Nursing DegreeEarning a Nursing Degree

There’s an old saying that behind every good boss is a good secretary. The same adage applies to the medical field, where behind every great doctor is an exceptional nursing staff who earned a degree in nursing with the correct training and accredited nursing degrees.

Nurses often are the first line of defense in a medical treatment facility. They check vitals and collect medical history. They discuss symptoms and medical concerns. If a patient already is injured, a nurse often is the first person to initially treat the wounds until a doctor can arrive. Nurses assist in surgery and they help patients and their families during the long road toward recovery.


All nursing students, regardless of the type of nursing degree they pursue, will be expected to complete basic courses in anatomy and physiology, microbiology, nursing, nutrition, chemistry and the behavioral sciences. They also will be required to sit for the National League of Nursing, or NLN, exam following the first year of their nursing studies.

The NLN is administered to students who have completed their first year of nursing school. It tests the basic knowledge of nursing taught during the first year to determine if the student should be admitted into their second and subsequent years of nursing school. In addition to the raw NLN score, grade point averages from the previous semester are used by most nursing programs to determine whether a student should be allowed to advance in their nursing studies. Those who do not pass the NLN must wait a year to retake the test, during which time they may not attend any further nursing courses as part of their degree.

Depending on the intended career path, there are three kinds of nursing degrees one can earn. An associate degree program in nursing is the most common, and can be completed in two years through most institutions which offer it. Bachelor degrees take four years to complete and will include training in the physical and social sciences beyond what is offered in an associate degree program. Those who wish to work in an administrative position within nursing will need to pursue a bachelor’s degree.

Master-level degrees in nursing also are available, but not required to work in the field. Only those who wish to work in administrative or executive positions within the medical field should consider pursuing a graduate degree.

Most nursing degree programs are offered in traditional classroom settings, but there are some portions of the work which can be done through online courses. However, due to the clinical nature of this profession, a totally online nursing degree program is unavailable.


As with some other professions, nurses who complete their degree program also must obtain licensing in order to practice. Each state has its own guidelines for licensing nurses, so it is best to check with the state in which you plan to practice. There is a program called the Nurse Licensure Compact, which includes 26 states as of 2013. Nurses who apply for licensure through this agency will be permitted to practice nursing across state lines, so long as it is in one of the 26 member states.

There is a fee to take the licensing examination and most states require the license to be renewed every two years.

Salary and Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for registered nurses, or RNs, was $64,690 as of 2010. The lowest 10 percent of those surveyed earned less than $44,190 and the top earners in the industry – those who possess a master-level degree – earned in excess of $95,000 per year.

Nursing, like many other medical careers, is expected to grow 26 percent by the year 2020. Due to technological advancements and the ability to treat diseases and conditions which previously could not be medically treated, the demand for qualified nursing professionals is not expected to decrease anytime soon.


Articles & content by Shari Berg,

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