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The Financial Rewards of a Nursing Career

Nursing is a challenging career that is not for the faint of heart. It is also a very rewarding one. Much of what goes into making this career so rewarding is the opportunity nurses have to touch lives each day, but there are also financial benefits. It is important for those who are considering a career in nursing to be educated about the financial benefits of this occupation.

High Demand and Positive Job Outlook

Despite the state of the economy, the healthcare industry is thriving. Due to advances in medicine and an aging population, an increasing number of people require medical care. This means that healthcare professionals in hospitals, clinics, and other medical settings are in high demand. This is especially true for nurses, because these highly-skilled individuals are responsible for much of the day to day patient care. The US Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) predicts 19% job growth for registered nurses (RNs) between 2012 and 2022, and 25% for licensed practical nurses (LPNs) or licensed vocational nurses (LVNs). For those who pursue a master's or doctoral level nursing degree to work as an advanced practice registered nurse, such as a nurse practitioner or nurse anesthetist, the BLS predicts 31% job growth between 2012 and 2022.

Becoming a nurse is a great opportunity for a stable and secure career in a growing industry. Graduates of nursing programs should have little trouble finding employment, especially if willing to relocate or pursue an advanced degree.

Salary and Advancement

As of 2012, the median annual salary was $41,450 for LPNs/LVNs and $65,470 for RNs. Nurses who earn and advanced degree and become certified in an advanced practice specialty have the opportunity to earn even higher salaries, with the median annual salary for these professionals in 2012 estimated at $96,460. Though these numbers are averages, they are helpful in giving potential nurses an idea as to how much they should expect to make per year. According to the BLS, nursing professionals who work in hospitals are paid higher wages, but other healthcare facilities pay competitively. Some of these employers include physicians' offices, outpatient care centers, nursing homes, home healthcare organizations, and schools (including colleges and universities). In addition to the typical direct care roles, some nurses choose to pursue roles in management, education, or public policy, allowing them to earn higher salaries.

In addition to competitive salaries, nursing offers many opportunities to continue education and advance. One can become an LPN, RN, or an advanced practice nurse. One can pursue nursing at all levels of education, earning a nursing diploma, associate's degree, bachelor's degree, master's degree, or doctoral degree. After becoming a nurse, an individual can choose to earn a higher level degree in order to increase the number of advancement opportunities available. Many schools offer programs that allow nurses to build on their current education (i.e. LPN to RN, RN to BSN, and RN to MSN). In addition, there are many non-advanced practice specializations and certifications that registered nurses can pursue, including medical-surgical nursing and emergency or trauma nursing.

Wages vs. the Cost of Education

Another way of looking at the financial rewards of a nursing career is to consider the median salary for nurses in relation to the cost of a nursing education. Due to the high demand for nurses and the contribution they make towards healthcare, nursing students can often secure grants or scholarships to help them pay for their nursing education, lowering the amount they need to borrow. In addition, some students may find nursing jobs that take part in loan forgiveness as an added incentive. This is especially common when students choose to complete their nursing educations through diploma programs offered by hospitals and other healthcare facilities, as these organizations may see this as a way to help recruit graduates of their own nursing programs.

Even without the help of scholarships, grants, and tuition reimbursement or loan forgiveness, it is possible to get a nursing education for less, when compared to careers that pay similar salaries. Becoming an LPN or RN requires as little as one to three years of education in a diploma or associate's degree program. Many schools charge per credit hour, course, or semester, so shorter programs are often less expensive than those that are longer. Due to the length of LPN and RN programs and the lower number of courses that must be completed for graduation when compared to a bachelor's degree or higher, nursing programs tend to cost less.

Benefits

While salary is what most people think of in terms of compensation, employment benefits are also important. It goes without saying that healthcare jobs are likely to offer good healthcare benefits, but nursing jobs are also likely to provide retirement benefits and a vacation package. Many employers are cutting back on benefits, so these factors should not be overlooked as means of compensation.

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