses, in addition to lower- and upper-division classes in nursing. Internships and other hands-on clinical experiences may also be required prior to graduation. Most BSN degrees require students to successfully complete courses such as:

  • Foundations of Nursing
  • Concepts of Professional Nursing
  • Adult Health Nursing
  • Nursing Ethics and Healthcare Law
  • Critical Thinking for Healthcare Professionals

Master's Degrees in Nursing

Earning a master's degree can help nurses narrow their focus down to a specific specialization within the field. These graduate-level programs generally require students to select and concentrate on specific areas of interest, and the curriculum varies according to the specialization. Based on their specialization, graduates who have earned a Master of Nursing degree may be able to earn positions as a nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, nurse anesthetist or clinical nurse specialist, to name just a few. Master's-level nursing degree programs may include courses such as:

  • Advanced Nursing Concepts and Theory
  • Epidemiology
  • Finance in Healthcare
  • Public Healthcare Policy
  • Advanced Concepts in Public Health

Ph.D. and Doctorate Programs in Nursing

Doctoral programs for nursing general fall under two categories: Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) or Ph.D. in Nursing. DNP programs tend to focus on practical nursing applications and are usually better suited for students planning to work in high-level administrative positions at a healthcare facility. Ph.D. programs, on the other hand, are more oriented towards scientific nursing research. Both types of programs can open the door to earning faculty positions at institutes of higher learning. Some core courses may include:

  • Applied Finance and Budget Planning
  • Quantitative Methods for Healthcare Evaluation
  • Transforming Healthcare Systems
  • Evidenced Based Nursing Practice
  • Leadership in Healthcare

What Can You Do With a College Degree in Nursing?

After earning a nursing degree, most graduates seek to obtain employment at hospitals, long-term care facilities, private practices or other healthcare settings. Though state laws determine the specific tasks that registered nurses and licensed practical nurses may perform in the workplace, the nature of the jobs vary by sector and employer. Regardless, all nurses must take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) in order to become certified as either a registered nurse or licensed practical nurse.

Registered Nurses

Registered Nurses (RNs) work in hospitals, nursing homes, private physician's offices, and home healthcare companies. Their duties vary by state and position but usually include administering medical treatments and medication, observing patients, educating patients and families about illness, assisting with diagnosing injuries and illness, recording patient histories, and offering emotional support.

  • Minimum Educational Requirement: Most RNs need at least an associate degree, although a bachelor's degree may be preferred.
  • Special Certifications or Licensures: RNs must be licensed by the state in which they practice. In addition to any state exam requirements, RNs must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) to receive their RN certification.

Licensed Practical Nurses and Licensed Vocational Nurses

Like registered nurses, licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) work in a variety of healthcare facilities. They must also complete some postsecondary training. Their roles differ from RNs in the duties they may undertake and the amount of education they have undergone. Typical tasks include monitoring patients, assisting patients with bathing and dressing, changing bandages, recording patient information, and extending emotional support to patients. LPNs and LVNs are supervised by doctors and RNs.

  • Minimum Educational Requirement: LPNs and LVNs usually participate in approved career training programs that last approximately one year.
  • Special Certifications or Licensures: To become a licensed practical or vocational nurse, students must first pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN). They must also meet any other licensing requirements of the state in which they practice.

Certified Nursing Assistants

Certified nursing assistants support doctors and other nurses by administering basic care for patients in a variety of healthcare facilities. Sometimes referred to as nursing aides, these healthcare professionals can be found working in nursing homes, hospitals, assisted living facilities, and home healthcare services. Duties may include transporting patients between rooms, helping patients with basic tasks (like bathing and dressing), transferring patients from wheelchairs, measuring and recording vital signs, cleaning equipment, or serving meals.

  • Minimum Educational Requirement: CNAs are usually required to complete a state-approved career training program. These programs last a few months but are completed in under a year.
  • Special Certifications or Licensures: Certified nursing assistants must be registered to work in the state in which they practice. Requirements vary by state but usually include passing a competency exam.

Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners

Nurses wanting to specialize in particular areas of healthcare may be able to become Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs). After receiving the proper education and meeting all licensing requirements, APRNs may be allowed to perform certain advanced primary and specialty healthcare services for patients. Nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners are all examples of APRNs. Duties and responsibilities vary by specialization.

  • Minimum Educational Requirement: All APRNs must earn a master's degree in their area of specialization.
  • Special Certifications or Licensures: Regardless of specialization, all APRNs must first earn their RN certification. They must also pass the proper licensing exams, which vary according to their specific area of specialty. APRNs must be licensed in the state in which they work and meet continuing education requirements.

Nursing Salaries and Career Outlook Data

CareerTotal EmploymentAnnual Mean WageProjected Job Growth Rate
Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses701,690$47,05010.7%
Nurse Anesthetists43,520$174,79017%
Nurse Midwives6,250$106,91015.7%
Nurse Practitioners179,650$110,03028.2%
Nursing Assistants1,450,960$29,5808.9%
Registered Nurses2,951,960$75,51012.1%
2018 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2016-26 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics,

Nursing Associations and Organizations

Nurses have a wide variety of organizations and associations they can turn to for support and resources. These organizations may be fraternal in nature or offer professional support and advocacy. Some include:

  • American Nurses Association -- This association represents nurses of all types and advocates for policies that advance the profession. They also publish several professional trade journals.
  • National Council of State Boards of Nursing -- This non-profit organization seeks to promote regulatory standards for the nursing profession. The NCSBN creates, administers, and oversees the National Council Licensure Examinations.
  • National League for Nursing -- The NLN promotes excellence in nursing through high quality nursing education. The league features professional development and networking opportunities for nursing educators and faculty.
Article Sources
Article Sources


  1. Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics,
  2. Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics,
  3. Nursing Assistants and Orderlies, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics,
  4. Registered Nurses, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics,

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