Nursing Career Paths [Infographic]

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Career Paths for Registered Nurses

The health care landscape is rapidly changing in the United States. The passing of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, an aging baby boomer population, and advances in technology are all reasons having a knowledgeable and experienced nursing workforce is key to maintaining and improving health care for Americans. Because of these shifts, the Institute of Medicine has recommended that U.S. health care facilities increase the proportion of nurses with a BSN to 80 percent and double the number of nurses with a DNP by the year 2020.

RNs who obtain higher degrees have proven to have a positive impact on health care through lower readmission rates, lower mortality rates, and shorter lengths of patient stay. Currently, 55 to 61 percent of the nursing workforce is made up of baccalaureate-trained nurses. In accordance with the Institute of Medicine’s recommendations, this workforce will need to increase by more than 3 percent each year until 2020.

What does the job market look like for RNs who are looking to advance their careers?

This question is examined in the following infographic, “Career Paths for RNs.” The various in-demand specialties, salaries, and job outlooks for three different career paths – Bachelor of Science in Nursing, Master of Science in Nursing, and Doctor of Nursing Practice – are explored.

Nursing Career Paths [Infographic]

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Career Paths for RNs

The Current State of Nursing

The current job market is favorable for Registered Nurses to advance their careers.

By 2022, the field is expected to:

Increase by 526,800 jobs or 19%

Need 525,000 replacement nurses

Have 1.05 million job openings

55% of the current nursing workforce holds a baccalaureate or graduate degrees, according to the 2010 report The Future of Nursing by the Institute of Medicine.

Specialized nursing positions as well as career advancement require continuing education.

Advanced practice nurses are required to hold a bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and in even some positions, a doctorate or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is a minimum requirement.


There are three higher education paths RNS can choose from to advance their careers.

  • BSN: Bachelor of Science in Nursing
  • MSN: Master of Science in Nursing
  • DNP: Doctor of Nursing Practice

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

There are more than 1.1 million BSN-prepared nurses in the United States.

Registered Nurse

SALARY: $66,220 (2013 median)

JOB OUTLOOK: 19% projected growth

Most In-Demand Specialties

Work with patients who have life-threatening problems.

Care for and monitor patients connected to cardiac machines.

Care for patients throughout the surgical experience.

Care for patients in the emergency or critical phase of illness or injury.

Provide care for patients before and after surgery.

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

RNs need a bachelor’s degree to purse an MSN. Most schools require a BSN.

Most In-Demand Specialties

Nurse Practitioner
Provide comprehensive health care across the lifespan to diverse clients in many health care settings.

SALARY: $92,670 (2013 median)

JOB OUTLOOK: 33.7% projected growth

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist
Provide anesthesia and related care before, during, and after procedures.

SALARY: $151,090 (2013 median)

JOB OUTLOOK: 19% projected growth

Certified Nurse Midwife
Provide gynecological and prenatal care to women, as well as attend labor and delivery.

SALARY: $92,290 (2013 median)

JOB OUTLOOK: 19% projected growth

Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)

RNs need either a BSN or an MSN to pursue a DNP.

Most In-Demand Specialties

Nurse Faculty
Prepare all levels of nurses to offer comprehensive health care to patients in a wide variety of settings within hospitals and the community.

SALARY: $65,940 (2013 median)

JOB OUTLOOK: 19% projected growth

Clinical Research
Develop and implement both clinical research and quality improvement research, evaluate current patient care practices, and develop new procedures.

SALARY: $95,000 (2014 average)

JOB OUTLOOK: 19% projected growth

Nursing Director
Plan, direct, or coordinate medical and health services in hospitals, clinics, managed care organizations, etc.

SALARY: $90,940 (2013 median)


The Institute of Medicine recommends a 100% increase of doctoral-prepared nurses by 2020.


About the Author

Carly Dell is the community manager for the innovative online rn to bsn program offered through Simmons College. In her free time, Carly enjoys traveling, binge-watching HGTV, and trying new restaurants. Follow her on Twitter @carlydell2 and Google+.