Nursing Career Paths: 5 Entry-Level Jobs To Get Into the Nursing Industry Fast

High demand and good salaries make nursing an attractive profession. Here are five entry-level jobs that can launch your nursing career fast.

portrait of Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.
by Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.

Published August 10, 2022

Reviewed by Brandy Gleason, MSN, MHA, BC-NC

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Nursing Career Paths: 5 Entry-Level Jobs To Get Into the Nursing Industry Fast
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Over 3 million registered nurses staff America's hospitals, clinics, and doctor's offices, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). And if you're interested in nursing, you can try out the profession with entry-level careers in the field.

A nursing certificate, diploma, or degree can launch your nursing career. And after gaining experience, nurses can pursue further education in specialized programs. Launch your new career by applying for entry-level positions in nursing.

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Ready to start your journey?

Why Pursue a Career in Nursing?

The nursing profession is currently facing a major shortage. And registered nurses earn salaries significantly higher than the national median wage. That makes nursing an attractive industry. In addition, nurses can enter the profession in a short time thanks to nursing assistant, practical nursing, and registered nursing programs.

With so many reasons to become a nurse, entry-level nursing careers help prospective nurses join the field and start the path to career advancement.

Pros

  • You can enter the nursing profession in as little as one month through a nurse assistant program.
  • Registered nurses earn a median salary of over $77,600, according to the BLS.
  • Nurses can choose from a variety of career paths and benefit from many advancement opportunities.
  • Nursing shortages mean more opportunities for those entering the profession.

Cons

  • Nursing can be a stressful career path, with many nurses reporting burnout.
  • Higher-paying roles like registered nurse or nurse practitioner require multiple years of school.
  • Many nurses work long hours in physically demanding conditions.
  • Nurses can face risks from infectious diseases or injuries.

Nursing Outlook and Salary

Nurses benefit from many job openings and diverse career paths. And the nursing shortage represents an opportunity for those seeking entry-level nursing jobs. According to a 2022 report from McKinsey & Company, the healthcare sector may face a shortage of up to 450,000 registered nurses by 2025. That means healthcare organizations will be recruiting new nurses.

A certified nursing assistant (CNA) program may appeal to people who want to know how to get a patient care job fast. In as little as one month, those looking to gain healthcare experience can train as nursing assistants. However, nursing jobs require additional education.

The BLS projects that licensed practical nurses (LPNs) will see 60,700 projected job openings each year from 2020-2030, while registered nurses (RNs) will see over 194,000 annual job openings. Advanced practice roles like nurse practitioner rank among the fastest growing occupations nationally. With high demand, nurses can potentially negotiate for higher salaries.

5 Entry-Level Nursing Jobs

Certified Nursing Assistant

Certified nursing assistants perform basic duties for patients, including bathing, administering medication, and taking vital signs. They may also help feed, dress, or reposition patients.

The role requires strong communication skills and patience. Certified nursing assistants also must possess physical strength and compassion for their patients.

Common certified nursing assistant positions include:

The training to become a certified nursing assistant typically takes 4-12 weeks. Certified nursing assistants can increase their earning potential with additional education.

Licensed Practical Nurse

Licensed practical nurses (LPNs), also called licensed vocational nurses in some states, work with RNs and doctors to provide basic care. They take vital signs, change bandages, and maintain health records.

Common LPN specializations include:

Earning a diploma or certificate in practical nursing typically takes one year, after which LPNs report a median salary above the national average.

As entry-level nursing professionals, LPNs gain healthcare experience that can lead to an RN license with additional education.

Hospice Nurse

Hospice nurses provide end-of-life care for patients. Also known as palliative care nurses, they check patients' vital signs, administer medication, and help patients manage pain. Hospice nurses work in hospitals, palliative care centers, and home settings. Their duties vary depending on the work environment.

Hospice care requires strong communication skills to interact with patients and their families. Hospice nurses also must possess compassion and an understanding of each patient's needs. For example, hospice nurses use their judgment to advise patients on their options and respect each patient's wishes related to end-of-life care.

Home Health Nurse

Home health nurses care for patients in their homes. As RNs, they bring strong clinical skills to their roles, which they use to administer treatments, communicate with other healthcare professionals, and provide care. Home health nurses also monitor patients closely to determine their needs.

While many home health nursing careers require an RN license, some work as LPNs. Generally, home health nurses spend 2-4 years earning a nursing degree and an RN license. Their training includes clinical rotations in-home care.

Mental Health Nurse

Mental health nurses, also known as psychiatric nurses, care for patients with mental health conditions. They work in psychiatric hospitals, outpatient mental health facilities, and other healthcare settings. Psychiatric nurses administer treatments, keep records, and educate patients on mental health issues.

Common mental health nurse specializations include:

Psychiatric nurses typically complete 2-4 years of education and hold an RN license. Mental health careers in nursing may require night and weekend hours. With additional education, mental health nurses can become mental health/psychiatric nurse practitioners.

How to Find an Entry-Level Nursing Job

Meeting educational requirements is the first step in finding an entry-level nursing job. However, nursing students must also invest in their professional development to land a job after college.

During your nursing program, expand your professional network. Connect with nurses and other healthcare staff during clinical rotations. And participate in career fairs to connect with local employers. Even nurses in online programs can benefit from virtual career services support.

When looking for nursing jobs, make sure to check popular job search sites for openings. If you have a particular role in mind, reach out to recruiters or check with local healthcare organizations directly.

You can also rely on your program and your network to learn about job openings. Many nursing programs maintain relationships with healthcare organizations, including job boards open to nursing graduates.

Does More Education Lead to Better Nursing Opportunities?

What You Can Do With a BSN

A BSN, or bachelor's in nursing, program trains learners for diverse careers in nursing. And in 2020, 41% of healthcare organizations required a BSN for registered nursing jobs, while over 82% strongly preferred a BSN, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. Earning a BSN can mean more job opportunities and an easier time finding a job. Nursing schools offer RN-to-BSN programs and online BSN programs.

Critical Care Nurse

Average Annual Salary (June 2022): $78,000

Critical care nurses, also called ICU nurses, care for critically ill patients. They administer treatments, monitor equipment, and advocate for patients. Critical care nurses also communicate with family members and explain medical terms and options to patients and their families.

Travel Nurse

Average Annual Salary (June 2022): $80,970

Travel nurses spend 2-6 months on a temporary assignment at a hospital or medical facility that has a nursing shortage. They care for patients in different departments, depending on their training and the hospital's needs. Travel nurses typically earn higher salaries for their willingness to take temporary assignments in other states.

OR Nurse

Average Annual Salary (June 2022): $76,820

Operating room nurses, also called perioperative nurses, care for patients before, during, and after surgical procedures. They monitor patients during procedures and provide post-surgery care. OR nurses take on different responsibilities, including maintaining sterile operating rooms, assisting surgeons, and prepping patients for procedures.

What You Can Do With an MSN

Nurses with a master's degree take on advanced clinical and administrative responsibilities. During a master's program, nursing students can choose to specialize as nurse practitioners, nurse educators, or nurse administrators. Most programs incorporate clinical practicums. Current RNs can earn MSN degrees online. Many nursing schools offer affordable online MSN programs.

Family Nurse Practitioner

Average Annual Salary (June 2022): $98,370

Family nurse practitioners act as primary care providers for patients of all ages. These nurse practitioners can diagnose medical conditions, prescribe medications, and order diagnostic tests. They refer patients to specialists when necessary while also providing primary care.

Clinical Nurse Specialist

Average Annual Salary (July 2022): $94,300

Clinical nurse specialists bring advanced training in their clinical specialties. They supervise nurses, implement new techniques, and assess patient outcomes to improve nursing care. Clinical nurse specialists may also work directly with patients, depending on their department.

Nurse Midwife

Average Annual Salary (June 2022): $98,510

Nurse midwives specialize in women's health. They provide prenatal care and deliver babies. Nurse midwives also provide a variety of gynecological care for their patients. In addition to working in hospitals, nurse midwives work in clinics, educational facilities, and the home. In the future, nurse midwives will likely need to earn DNPs to practice.

What You Can Do With a DNP

A doctorate is the highest degree in nursing. Nurses can choose between a Ph.D. in nursing, which emphasizes research, or a DNP degree, which emphasizes practice. During a doctoral program, nurses specialize their skills. Nurses with a DNP benefit from the highest salaries for nurse careers.

Nurse Anesthetist

Average Annual Salary (March 2022): $163,370

Nurse anesthetists specialize in pain management and anesthetics. They administer anesthesia during medical procedures and work with patients to determine the best pain management strategy. Nurse anesthetists also supervise RNs who assist them during procedures.

Nurse Educator

Average Annual Salary (June 2022): $78,860

Nurse educators train nurses. They contribute to continuing education programs and help evaluate nurses. Nurse educators also recommend policies for patient care and work with administrators to assess the organization's training needs. Many nurse educators hold a master's degree.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Average Annual Salary (July 2022): $113,550

Psychiatric nurse practitioners treat patients with mental health conditions. They can diagnose patients and prescribe treatments for issues like anxiety, depression, and ADHD. Psychiatric nurse practitioners may coordinate with psychiatrists when caring for patients. They can hold an MSN or DNP degree.

Frequently Asked Questions About Entry-Level Nursing Careers

Is it easy to get hired as a nurse?

Nationally, healthcare organizations report a nursing shortage. That can mean more opportunities for nurses looking for jobs. However, hiring depends on several factors, including your education, experience, and qualifications. For example, home health nurses may find more job opportunities with a professional certification.

Nursing students can also increase their chances of finding a job by networking during nursing school. Many nursing programs offer career services to help graduates find job placements. By investing in career development, nurses can find their first job in the field or move into more competitive roles.

What is the easiest nursing job to get?

Home health nurses are in high demand and do not need to hold graduate degrees. According to the BLS, over 1 million jobs for home health aides are likely to be created between 2020 and 2030. That translates into nearly 600,000 job openings per year. With 33% projected job growth, home health aides benefit from one of the fastest growing occupations.

Nurses with additional training will find strong demand for critical care nurses and administrative roles. Advanced practice RNs are also in high demand.

What is the lowest paying RN job?

According to BLS data, the lowest-paid RNs earned a median salary of $59,450 in May 2021. But which nurses hold lower-paying roles? According to Payscale data from June 2022, pediatric nurses and school nurses earn among the lowest salaries.

But several factors besides specialty affect RN pay. For example, location plays a major role in RN salaries. In California, the highest-paying state for registered nurses, RNs earned a median salary of $124,000 in May 2021, according to the BLS. Nurses in South Dakota, the lowest-paying state, reported a median wage of $60,540. Prospective and current nurses can research the highest-paying nursing careers to increase their earning potential.

Is nursing a stable career?

Nursing careers offer stability and many opportunities for career advancement. With the healthcare industry projected to add 2.6 million jobs from 2020-2030, many professionals are in high demand.

In addition to job stability, nursing offers several paths to higher wages and more responsibilities. LPNs can enroll in an LPN-to-RN program to train for their RN license and move into nursing specialties. Registered nurses can advance their careers by enrolling in RN-to-BSN programs.

Graduate programs in nursing train nurses for high-paying, in-demand careers. As a result, nursing is a good industry for many.

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