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With 190,000 nursing jobs opening up annually in the US, is now a good time to become a nurse?


With 190,000 nursing jobs opening up annually in the US, is now a good time to become a nurse?

A female nurse with brown hair looking off-camera and smiling

Over 5 million registered nurses (RNs) work in the U.S., according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). Yet, more than 25% of RNs say they plan to leave the profession in the next five years.

In spite of the high number of nurses, the country faces a nursing shortage. Demand for nurses will continue to grow over the next decade. High demand plus high wages can make nursing an attractive career path. NurseJournal investigates the growing nursing shortage in the U.S., the demand for nursing jobs, and what it takes to qualify as a nurse.

Nurses are still in demand

In the wake of the pandemic, demand for nurses continues to grow. As the population ages and current nurses retire, the U.S. needs new nurses to meet this need.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that RN jobs will grow 6% from 2022-2032, which is faster than average for all occupations. This equals over 193,000 job openings annually. Nursing schools will need to train students to enter the field and take on these jobs.

On top of the growing demand for nurses, the American Nurses Association recently warned of a nursing shortage. The profession reports a median age of 46, according to the AACN. And over a quarter of RNs plan to leave the profession or retire in the next five years.

As nurses leave the profession, demand for healthcare professionals continues to rise. As a result, nurses will likely see strong demand in the future. 

Top 5 states with highest demand for nurses

Nationally, the National Center for Health Workforce Analysis projects a shortage of over 78,000 RNs by 2025. While an excess supply of 16,180 RNs is projected in 2035, supply varies considerably by geographic location. Several states may continue to see a significant nursing shortage in 2035, according to 2022 nurse workforce projections.

The states with the highest demand for nurses include:

  • Washington: Projected shortage of 26%
  • Georgia: Projected shortage of 21%
  • California: Projected shortage of 18%
  • Oregon: Projected shortage of 16%
  • Michigan: Projected shortage of 15%

Other states with projected shortages of over 10% include Idaho, Louisiana, North Carolina, New Jersey, and South Carolina. Currently, many states rely on travel nurses to staff in-demand roles. RNs willing to meet the growing demand in these states may also benefit from higher salaries.

Nursing career earning potential

RNs earn a median salary of $81,220 per year, according to a May 2022 analysis from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Some of the highest-paying nursing specialties report even higher salaries.

Nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, clinical nurse specialists, and nurse midwives are known as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). These high-paying nursing specialties generally require a master’s or doctorate in nursing and an APRN license.

The highest-paying nursing careers include:

  1. Nurse anesthetist: $175,390 (August 2023)
  2. Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner: $117,430 (August 2023)
  3. Nurse midwife: $103,360 (August 2023)
  4. Family nurse practitioner: $101,730 (August 2023)
  5. Clinical nurse specialist: $98,160 (August 2023)

Nurses without a graduate degree also earn above-average salaries. These specialties are some of the highest-paying healthcare careers that only require a bachelor’s degree.

The highest-paying nursing careers that do not require a graduate degree include:

  1. Informatics Nurse: $83,780 (August 2023)
  2. Oncology Nurse: $81,160 (August 2023)
  3. Trauma Nurse: $80,560 (August 2023)
  4. Dialysis Nurse: $80,240 (August 2023)
  5. Infection Control/Prevention Nurse: $78,460 (August 2023)

Nurses can increase their earning potential by pursuing specialized roles or earning a graduate degree. As nurses gain professional experience, their salaries typically increase.

Preparing for a career in nursing

To become an RN, you’ll need an associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) and an RN license. Many nurses also pursue specialty certification or additional education to increase their job opportunities.

Earn a nursing degree

You’ll need a nursing degree to become an RN. If you already have a bachelor’s degree in another major, you can research accelerated BSN programs. These programs typically take 12-18 months and include clinical experience.

If you don’t have a degree, you can enroll in a two-year associate program to become an RN. An associate degree meets the requirements for an RN license. However, many employers prefer to hire nurses with a bachelor’s degree. RN-to-BSN programs help current RNs complete a bachelor’s degree.

Pass the NCLEX and obtain licensure

Nurses must pass the NCLEX-RN exam and apply for a state-issued license to become RNs. Nursing programs guide students through the process of studying for the licensure exam and applying for a license.

Each state sets its licensure requirements, which typically include an accredited nursing degree, passing NCLEX-RN scores, and specific coursework. A background check is also commonly part of the licensure process.

Become certified (for specialties)

If you’re interested in specialized nursing roles, pursuing certification can demonstrate your expertise. For example, you can become a certified emergency nurse, a certified critical care nurse, or a certified informatics nurse.

Several organizations offer nursing certifications, including the American Nurses Credentialing Center and the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses.

Many employers require nurses to complete certifications in CPR, basic life support, and advanced cardiac life support.

Choose a working environment and location

RNs work in several different healthcare settings. While many work in hospitals, other RNs work in doctors’ offices, home health care services, and outpatient care centers.

Nurses’ job title and work environment often shape their duties and schedules. Hospitals, for instance, typically require 12-hour shifts while a doctor’s office typically does not. Consider what setting best matches your interests and schedule.

Location can also affect your job opportunities and responsibilities as a nurse. Rural areas, for example, report a larger shortage of qualified nurses. Travel nurses who are willing to relocate report some of the highest RN salaries.

Information source and methodology

The data and information employed in this article was sourced from the following: Nurses in the Workforce (2023, ANA); Nurse Workforce Projections, 2020-2035. (2022, HRSA); Nursing Workforce Fact Sheet. (2023, AACN); Occupational Employment and Wages: Registered Nurses. (2023, BLS); and Payscale homepage. (2023).

This story was produced by NurseJournal and reviewed and distributed by Stacker Media.

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