What Is the Career Outlook for Nursing in the United States?

Nurse sitting and filling out paperwork

There are many benefits of choosing a nursing career, such as being able to help other people, having the opportunity to choose from a wide range of specialties and having the ability to work in a wide range of settings. Another perk of choosing a career in nursing is the considerable job growth in this field. The nursing field has long experienced positive growth, and the demand for qualified nurses is likely to continue far into the future.

Plus, a nursing career may very well be recession-resistant. After all, the largest healthcare profession in the U.S. is nursing, and RNs make up the largest portion of the entire U.S. workforce.1 Take a closer look at the career outlook for nursing and the compelling evidence that supports its recession-resistant nature.

What Is the Current Nursing Job Outlook?

As of September 2021, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Occupational Outlook Handbook estimates job growth for registered nurses to increase by about 9% from 2020 to 2030, accounting for an estimated increase of 276,800 jobs in the field.2

Many of those job openings will be created when currently practicing RNs retire or transition to different careers. However, there is expected to be a sharper increase in demand for qualified nurses to care for the aging population and those with chronic health conditions.3

Job growth for nursing careers is expected to be particularly robust at long-term healthcare facilities. There is also expected to be significant job growth at outpatient care centers, residential care facilities and home healthcare agencies.3

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The BLS expects even more robust growth for nurses who choose to pursue the advanced academic qualifications that enable them to become advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). The BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook estimates job growth for nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives and nurse practitioners to increase by about 45% from 2020 to 2030, accounting for an estimated increase of 121,400 jobs in the field.5

Is Nursing a Recession-Proof Field?

Although nursing is a profession that is quite clearly in high demand now and for the foreseeable future, you may be curious to know whether it is a recession-proof field. After all, a major recession has the potential to throw employment projections off track. Fortunately, you’ll likely be pleased to know that past examples indicate that nursing is indeed a recession-resistant career.

As evidence, consider the following statistics on the Great Recession of 2007 to 2010, courtesy of the BLS:6

  • During the Great Recession, all professions collectively lost 7,257,090 jobs (-5.4%).
  • The nation as a whole had a 10% unemployment rate.
  • During the Great Recession, the number of employed registered nurses increased by 186,680 (7.6%).

These statistics clearly demonstrate that nursing is a field that is reliably recession-resistant. Furthermore, qualified nurses can find employment in virtually all areas of the country — from major metropolitan areas to the suburbs and even rural regions.

Is a Nursing Career Right for You?

Even though nursing is a recession-resistant career path, it isn’t necessarily right for everyone. Nursing is an incredibly rewarding and meaningful field, yet it is also a challenging one at times. Many nurses work long hours, often spend much of their shift on their feet, sometimes cope with difficult patient outcomes.

However, nursing is a rewarding career because nursing professionals can make a positive difference in the lives of others. A nursing career might be the right choice for you if the following statements resonate with you:

  • You feel called to choose a career that allows you to serve others.
  • You love the idea of giving back to your community.
  • You enjoy putting a smile on people’s faces.
  • You’re a caring, friendly and personable individual who gets along well with a diverse range of people from all sorts of backgrounds.
  • You’re a good listener and have excellent verbal communication skills.
  • You have a great deal of patience and empathy.
  • You never fail to pay attention to the details.
  • You’re energetic and great at multi-tasking.
  • You’re an advocate.
  • You have academic ability.

Another good character trait for nurses is the ability to remain calm under pressure. This is particularly essential for ER, ICU, NICU, trauma and critical care nurses.

Get Started by Earning Your Degree in Nursing

Another perk of choosing a career in nursing is that there are many career pathways to choose from. If you’re still in high school, you can get started by looking for an accredited university that offers a four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree.

It’s possible to become a registered nurse with just a two-year associate degree. However, you’ll need to earn a BSN if you want to advance in your career, so you may consider pursuing a BSN right from the start.

Your nursing degree will instill foundational competencies in nursing, such as human anatomy and physiology, disease management and professional ethics. In addition to your lecture courses, labs, immersive simulation and you’ll also have clinical. During clinical, you’ll practice real-world nursing skills and improve your healthcare communication skills.

After earning your nursing degree, you’ll need to take the NCLEX-RN exam. This test is required to obtain a nursing license. When you pass it and complete all other state requirements for licensure, you’ll be ready to pursue your first job as a registered nurse.

Of course, there are other paths you could take to become a nurse. If you have already earned an associate degree, passed the NCLEX-RN and obtained a nursing license, you may have realized by this point that you’ll need to improve your qualifications to advance in your career. The good news is that you don’t need to spend four whole years in a bachelor’s degree program.

Instead, you can earn an RN to BSN degree. An RN to BSN degree is intended for licensed, active nursing professionals. It’s an accelerated program that builds on your existing knowledge and skills. 

The third main option toward becoming an RN is for people who earned a bachelor’s degree in another field. You may have started working in an entirely different role, only to discover that you’d like to transition to healthcare. Look for an accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) degree program. 

An ABSN degree program builds on the core classes you already took so that you can graduate with a nursing degree in less time. For some individuals, it’s possible to graduate in as few as 16 months.7

Whether you’re just beginning to explore a nursing career or you’re already a nurse and you are looking for ways to advance your career, you’ll find what you’re looking for at Grand Canyon University. In addition to our pre-licensure, RN to BSN and accelerated pre-licensure nursing degrees, we also offer graduate certificate programs to help you improve your qualifications. Explore our courses today and click on “Request Info” at the top of your screen to begin planning your academic journey at GCU. 


Approved by the Associate Dean of the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions on Dec. 12, 2022

American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Nursing Fact Sheet in August 2022.

COVID-19 has adversely affected the global economy and data from 2020 may be atypical compared to prior years. The pandemic may impact the predicted future workforce outcomes indicated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as well. Accordingly, data shown is based on September 2021, which can be found here: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Registered Nurses

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses Job Growth in December 2022.

4 Cannot be used in conjunction with other GCU scholarships or awards.

COVID-19 has adversely affected the global economy and data from 2020 may be atypical compared to prior years. The pandemic may impact the predicted future workforce outcomes indicated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as well. Accordingly, data shown is based on September 2021, which can be found here: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives and Nurse Practitioners, retrieved on 06/02/2022.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Monthly Labor Review, Nursing and the Great Recession in August 2022.

Secondary Applicants must transfer a minimum of 60 of the required 123 credits or have completed a baccalaureate degree which includes nine prerequisite courses/labs and 10 general education courses prior to starting the core nursing courses, which can be completed in as few as 16 months. Direct Entry Applicants that do not transfer 60 credits but meet the minimum requirements can complete these credits through GCU prior to starting the core nursing courses. Depending on the state where student has enrolled or intends to complete the program, student may require additional courses. This may include, but is not limited to, additional general education courses, courses in the major, clinical courses, or a different course sequence. See University Policy Handbook.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.