Considering a degree in nursing? If so, then you'll need to start with some level of nursing education, certification, or degree. But with so many different types of nursing education options available, it can be difficult to know which option is best for you. By having a better understanding of what the different levels of nursing certification entail and what you can do with different degrees in nursing, you can make an informed decision for your own future.

Your Path to Nursing Education

There are several paths you can take to pursue your nursing education. Many students choose to start with a basic certification before moving on to a degree so they can begin working in the field. However, the path you take is entirely up to you.


Becoming a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) typically requires a high school diploma or equivalent (such as a GED) and completion of a CNA program. Typically, these programs are several weeks long and include a combination of classroom hours and hands-on clinical practice. Before officially earning your certification as a CNA, you'll also need to pass a state-approved exam.


Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) can provide a little more patient care than CNAs and need additional training as a result. While specific requirements for LPNs vary by state, most will complete an LPN program that takes about one year (when enrolled full-time). From there, students will also need to take and pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN).


The next level of nursing education is that of a Registered Nurse. These nurses have a large list of responsibilities, ranging from developing plans of care alongside doctors, administering medication, and even overseeing some CNAs and LPNs.

Becoming an RN requires an Associate Degree in Nursing or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, which can take anywhere from about two to four years (when enrolled full-time). Additionally, RNs must pass the NCLEX-RN exam.

Associate of Science in Nursing

The fastest path to working as an RN is to complete an Associate Degree in Nursing. These programs are available in online, in-person, and hybrid formats to suit your busy schedule and typically take about two years to complete.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing

If you want a little more education and training, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing may be the better option as a means of getting your RN certification. While a BSN will take longer to obtain, those with four-year degrees tend to be more competitive in the job market and have higher earning potential (about $15,000 more per year) than RNs with an associate degree.


Another option to consider is becoming an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN), which involves more leadership responsibilities and directing plans of care for patients. To become an APRN, you typically need to have your RN license already and have worked in the field for at least one year. From there, you must pursue a Master of Science in Nursing and pass an additional certification exam.

Master of Science in Nursing

If you want to broaden your horizons, a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) allows you to become a registered nurse practitioner (NP). From there, you can go on to work as a family nurse practitioner, nurse executive, nurse educator, or any number of other roles.

Most MSN programs will require you to have a BSN degree and at least a year of experience in the field. From there, you'll complete a one- or two-year program—though no additional exams are required.

Doctor of Nursing Practice

Last but not least, you might consider a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). This degree is a great option for those who want to work as nursing educators or take on leadership roles within hospitals and other medical facilities.

Getting accepted into a DNP program means having either a BSN or MSN with at least a year of experience in the field. From there, you'll complete a certain number of credit hours and practicum hours (determined by the school) before attaining your degree.

Where Can Nurses Work? - Traditional

There are so many places you can work with a nursing certification or degree, ranging from more traditional places to some unique locations.


When most people think of nurses, they think of those working in a very traditional hospital setting. These nurses are usually RNs who perform a wide range of tasks that are focused on caring for patients. Nurses working in hospitals tend to have longer shifts (often 12-15 hours) due to the 24-hour nature of hospitals. However, they also get more days off per week as a result of those long shifts.

Correctional Facilities

Correctional facilities also need to hire nurses as a means of providing care to inmates. This can include performing routine drug screenings on inmates, conducting physical examinations, and treating ailments or injuries. Like hospitals, many correctional facilities need nurses available 24 hours per day—so shifts can be long, but the work can be rewarding.


Believe it or not, there are even remote nursing jobs available for those who are self-motivated and like the idea of working from home. Telehealth nurses typically provide consultations remotely via a secure phone call or video call. Many telehealth nurses also supplement their income by writing for medical publications. The flexibility of this type of job is appealing to many.

Physician's Offices

Many nurses also work in physician's offices, where they carry out basic responsibilities that include taking samples, assessing vital signs, and assisting with scheduling. Working in a physician's office can be a great option for nurses who prefer a more predictable and structured workday, as well as more "normal" working hours.

Surgical Clinics

Surgical clinics, including inpatient and outpatient clinics, also need nurses to assist with various important tasks. This can include administering medications to patients who have just received surgery, monitoring vital signs, assessing patients before and after procedures, and providing general patient care.

Home Healthcare

Home healthcare nurses travel from one patient's home to the next to provide on-site care. Patients are often seniors or other patients who have a hard time leaving the house due to their health conditions. Home healthcare nurses must be extremely compassionate and able to transport a variety of medical equipment from place to place. This type of work can be highly gratifying and offers a refreshing change of scenery each day.

Where Can Nurses Work? - Unique

Aside from more traditional workplaces, nurses can find themselves in some less conventional places of employment as well.


Military bases and war zones have an important need for experienced nurses who can provide both routine and emergency care as needed. This can be a great opportunity for nurses who want to branch out a bit and do something different with their nursing education. Keep in mind, however, that working as a military nurse will also mean abiding by the high standards of the military branch for which you work.

Emergency Medical Vehicles

Transport nurses who work on ambulances, providing critical care to patients while they're on their way to a local hospital, urgent care, or other facilities. These patients will have serious or even life-threatening conditions, so this can be a high-stress job that requires nurses to remain calm and think clearly under pressure.


Schools also need nurses to care for students when they are injured or fall ill. Depending on your interests, you may choose to work as a school nurse for a K-12 school or even for a college campus medical clinic. Working with students can be extremely rewarding, and many nurses enjoy the school environment.

Places of Worship

It's not uncommon for religious institutions (including synagogues and churches) to employ nurses as well. These organizations want nurses who will focus on holistic care methods that align with a specific religion or faith. Working as a faith community nurse isn't for everyone, but it is a less conventional option worth considering.

Health Societies

Some nursing societies, such as the American Public Health Association, also employ nurses to provide public health care to specific regions or populations. This role is generally focused on the prevention of certain illnesses or injuries, as well as the promotion of basic healthcare and wellness.

Youth Camps

Many youth camps also hire nurses to provide care to children during their stay at a particular camp. Usually, these are part-time or temporary positions. However, some busier camps that run year-round may have full-time options available. Working as a youth camp nurse typically means providing routine care, as well as administering basic first aid for cuts, scrapes, bug bites, sunburn, and other common ailments. This type of job can be a great fit for those who enjoy spending time outdoors and working with children.

Start Your Journey Today

From CNA and LPN to master’s degrees and doctorates in nursing, there are plenty of different paths you can take with your formal education. With the right degree, you can be eligible for a job just about anywhere you might imagine, from a traditional hospital setting to something a little more unique.

Wherever your nursing career takes you, University of the Cumberlands is here to support your professional journey. Explore our online nursing program options, including our Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN-BSN) and our Master of Science in Nursing (MSN-FNP). For more than 125 years, we've been helping hardworking students like you earn degrees and move on to rewarding careers.