Nursing is the number one healthcare profession in the U.S. and despite more than three million registered nurses in the country, there is a looming shortage. From Licensed Practical Nurses to Nurse Practitioners, demand is high. But you need specific qualifications for each career path. 

Licensed Practical or Vocational Nurse

As a Licensed Practice Nurse (LPN) or a Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN) in the U.S., you handle direct patient care. Responsibilities will vary depending on your healthcare facility. For example, working at a private physicians’ practice will be different than if you work at a nursing home. But your daily tasks may include:

  • Take patient vital signs 
  • Collect samples for lab tests
  • Dress and care for wounds
  • Clean, feed, groom, and bathe patients who require it 
  • Administer medications orally and by IV when allowed
  • Document patient care via electronic medical records
  • Explain doctor instructions and answer questions
  • Serve as a liaison between patient and healthcare staff

Degree & Certification to Become an LPN in the U.S.

Although requirements vary by state, to become an LPN or LVN in the United States, you must complete formal training from an accredited, board-approved nursing program and pass the National Council Licensure Examination—Practical Nurse (NCLEX-PN). Depending on your state and employer, you may also be required to undergo a background check and submit to periodic drug testing. 

LPN Prospects

Employment of LPNs is expected to see average growth through the decade. Wages vary depending on where you work. California pays the highest to LPNs, with an average annual salary of $65,140, whereas a state like West Virginia pays $41,310. But while California is the third most expensive state to live in, West Virginia is among the most affordable places to live.

Registered Nurse

Some of your responsibilities as a registered nurse (RN) will overlap those of an LPN, but you may also oversee LPNs. You have a broader scope of practice and more authority to assess a patient’s condition and set up care plans. You may also administer IV medications, help perform diagnostic tests, operate medical equipment, and collaborate with doctors and other healthcare specialists. You also have a greater role in teaching your patients to follow doctors’ orders and maintain a healthier lifestyle. 

Degree & Certification to Become a Registered Nurse in the U.S.

The training program to become an RN is longer than required for an LPN. Although some states and employers only require an associate degree from their RN staff, there has been a nationwide push to have 80 percent of RNs attain their bachelor’s degree. That means that while you could earn your RN licensure with an associate degree, earning the BSN may be better for your long-term prospects; many employers demand it. Once you receive your training and degree, you must pass the NCLEX-RN exam to be licensed in the state where you will work.

RN Prospects

With Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) retiring and many nurses feeling post-pandemic burnout, the demand for RNs is high. Additionally, some RN specialties are facing critical demand. Salaries also vary depending on your specialty and where you live and work. The median pay for an RN in 2021 was $77,600

RN—Cardiac Nurse

As a cardiac nurse, also called a cardiovascular nurse, you’ll work under cardiologists and help in treatingpatients with both acute and chronic heart conditions. You’ll need a keen knowledge of hemodynamics and cardiac anatomy as well as an eye for condition changes and ECG interpretation. To work as a cardiac nurse, you need your degree and RN license, then you’ll need to gain experience in cardiac nursing through entry-level roles. The average salary for a cardiac nurse in the U.S. is $88,646, but obtaining additional certifications may increase your earning potential. The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) offers a Cardiac Vascular Nursing Certification and the American Association of Heart Failure Nurses (AAHFN) offers a Certification for Heart Failure.

RN—ICU Nurse

As an ICU Nurse, you handle patients with life-threatening conditions who require highly specialized, intensive care and attention. They may be intubated or ventilated and unable to communicate with you. Your daily responsibilities as an ICU Nurse can be as intensive as the name implies. To work in the field, you need your degree and RN license, and many employers require Certification for Adult Critical Care Nurses (CCRN). The median salary for an ICU Nurse in the U.S. is $82,274, but as with all nursing roles in the U.S., where you work will greatly influence your earning potential.


As a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) nurse, you’ll care for preemies and newborns with various medical and surgical conditions and older infants with chronic complications due to premature birth. Daily responsibilities may include providing basic care for infants (feeding, bathing, changing diapers) as well as more high level care, such as providing tube feedings, administering medication, IV fluids, and blood transfusions. To work as a NICU nurse, you’ll need your degree in nursing, your RN license, and a CCRN Neonatal credential is recommended but not mandatory. The average salary of a NICU nurse in the U.S. is $71,060. 

RN—OR Nurse

As an Operating Room Nurse, you care for patients before, during, and after surgical procedures. You assist the physician during the operation but also help with prep and recovery. In addition to patient care, you stock the operating room, assist with surgical equipment and supplies, and update files and medical records. To work in the field, you need your bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) and your RN license, and some employers require Certification as an Operating Room Nurse (CNOR). The median salary for an OR Nurse is $83,650.

RN—Emergency Room

As an emergency room nurse, your primary responsibilities will be performing triage and administering nursing or medical treatments to patients with serious illnesses and injuries when they arrive at the hospital. You’ll also be responsible for monitoring vital signs and responding to changes, documenting treatments and care plans, and communicating with patients and families. To work as an ER nurse, you’ll need your degree (larger hospitals may require a BSN) and your RN license, and to gain experience in the emergency nurse specialty. Obtaining a Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN) certification will increase your earning potential, but it’s recommended that nurses accrue a minimum two years of emergency nursing experience prior to seeking this certification. The average annual salary for an ER nurse in the U.S. is $65,410.

RN—Medical-Surgical Nurse

The largest nursing specialty in the U.S., medical-surgical nursing, is in high demand. As a Med-Surg Nurse, you help patients prepare for and recover from surgery. A day in the life of a Med-Surg Nurse is busy but rewarding. In addition to your education, training, and licensure, you generally need nursing experience to work on a medical-surgical unit. The median salary for a Med-Surg Nurse in the U.S. is $84,812, but in states like Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Delaware, and California, the average salary is more than $100,000.

Nurse Practitioner

As a Nurse Practitioner (NP), you provide many of the medical services that physicians do. Especially in rural areas of the U.S., NPs often serve as primary caregivers for their patients, diagnosing and treating acute and chronic illnesses and diseases across the span of life.

Degree & Certification to Become a Nurse Practitioner in the U.S.

To be an NP, you need an advanced degree and credentials. After attaining your BSN, RN, and nursing license, you will need either an MSN or a Doctor for Nursing Practice degree, depending on your employer. You will also need Adult Nurse Practitioner Certification (ANP-BC). 

Nurse Practitioner Prospects

Nurse Practitioners are in very high demand and are considered the number one healthcare profession in the U.S.  As an NP, you will also be well-compensated. With a median annual salary of more than $120,000, NPs can up their pay by choosing specialties or practicing in high-paying states such as California, Alaska, and Washington.

Nurse Anesthetist

As a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA), you administer anesthesia and monitor patients across specialties, facilities, and locations. While you may work alongside an anesthesiologist, in some states, you can have more autonomy.

Degree & Certification to Become a Nurse Anesthetist in the U.S.

In addition to your undergraduate degree and RN credential, many facilities will require that you have a master’s degree in nursing (MSN). You also need certification through the National Certification Exam (CNE) administered by the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA). Most employers only hire CRNAs with experience.

Nurse Anesthetist Prospects

CRNAs are among the most in-demand nursing professionals in the country. It ranks in the top ten for healthcare professions and is a top-paying career. The median salary for a CRNA in the U.S. is more than $200,000.

Are you looking to practice nursing in the U.S.? The choices are plentiful. But there is a lot to sift through, and you probably have a lot of questions. Let the experts at Global Nurse Partners answer them all! Request a no-obligation consultation now.