Nursing vs. Teaching: Choosing a Career that Makes a Difference

nursing versus teaching

Your son is playing eeny-meeny-miney-mo to decide which cookie he wants at the bakery. As he chooses chocolate chip over peanut butter, you think he’s got the right idea when it comes to decision making. You’re ready for a career that will help people and make a difference, but how can you know which field is right for you?

You’ve narrowed down your options to nursing and teaching. Your experience as a mom has given you a solid foundation in both fields—you can take care of a skinned knee and stay calm under pressure, and you’re a pro at filling ordinary days with educational moments. You’re stuck in the middle when it comes to nursing versus teaching.

Don’t decide your future with a children’s rhyme. Take a look at this breakdown of careers in nursing and early childhood education (ECE) to make an educated decision about which path is the best fit for you. We can’t make your decision for you, but we’ve got all of the information you need to choose between these two rewarding professions.

Nursing vs. teaching: Job duties & work environment

Nurses and teachers both spend their days improving the lives of others, but their typical job duties are worlds apart.

Registered nurses (RNs) work with a team of physicians and other healthcare professionals to provide their patients with the best possible care. It’s their job to keep patients feeling calm and comfortable while they administer medication and other treatments. They need to be able to operate medical equipment, record vital signs and observe and record patient symptoms.

Nurses can work in a variety of settings, from hospitals and clinics to schools or patient homes. These options allow RNs to choose a work environment that complements their skills and interests. Many nursing careers involve long shifts and strange work hours, but the variety in work environments allows most RNs to find a job that fits their schedule.

ECE teachers, on the other hand, work with young children to develop skills and achieve developmental milestones. They organize activities and games to encourage learning, but they also need to be flexible enough to work around interruptions or unexpected events that come up when working with young kids.

Teachers interact with children both one-on-one and in group settings, and they should have the ability to calm children down and keep a rowdy classroom under control. They must carefully observe children and make notes of any developmental progress or concerns that should be shared with parents. Most ECE teachers work in schools or child care centers, and some enjoy extra time off during the summer.

Despite the differences between these careers, nursing and teaching require a lot of the same skillsets. Both careers can be physically demanding, and both require plenty of people skills to keep patients or students happy. At the end of the day, both nurses and teachers know that their talents have been put to good use improving the lives of others.

Nursing vs. teaching: Skills you need to succeed

Though their job duties look different, nurses and teachers employ a lot of the same skills. Both careers rely on soft skills such as patience, communication and problem solving to help make the workday go as smoothly as possible.

You’ll also need industry-specific skills to help you succeed in either nursing or teaching. We used real-time job analysis software to identify the top skills employers are seeking in each of these fields.* Here’s what we found:

In-demand nursing skills:

In-demand ECE skills:

Patient care

Child development

Treatment planning

First aid

Advanced cardiac life support

Lesson planning

Acute care

Training programs

Patient/family education

Mathematics

Nursing vs. teaching: Training & education

Don’t be intimidated by the skills listed above. You’re not expected to have them mastered already – that’s what a formal education is for. A good program will help prepare you for success in either field.

RNs must earn an associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing before entering the field. In addition to a degree, nurses must become licensed by passing the NCLEX-RN exam. RNs may also choose to become certified in an area of specialty, such as pediatrics or cardiac nursing.

Teaching requirements vary by state, but most require preschool teachers to have a Child Development Associate (CDA) certification. Though higher degrees aren’t always required, teachers who have an associate or bachelor’s degree in ECE are usually more marketable to employers.  Some states may also require teachers to become licensed, which involves passing a competency exam.

Nursing vs. teaching: Salary & job outlook

Both nursing and teaching are growing fields. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates nursing jobs will grow by 19 percent through 2022 while ECE jobs will increase by 17 percent.

Nurses can expect a median salary of more than $65,000, according to the BLS.** This number can vary widely, however, depending on the type of care facility in which a nurse works and which degrees or specialties he or she holds. Nurses also have opportunities to advance into management or teaching positions with the proper experience and education.

The median annual wage for ECE teachers was just more than $27,000, as reported by the BLS. With the right training, teachers may be able to transition to positions such as special education teacher or director of a child care center.

The choice is yours

There’s no need to play games with your future. Nursing versus teaching is no longer an impossible choice now that you have all of the information you need to choose the career that’s meant for you.

Whether it’s nursing or teaching that stands out as your future career, you’ll be satisfied knowing that you’re helping others every day in and day out. If you envision yourself as a nurse, see if you can relate to these 7 Signs You’re Ready for a Nursing Career. Leaning more towards an ECE career? Check out these 9 Signs You Should be Teaching Preschool.


*Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 613,339 RN job postings and 42,203 ECE job postings, Nov. 01, 2014 – Oct. 31, 2015)

**Salary data represents national, averaged earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries and employment conditions in your area may vary.

Ashley Brooks

Ashley is a freelance writer for Collegis education who writes student-focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen College. She believes in the power of words and knowledge and enjoys using both to encourage others on their learning journeys

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