Nurse with patient

A Career Change to Nursing

How to Pursue Nursing as a Second Career

Nurse with patient

The past two years of COVID have made many people take a long hard look at their careers, and those careers have come up lacking. The result is what has been deemed The Great Resignation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 47 million Americans voluntarily quit their jobs in 2021, an unprecedented mass exodus.

The extended periods at home during lockdown seem to have given people the time to evaluate their current careers, and many have found those to be emotionally and/or financially unrewarding. Hence the move to the exit doors.

If you’re one of those 47 million people, or if you’re reaching an age milestone in your life and are sick of your career, a move into the nursing profession could be the best thing you ever did.

Florence Nightingale may be the most famous nurse from her work treating British soldiers in the Crimean War in 1851, but nursing has long been considered to be a noble profession anchored in helping people. Beyond the philosophical rewards, nursing is one of the most sought-after positions in the United States, with job growth projected to outpace virtually all other employment in the coming decades. Plus, the pay is great, the work schedules are quite flexible, and you can pick where you want to live.

What’s not to love about a career in nursing? Let’s get into what you’ll need to do to transition.

Why Choose Nursing as a Second Career?

Now’s a Great Time to Enter the Nursing Profession

There has long been a shortage of nurses, and that has not changed. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment of registered nurses to grow 9 percent from through 2030. Various areas of nursing specialization have projected growth of over 40 percent!

The pay is great, as well. According to the BLS, the average annual salary* for registered nurses was about $83,000, with the highest-paid 10 percent of registered nurses earning over $120,000. To put these figures into perspective, the average annual salary* earned by all occupations is about $46,000.

So, nursing jobs will be out there, and they will be well paid. But before you walk in and tell your boss to stuff it, you’ll want to consider what’s involved in being a registered nurse, along with the additional education necessary to make a career change into nursing. Let’s get into that.

What Is a Registered Nurse?

Registered nurses (RN) provide medical treatment to those in need. Registered nurses typically hold an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), or a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). Once a person has completed the requisite education to earn their degree, the final step is to pass the NCLEX-RN exam. The NCLEX-RN exam focuses on four areas that relate to the profession: the nursing process, patient care, communication and documentation, and teaching and learning. Passing this exam allows you to then become a registered nurse.

Registered nurses perform a wide range of duties centered on patient care and treatment. RNs can also focus on a particular area or sub-specialty of nursing care. These areas of care include but are not limited to oncology, pediatrics, mental health, and geriatrics.

Registered Nurse Job Description

What Does a Registered Nurse Do?

Registered nurses play an essential role in the medical team. They assist physicians in providing treatment to patients suffering from various medical conditions. In addition to administering medical care to patients, nurses are tasked with educating patients and their families. They also act as the bridge between the patient and the rest of the medical team.

Registered nurses hold different jobs and responsibilities based on their level of education and certification. For example, nurses with an MSN degree are qualified for executive and professional development positions as well as several different nursing specialties.

Registered Nurse (RN) Job Responsibilities

Some of the day-to-day responsibilities of registered nurses include:

  • Administering direct care to injured, disabled, or ill patients
  • Educating patients about their medical conditions and treatment
  • Monitoring patient health status
  • Administering medications and other treatments
  • Controlling safety and infection
  • Consulting with physicians and supervisors to determine the best treatment plans for their patients
  • Reviewing and maintaining medical records

Registered Nurse (RN) Work Hours

One of the great things about nursing is the flexibility in work schedules. Nurses can choose to work days, afternoons, or evenings. They can opt for different length shifts to free up off time. These are the typical work options:

  • Five days a week, 8 hours per day
  • Four days a week, 10 hours per day
  • Three days a week, 12 hours per day

Where Do Registered Nurses Work?

Registered nurses can work in a variety of healthcare settings. These include:

  • Hospitals
  • Doctor’s offices
  • Nursing homes
  • Schools
  • Prisons
  • Long-term care facilities
  • Homes
  • Other facilities

RN-to-BSN Program Books and Signage

Registered Nurse Schooling and Certification

Registered Nursing Degree

To become a registered nurse, you must typically earn an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, or a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree.

Each educational pathway requires varying levels of time, effort, and financial investment. If you haven’t already earned a bachelor’s degree in another field, an LVN (Licensed Vocational Nurse) or ADN could be a great place to start. But earning a BSN or MSN will likely prove more valuable in the long run. While you can still become an RN with either an LVN or ADN degree, you’ll find that both job outlook and pay are significantly better for RNs who have earned their bachelor’s or master’s degrees.

Registered Nursing Certification

No matter what degree option you earn, to become a registered nurse you must also pass the NCLEX-RN certification exam as your final step before entering the field.

Can I Become a Nurse If I Already Have a Degree?

Nursing as a Second Degree

The BSN is a preferred nursing degree for many healthcare employers. Thanks to the more rigorous education requirements, BSN-trained nurses can meet more complex healthcare demands and carry more responsibilities than ADN or LVN trained nurses. Without any prior college education, BSN programs can take about three to four years to complete. Students enrolled in these programs are fully trained for a variety of skills, including patient care, nursing fundamentals, pharmacology, and more.

What Is a Second-Degree Nursing Program?

If you already have a non-nursing bachelor’s degree, you can enroll in a second-degree nursing program. Also known as accelerated BSN programs, these allow you to earn your degree in three years or less. If your bachelor’s degree is in a science-oriented major, you may be able to complete an accelerated second-degree nursing program in as little as 12 to 18 months.

ADN vs. BSN Salary

Upon earning your BSN degree, you’ll be qualified to take the NCLEX-RN exam and become a BSN-RN. BSN-RN’s have greater job outlook and higher earning potential compared to nurses who don’t have their bachelor’s degree. According to, the average salary* for nurses with an ADN degree is about $73,000, while nurses with a Bachelor of Science degree can earn an average salary* of around $89,000.

Masters Entry Program in Nursing

How to Get a Master’s in Nursing with a Non-Nursing Bachelor’s

Another option for people who have a bachelor’s degree and are looking to switch careers to nursing is a Masters Entry Program in Nursing (MEPN). Through an MEPN program, you can earn your Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree without being a registered nurse. With an MEPN program, you can apply your previous experience and college credits towards earning an MSN.

What Is an MSN Degree?

An MSN or Master of Science in Nursing is an advanced-level postgraduate degree for RNs. The MSN degree can enable you to specialize in an area or to move into hospital administration. By earning your MSN, you can also become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), which would allow you to work as a nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, nurse anesthetist, or nurse-midwife. In fact, there are numerous healthcare areas you can specialize in as an advanced practice registered nurse.

Depending on where you enroll, the admission requirements for an MEPN program may differ between nursing colleges. Some MEPN programs may require special prerequisite courses, while others may require a minimum GPA. You’ll want to do your research when considering your MEPN program options. Especially important is finding an MEPN program that honors your unique credentials and accepts the college credits you’ve already earned.

Aerial view of students at a table

How Long Does It Take to Get Your MSN Degree?

An accelerated MSN program can take about three years to complete, but program length will vary between schools and locations.

By earning your MSN, you’re setting yourself up for a great career in nursing. According to the BLS, the median average salary* for MSN-trained nurses was $123,780, with the highest-paid 10 percent earning over $200,000. The BLS also reports that overall employment of MSN-trained nurses is projected to grow an astounding 45 percent through 2030. To put these figures into perspective, the annual median wage for RNs was $77,600, and the overall employment of RNs is projected to grow 9 percent through 2030.

With an MSN degree, there’ll be plenty of job offers with great pay. While pursuing a BSN may be quicker and less costly, the MEPN opens up greater job opportunities and higher salaries.

Is Nursing a Good Second Career?

We’ve detailed the financial benefits of making the switch to nursing as a new career. Of course, when considering this path, there are a host of other aspects to consider.

Advice for New Nurses

Second-career nurses often struggle with what’s called “new nurse anxiety.” If you’ve been a manager, you won’t start out as one as a new nurse. This can be an adjustment. Nursing is seniority-based, and you’ll have to be comfortable with the idea of giving up control and basically starting at the bottom. However, your supervisors will help you learn and adapt quickly, allowing you to climb the career ladder.

One of the most important concepts taught in nursing school is the “5 C’s” of caring: Commitment, Conscience, Competence, Compassion, and Confidence. Learning and adapting these concepts will allow you to provide better care and will improve the relationships you have with your patients as well as co-workers.

Even the style of work and the length of your days will change in your new career. If you’ve been in a 9-to-5 role, changing to three 12s will take some getting used to. Hospitals are staffed 24/7, and these 12-hour shifts allow patients to be under care by only two different nurses per day. If you’ve been a desk jockey, these long shifts will prove to be physically, emotionally, and mentally demanding. But your body will adapt, and your mind will love the constantly changing environment.

Despite all the challenges you’ll face, making a difference in the lives of your patients is what makes this career so rewarding. The work you’ll do as an RN will benefit the lives of many people and will make the world a healthier and safer place. A career in nursing is a “career in caring.” Can your current job say that?

Click here to learn more about our BSN program, and click here to learn more about our MEPN program.