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Nursing in California: Plan Your Career as an RN or LVN

Nurses are, above all, caregivers. People who feel drawn to caring for people, who love helping others and who want to make a difference in the world can choose a career in nursing.

Nurses also should be driven by data, focusing on safety and evidence-based care. Nurses also may travel in their work, so love of new places should be a factor in making this move. You should explore what nurses do and where nurses work.

The general public trusts nurses, too. In a 2019 Gallup poll on honesty and ethical standards, nurses were ranked the most trusted profession [1]. In fact, nurses have topped the list of 22 professions for 18 years.

Find out how to become a nurse and learn about a few different nursing school career paths a student can take. Read on to see the difference between LVN vs. RN vs. BSN, what you should look for in nursing school, and more about how to become qualified for a nursing job in California.

Different Nursing Career Paths

Two of the career directions you can choose when weighing a nursing school in California is Licenced Vocational Nurse and Registered Nurse. You could also choose to transition from an RN to earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree.


Licensed Vocational Nurse, or LVN nurse, is a California-only designation for the career called Licensed Practical Nurse elsewhere. While LVNs care for sick, injured, convalescing or disabled patients like other nurses, they also work under supervision of a doctor, practitioner or an RN [2]. An LVN can start working after a vocational program that can take less than a year, meaning you can get into the working world quickly with this accelerated nursing program. 

Registered Nursing

Registered nurses mostly work independently. They provide critical care to patients in hospitals, clinics, private practices and home health care agencies. A registered nurse can have a variety of educational backgrounds. Some RNs practice with only an associate degree in nursing, while others advance to a full bachelor of nursing (BSN). There are a number of ways how to become an RN fast, including starting working as an RN before going back to pursue a BSN. 


According to the National Institutes of Health, most RNs enter practice with an associate degree in nursing [3]. More are being encouraged, however, to pursue a BSN degree to advance their careers. There are programs designed to advance a nurse’s career by continuing their education. These programs are called RN to BSN bridge programs sometimes, and may help you advance your career. 

Why Become a Nurse

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the outlook for nurses is rosy. In 2018, there were more than 4 million jobs in 5 nursing occupations [4]. This included entry-level positions such as LVN and RN, as well as positions requiring a masters degree, such as nurse anesthetist, nurse midwife, or nurse practitioner. The total number of nursing jobs is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations.

This growth is partially driven by a shortage of nurses. As baby boomers age and their need for care grows, the need for nurses grows too.

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing says there was a 3.7% enrollment increase in entry-level baccalaureate nursing programs in 2018 [5], which doesn’t begin to cover the need. Also, 75,000 qualified applicants were turned away because of a shortage of faculty, clinical preceptors or both [6].

Up to 2028, RNs and LVNs are expected to add almost 450,000 jobs [7]. RN jobs should grow by 12%, and LVN jobs by 11% in the period [8,9]. According to the BLS, these are both projected growths that are much faster than average for all occupations.

Beyond a rosy job outlook, there are many personal reasons to become a nurse. Maybe you are driven to help people. Or perhaps you thrive in fast-paced environments. Nursing is a career that many find fulfilling because it fits their skills and personality. People who thrive in nursing should be:

  • Empathetic, so they can advocate for patient needs
  • Communicative, so they can coordinate care between different health care practitioners
  • A people person, because there is lots of interpersonal relationships in nursing
  • Problem solvers, because medical problems are often complex.

Nurse Salary

The salary outlook for nurses is strong. Registered nurses earn a national average of $73,300 as of May 2019, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics [10]. LVNs and LPNs earn a national average of $47,480 [11].

Nursing Salaries in California

The salaries for nurses in California outpace the national mean. Licensed vocational and practical nurses in California earned $60,240 in May 2019 [12]. For RNs, the mean annual wage is $113,240, according to the BLS [13].

The top-paying metropolitan areas for registered nurses are all in California. They are as follows [13]:

Metropolitan area Employment Employment per thousand jobs Hourly mean wage Annual mean wage
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 16,650 14.60 $67.67 $140,740
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA 38,580 15.60 $66.35 $138,000
Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA 1,410 14.27 $64.42 $134,000
Salinas, CA 2,740 15.00 $64.22 $133,580
Vallejo-Fairfield, CA 3,720 26.21 $63.45 $131,970
Sacramento–Roseville–Arden-Arcade, CA 19,860 19.59 $60.85 $126,560
Yuba City, CA 920 20.43 $57.34 $119,260
Modesto, CA 4,880 26.18 $54.22 $112,790
Stockton-Lodi, CA 4,470 17.69 $52.99 $110,220
Santa Maria-Santa Barbara, CA 3,180 16.60 $52.38 $108,940

The top-paying cities for LVNs are also mostly in California, according to the BLS [12]:

Metropolitan area Employment Employment per thousand jobs Hourly mean wage Annual mean wage
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA 6,870 2.78 $33.41 $69,490
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 2,690 2.36 $32.77 $68,160
Vallejo-Fairfield, CA 680 4.78 $32.69 $67,990
Anchorage, AK 220 1.27 $31.45 $65,420
Santa Rosa, CA 680 3.29 $31.38 $65,260
Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA 230 2.32 $30.75 $63,960
Napa, CA 210 2.72 $30.27 $62,960
Boston-Cambridge-Nashua, MA-NH 10,410 3.72 $30.10 $62,620
San Diego-Carlsbad, CA 6,190 4.14 $29.96 $62,310
Reno, NV 420 1.73 $29.59 $61,550

What Does a Nurse Do?

Although all nurses deliver care, each specialty has its own focus.

Duties of LVNs

Licensed vocational nurses, which may be supervised by an RN give patients basic care. They also monitor and record their health. Vocational nurses can also expect to perform the following duties, among others:

  • Administer medications and intravenous fluids
  • Assemble and use medical equipment
  • Collect samples from patients
  • Evaluate nursing intervention outcomes
  • Inventory and requisition instruments and supplies
  • Prepare patients for examinations, tests and treatments
  • Set up equipment and prepare treatment rooms [14]

Duties of RNs

Registered nurses work mostly independently of doctor oversight, in hospitals, private practices, clinics and home care agencies. Job duties may include:

  • Directing and supervising care delivered by other healthcare personnel
  • Performing physical exams and health histories
  • Providing and coordinating patient care
  • Providing health promotion, counseling and education [15

Duties of BSNs 

With a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree, you may grow your opportunities in the field. BSN degrees offer opportunities for professional growth and development with education in education, leadership and research.

Nurses holding a BSN often are first in line to become charge nurses, managers and nurse educators [16].

Major California Health Care Employers

With 1.8 million jobs, health care is a major employer in California [17]. Here are some of the biggest health care companies and employers in California [18]:

  • Accuray
  • Agilent Technologies
  • Alliance HealthCare Services
  • Amgen
  • Amphastar Pharmaceuticals
  • Anthem
  • Avanti Hospitals, LLC
  • Blue Shield of California
  • DaVita
  • Dignity Health
  • Edwards Lifesciences
  • Gilead Sciences
  • Health Net
  • Intuitive Surgical
  • Kaiser Permanente
  • McKesson
  • Molina Healthcare
  • NantHealth
  • Oscar Health
  • Practice Fusion
  • Scripps Health
  • Sharp HealthCare
  • Sutter Health
  • U.S. HealthWorks
  • Western Health Advantage, Inc.

Find Your Path as a Nurse

SJVC is committed to hands-on training in the skills you need as a nurse. Learn more about our program and exciting opportunities.

How to Become a Nurse in California

There are several ways to become a nurse in California. 

Students could pursue an Associate Degree in Nursing or pursue a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing. The level of education will determine your qualification for different nursing positions. Students also may first become a Licenced Vocational Nurse and then pursue an RN license [19]. There are some programs like LVN to RN bridge programs that allow you to transition from one level of nursing to another. This is an option for LVNs who want to become RNs but still want to work as fast as possible. 

Both RNs and LVNs are required by the State of California to complete 30 hours of continuing education every two years [20].

How Long Does it Take to Become a Nurse?

Licensed vocational nurses typically take classes for one year, then begin working under the supervision of an RN. They can complete an Associate Degree in Registered Nursing in two years. They then can apply for an RN license.

RNs can then start college classes to obtain a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing after four years.

Can I Go to Nursing School Online?

It is possible to attend nursing school online. While nursing school often includes labs that may be in-person, you can take much of your coursework through an online nursing program in California. 

What to Look for in a Nursing Program

There are many factors to consider when looking at a nursing program in California, including, of course, a nursing school near you and price. But there are other key things to factor into your decision-making process.

  • Accreditation

Look for certification from such groups as the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN), the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs (COA) and the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC).

  • Career assistance

Nursing schools can help if they have relationships with health care facilities. Check out a program’s placement rate, and find out how long it usually takes their graduates to find a job, and where.. 

  • Highly qualified faculty 

Knowledgeable teachers and instructors are key to your learning. Check the credentials of faculty, including their membership in the National League for Nursing.

  • NCLEX success rate

Check into the NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination) pass rate at the school you are considering. If the program fails to properly prepare students for the exam, that will show in the statistics.

LVN vs RN vs BSN Programs: What’s the Difference?

The differences between LVN, RN and BSN programs in California largely hinges on number of years and experience.

LVNs must complete a program, usually two years, approved by the Bureau of Vocational Nursing and Psychiatric Technicians. They must complete and pass a licensure application, along with completing a background and conviction check [21].

RNs must complete a nursing program, obtaining either an associate degree in nursing in two years or a four-year bachelor of science degree in nursing. At either point, a nursing graduate can apply for an RN license [22].

RNs often upgrade their education and opportunities by pursuing a BSN degree. It can be completed in as little as 12 months [23].  

Kickstart Your Career as a Nurse

Small class sizes, individual attention, and hands-on training in the skills you need. Learn more about how to become a nurse with SJVC.

What Will I Learn in SJVC Nursing Programs?

The types of classes you’ll take at SJVC vary depending on the program you pursue. Here is a sample of the types of classes you’ll take.

Registered Nursing

Courses available for the RN degree include:

  • Fundamentals of Nursing Theory – An introduction to nursing and roles of the nurse as well as profession related and patient care concepts. 
  • Health Assessment – Preparation for students to perform comprehensive health assessments on patients across the lifespan. 
  • Pediatrics Theory – An integrative, family-centered approach to the care of children, and adolescents [24]. 


This program provides students the nursing knowledge to care for patients across the lifespan in diverse practice settings while providing a safe environment for the patient and themselves. This program includes a clinical rotation that provides students with a real-world medical environment to further their studies [25].

Online BSN

As an online nursing program, BSN students will be taught to interpret and apply data-driven techniques to patient care. They will also be taught to demonstrate effective leadership, communication, presentation skills and more to advance high quality, safe, professional nursing practice. [26] This level  of nursing takes your education up one notch so you may be able to pursue more advanced jobs in leadership. 

Learn More About Nursing at SJVC

SJVC has options for you if you’re considering pursuing or broadening your nursing education. 

Our Registered Nursing program is available at our campuses in Ontario and Visalia. Find out more about becoming an RN.

Our Vocational Nursing program is available at Bakersfield, Rancho Mirage, Santa Maria and Visalia. Find out more about becoming an LVN.

Our RN to BSN program is available online and may be completed in 50 weeks [27].

Find out more about how SJVC can help your career.

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