Registered Nurse: Executive Summary

Nursing is one of America's fastest-growing careers, and there are lots of options.


Nursing is one of America's fastest-growing careers, and there are lots of options. If you want to work directly with patients, you can specialize in everything from neonatology to hospice care. You can work in a hospital, a doctor's office, or a patient's home. Outside of patient care, options range from nurse informatics (helping nurses get access to computerized information) to legal nurse consulting (helping lawyers assess the validity of a claim).

On the downside, R.N.'s often must work nights and weekends, and burnout is a factor, especially in critical-care specialties such as surgery, oncology, and emergency medicine. Something to think about: Studies report large numbers of errors by healthcare providers that endanger or kill patients. This is a career for people who are both caring and extremely attentive to detail—even when stressed.

Median Pay

National: $60,400. More pay data by metropolitan area

(Data provided by


A two-year hospital or community college-based program will earn an R.N. A bachelor's degree in nursing opens many more doors. A master's in nursing prepares you for broader careers such as nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist, nurse midwife, and nurse supervisor. According to the Health Resources Services Administration, there's a need for 400,000 nurses with master's degrees. Yet only 140,000 nurses are qualified. One reason: Many qualified applicants to nursing school are turned away because of a shortage of faculty.

Smart Specialty

Nurse Practitioner. Like a physician assistant, you'll typically provide most of the direct patient care normally handled by a physician. Training is shorter than for physicians, there's less paperwork, and you're likely to work with healthier patients—which means a high success rate.

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