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How to Make a Career Change to Nursing

How to Pursue Nursing as a Second Career?

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Nurses are the real-life heroes who ensure the health and safety of society. They are caring, compassionate, hard-working professionals who are dedicated to helping others. It takes a special type of person to be a nurse. For many, it’s more than a career; it’s a calling.

In 2020, a NurseGrid survey of over 12,000 nurses found that about 96% of nurses believe their work is meaningful and about 80% feel strongly about that fact.

(Click here to explore the basics of How to Become a Registered Nurse)

Being a registered nurse isn’t easy and it’s not for everyone. But for those who have a passion for helping others and making a difference in the world, it’s one of the most fulfilling careers you have!

Why Choose Nursing as a Second Career?

If you’ve ever thought about making a career change to nursing, now’s the time to do it. Registered Nurses (RNs) have been in great demand for the last decade, and the COVID-19  pandemic has dramatically increased the need for skilled nursing professionals. Even before the pandemic, employment for RNs was projected to grow faster than the average for all occupations, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Before you take the next step in your career journey, you should learn what it takes to become a nurse before deciding if it’s right for you.

What is a Registered Nurse?

Registered Nurses are the heart of the healthcare system. They say “doctors diagnose, but nurses cure” because nurses attend to the patient’s health and well-being before, during, and after the diagnosis and prescribed treatment.

RNs provide and coordinate patient care, educate the public about health issues, and provide advice and emotional support to patients and their families. Most RNs work as part of a team with doctors, specialists and other healthcare professionals. Some Registered Nurses oversee licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) or licensed practical nurses (LPNs), nursing assistants, and home health aides.

What Does a Registered Nurse Do?

The duties of RNs vary depending on their employer, their title, and the type of patients they treat. Typically, RNs perform some or all of the duties below:

  • Assessing the condition of their patients
  • Administering medicines and treatments to patients
  • Collaborating with doctors and other healthcare professionals
  • Explaining the steps for post-treatment care
  • Helping perform diagnostic tests and analyzing the results
  • Observing patients and recording all relevant conditions
  • Operating and monitoring medical equipment
  • Recording their patient’s medical histories and symptoms
  • Making plans for patient care and helping inform existing plans
  • Teaching patients and their families how to manage illnesses or injuries

What Kind of Hours Do Registered Nurses Work?

Depending on their employer and job duties, registered nurses can work a variety of different schedules. RNs who work in hospitals and nursing care facilities usually work in shifts to provide 24-hour coverage. They may work nights, weekends, and holidays. They may be on call, which means they must be available to work on short notice, sometimes around the clock. Nurses that work 8-10 hour shifts typically work 40 hours per week. Nurses that work 12-hour shifts may work 36 hours per week. Nurses who work in offices, schools, and other places that do not provide 24-hour care are more likely to have regular business hours.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Registered Nurse?

The minimum requirements to become an RN are an associate or bachelor’s degree or diploma. More and more employers, however, are either requiring or strongly preferring a bachelor’s degree. RNs must also pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) and be licensed in the state in which they work.

It takes 4 years to complete a typical bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) program. If you already have a bachelor’s degree in a qualifying non-nursing field, you can earn a nursing degree in half that time through either a Second Degree in Nursing program or a Direct Entry MSN program.

Educational programs for registered nurses usually include courses in anatomy, physiology, microbiology, psychology, and other social and behavioral sciences, as well as liberal arts. Most programs will include additional education communication, leadership, and critical thinking. Programs typically combine nursing classes with supervised clinical experience.

Medical students with a virtual instructor

Second Degree in Nursing Programs

If you’ve already earned a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field, you can earn a second degree in nursing (BSN) in about 2 years with a Second Degree in Nursing program. For example, the Second Degree in Nursing program at Brookline College can be completed in as little as 16 months.

With our Second Degree in Nursing program, you can apply all your qualifying credits (typically General Education and other prerequisite credits) from your previous degree toward your Bachelor of Science in Nursing. This effectively reduces your time to graduation from 4 years to 2 years. Most of these programs will prepare you to take the nursing licensure exam (NCLEX) which you must pass to become an RN.

(Click here to learn more about the Second Degree in Nursing Program at Brookline College)

Direct-Entry MSN Programs

Another option, if you already have a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field, is to earn your master of science in nursing (MSN) through a direct-entry program. Many colleges and universities offer a direct-entry MSN that enables students to pursue a career as a registered nurse (RN) or advanced practice nurse (APRN). Most of these programs will prepare you to take the nursing licensure exam (NCLEX) which you must pass to become an RN. Some schools may also offer a post-master’s certificate for APRN careers.

An MSN can open opportunities for APRN careers, such a nurse anesthetist, nurse midwife, or nurse practitioner. According to the BLS, these occupations earn a median pay of about $118,000 per year.

With a direct-entry MSN program, you can apply all your qualifying credits (typically General Education and other prerequisite credits) from your bachelor’s degree toward your MSN. This can effectively reduce your time to graduation from 4 years (without a BSN) to between 15 months and 3 years.

Registered Nurse Certification

Registered nurses must be licensed by the state in which they work. To become licensed, nurses must graduate from an approved nursing program and pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN).

The NCLEX-RN test is organized into four major Client Needs categories:

  • Safe and Effective Care Environment
  • Health Promotion and Maintenance
  • Psychosocial Integrity
  • Physiological Integrity

Nurses may also become certified through professional associations in specific areas, such as ambulatory care, gerontology, or pediatrics. Although certification is usually voluntary, it demonstrates adherence to a specific level of competency, and some employers require it.

In addition, registered nursing positions may require cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), basic life support (BLS), or advanced cardiac life support (ACLS) certification.

What is Nursing Specialization?

Career Advancement for Registered Nurses

Most registered nurses begin as staff nurses in hospitals or community health settings. With experience, good performance, and continuing education, RNs can move to other settings or be promoted to positions with more responsibility.

Many RNs advance into management, moving from assistant clinical nurse manager, charge nurse, or head nurse to more senior-level administrative roles, such as assistant director or director of nursing, vice president of nursing, or chief nursing officer. Increasingly, management-level nursing positions require a graduate degree in nursing or health services administration.

Some nurses move into the business side of healthcare. Their nursing expertise and experience prepare them to manage ambulatory, acute, home-based, and chronic care businesses. Employers need registered nurses for jobs in health planning and development, marketing, consulting, policy development, and quality assurance.

Other nurses work as postsecondary teachers or researchers in colleges and universities. These positions typically require a Ph.D.

African-American medical professional

How Much Do Registered Nurses Make?

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, registered nurses earn an average salary of about $75,000. Registered nurses who earn salaries in the highest 10th percent can make up to $116,000 or more per year.

Highest Paying Industries for Registered Nurses

Salaries for registered nurses can vary significantly depending on the industry in which they work. According to the BLS, these are the highest paying industries for RNs:

Industry Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Pharmaceuticals $44.29 $92,110
Outpatient Care Centers $42.93 $89,300
Specialty Hospitals $39.86 $82,910
General Hospitals $39.27 $81,680
Psychiatric & Substance Abuse Hospitals $37.14 $77,250

Highest Paying States for Registered Nurses

According to the BLS, these are the states with the highest average wages for RNs:

State Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
California $57.96 $120,560
Hawaii $50.40 $104,830
Massachusetts $46.27 $96,250
Oregon $46.27 $96,230
Alaska $45.81 $95,270

Highest Paying Cities for Registered Nurses

According to the BLS, these are the highest paying cities for Registered Nurses:

City Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
San Francisco, CA $71.73 $149,200
San Jose, CA $70.61 $146,870
Vallejo, CA $68.34 $142,140
Sacramento, CA $64.59 $134,350
Salinas, CA $63.54 $132,160
Santa Rosa, CA $60.02 $124,840
Modesto, CA $58.21 $121,090
Stockton, CA $55.70 $115,860
Los Angeles, CA $54.38 $113,120
Redding, CA $53.78 $111,860

Registered Nurse Job Outlook

Registered nurses are in great demand. According to the BLS, the overall employment of Registered Nurses is expected to grow 7 percent by 2029.

Overall, the U.S. population is aging and requiring more healthcare services. As a result, RNs will be needed to care for older patients in a variety of healthcare settings, including hospitals, residential care facilities, and home health environments. RNs will also be needed to educate and care for patients with a growing number of chronic conditions, such as arthritis, dementia, diabetes, and obesity.

At the same time, more procedures are being performed at outpatient care centers and physician offices, where patients receive same-day treatments, such as chemotherapy, rehabilitation, and surgeries. These facilities will also need more RNs to care for their patients.

In general, registered nurses who have a BSN degree will have better job prospects than those without one. Employers also may prefer candidates who have some related work experience or certification in a specialty area, such as gerontology or pediatrics.

Advice for New Nurses

Becoming a new nurse will be one of the most exciting and rewarding times of your life. Many new nurses, however, report being anxious and overwhelmed about their new roles. Don’t worry if you experience this type of anxiety when starting your first nursing job or even before you start. These feelings are normal.

Nursing is a stressful profession. Most nurses report feelings of anxiety within the first year of the job. You’re an integral part of planning and delivering care to patients who are often critically sick or injured. New nurses are often uncertain about their ability to obtain the best outcome for their patients.

But don’t worry, and don’t be hard on yourself. With time and experience, you will gain confidence. Also, below are a few suggestions from experienced nurses for decreasing anxiety.

Here are some tips from experienced nurses for decreasing new nurse anxiety:

  • Get a good night’s sleep (at least 6–8 hours a night) to allow your mind and body to reset.
  • Maintain a healthy diet. Nutrition plays a critical role in your mental and physical ability to perform well and overcome adversity.
  • Plan your day as much as possible so you are organized and duties are prioritized.
  • Stay calm. Relax, take deep breaths.
  • Consult with a trusted colleague or mentor about situations before they become overwhelming. Chances are they have been there as well. Be open to constructive criticism.
  • Decompress after work. To take care of patients, you have to take care of yourself. Find ways to relax after hours. Exercise, meditate, visit a spa, take a trip, pursue a hobby, enjoy family time. Or involve yourself in any other activities that help refresh your mind and relax your body.

Medical professional on a laptop

Start By Enrolling in a Nursing Program at Brookline College

At Brookline College, our mission is to provide you with more than a degree or diploma. Our goal is to help you achieve your dreams for a brighter future. With both online and on-campus programs in Arizona and New Mexico, we offer an exceptional education in nursing, healthcare, and business.

If you have a qualifying college degree, you can enroll in our Second Degree (BSN) Nursing Program and graduate in as little as 16 months. The curriculum includes classroom instruction, laboratory activities, and clinical experiences with state-of-the-art simulations. Graduates are equipped with the necessary skills and competencies to provide nursing care across the healthcare continuum. Many of our BSN graduates can begin their career as entry-level Registered Nurses in a short time frame.

At Brookline College, your future starts now.