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15 Great Nursing Careers in Assisted Living Settings

Jody Dugan, RN, BSN
Updated May 11, 2022
    Nurses can pursue many career paths in assisted living facilities. While some positions require additional certifications, others are ideal for RNs, LPNs, or CNAs.
    Credit: Getty Images

    Assisted living facilities are residences for elderly people whose illnesses or disabilities prevent them from living independently. Nurses who work in assisted living settings maximize patients’ health and overall quality of life in a personal, home-like environment.

    There are many advantages to pursuing a nursing position in an assisted living community. Nurses are in high demand, and they can choose from various specialized roles. This type of setting also lets nurses develop a strong bond with patients over an extended period.

    Read on to learn about some assisted living and nursing home careers for nurses from all backgrounds.

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    1. Director of Nursing, Assisted Living

    A director of nursing oversees an assisted living facility’s operations and supervises the healthcare staff.

    Key responsibilities include:

    • Recruiting, hiring, training, and terminating staff
    • Evaluating compliance with policies, procedures, and care plans
    • Conflict resolution
    • Fostering relationships with patients, families, and physicians
    • Developing and managing the facility’s budget and business plan

    How to become: A nursing director in an assisted living facility needs an active registered nurse (RN) license, two years of clinical experience, and an associate degree in nursing (ADN).

    Most employers seek someone with a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN). Candidates with a master of science in nursing (MSN) or a master of business administration with a healthcare or nursing focus are highly desirable.

    Salary expectations: According to January 2022 data from Payscale, the annual base salary for this role can reach up to $87,000, with an average annual salary of $63,730. Compensation may vary according to education, experience, and facility size.

    2. Geriatric Nurse

    A career as a geriatric nurse specializes in elderly patients’ physical, mental, and emotional health. An assisted living facility or nursing home nurse with this specialty fosters independence and healthy habits in a facility.

    How to become: This position requires an active RN license and an ADN. However, individuals with a BSN or master’s degree, and/or a gerontological nursing board certification, may see more job opportunities and higher salaries.

    Salary expectations : In January 2022, the average base salary for an RN with geriatric skills is $69,120 a year, or $30.07 an hour as per Payscale. Depending on experience and education, annual earnings can span $49,000-$92,000.

    3. Long-term Care Nurse

    Long-term care nurses work in assisted living communities and care homes with patients who cannot function independently due to illness or disability. These nursing home nurses and assisted living nurses are trained RNs who often undergo additional training to care for elderly patients or individuals with mental and physical disorders.

    How to become: A long-term care nurse must possess an ADN at minimum and a valid RN license. However, some employers prefer to hire candidates with a BSN or an MSN.

    Salary expectations: An RN with long-term care skills earns an average annual salary of $64,370, or $29.85 an hour, as of January 2022 according to Payscale. Salaries range from $43,000-$89,000 based on experience and education.

    4. Wellness Nurse

    A wellness nurse helps elderly patients live healthier, safer lives by promoting positive habits.

    How to become: Although licensed practical nurses (LPNs) or licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) can become wellness nurses, most employers prefer to hire ADN RNs who have two years of clinical experience with an aging population.

    Salary expectations: On average, a wellness nurse earns $77,770 a year or $37 an hour as of January 2022 as per ZipRecruiter. Salaries range from $28,000-$127,000.

    5. Critical Care Nurse

    Most critical care nurses work in hospital intensive or critical care units. Some find roles at assisted living facilities, where they monitor elderly patients with life-threatening injuries or illnesses.

    How to become: Like many nursing home careers, this position requires an ADN or a BSN and an active RN license. The certified critical care registered nurse credential can lead to more employment opportunities.

    Salary expectations: The average base hourly rate as per Payscale figures for a critical care nurse in January 2022 is $33.11, with an annual salary of $71,330 and yearly earnings from $55,000-$112,000.

    6. Nurse Advocate

    Nurse advocates serve as a link among healthcare professionals, patients, and patients’ families. They help families and patients understand procedures, medical care, and billing. These nurses may also discuss alternative treatments with patients and function as sponsors.

    How to become: A nurse advocate must be a licensed RN with a BSN. Some take classes on financial and social issues in healthcare.

    Salary expectations: Payscale lists the January 2022 average base salary for nurse advocates as $66,800 a year, although annual earnings range from $45,000-$93,000.

    7. Psychiatric or Mental Health Nurse

    A psychiatric nurse helps patients effectively manage mental health issues, therapy appointments, and crisis interventions. In an assisted living setting, they often treat patients struggling with dementia, anxiety, or depression.

    How to become: Psychiatric nurses should hold an ADN or a BSN along with a valid RN license. Some facilities require the psychiatric mental health nurse certification from the American Nurses Credentialing Center.

    Salary expectations: The average base hourly rate for psychiatric nurses in January 2022 was $32.61 an hour, according to Payscale.

    8. Nurse Practitioner

    A nurse practitioner (NP) is an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) who works under the supervision of, or in collaboration with, a physician. NPs provide patient care by diagnosing conditions, scheduling tests, and prescribing medications.

    How to become: Prospective NPs should hold an RN license and an MSN. Some states prefer a doctor of nursing practice. NPs must also earn the certified nurse practitioner credential.

    Salary expectations: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the annual median salary for an NP is $117,670, or $56.67 an hour.

    9. Oncology Nurse

    An oncology nurse boasts distinct clinical skills and offers cancer patients empathy and compassion. Using a multidisciplinary approach, these specialists provide facility residents with the highest level of care.

    How to become: An oncology nurse must hold an ADN or a BSN and an RN license. Some get an oncology certified nurse certification from the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation.

    Salary expectations: As of January 2022, Payscale reports the mean base hourly pay for an oncology nurse as $34.06 an hour or $76,350 a year, with salaries spanning $59,000-$103,000.

    10. Pain Management Nurse

    Pain management nurses who work in assisted living facilities assess patients’ pain levels to develop treatment plans and manage their discomfort. Treatments may consist of medications or nonpharmaceutical therapies to alleviate pain, such as acupuncture, spinal blocks, massage, or relaxation techniques.

    How to become: This role requires an ADN or a BSN with an active RN license. Some choose to earn a pain management nursing certification.

    Salary expectations: According to Indeed, the average base salary for a pain management nurse is $101,790 as of January 2022.

    11. Travel Nurse

    Thanks to the pandemic and a critical international nursing shortage, the demand for travel nurses has skyrocketed. These nurses take on temporary, short-term registered nurse employment opportunities at facilities around the country.

    How to become: Like many assisted living or nursing home careers, these positions require a BSN and RN licensure.

    Salary expectations: Travel nurse salaries vary based on assignment type and length, although Payscale data indicates an average hourly pay of $36.37 an hour or $80,890 a year.

    12. Public Health Nurse

    A public health nurse (PHN) who works in an assisted living setting focuses on the community instead of individual patients. PHNs promote health and prevent disease in a population by assessing and evaluating health trends, educating community members, and developing programs to promote healthy practices.

    How to become: A PHN must hold at least an ADN and an active RN license. Certification from the National Board of Public Health Examiners is recommended.

    Salary expectations: In January 2022, a PHN’s median annual base salary was $61,070, or $29.47 an hour. Spanning $47,000-$92,000, the position’s broad salary range is based on experience, education, and certification.

    13. Certified Nursing Assistant

    Some nursing home careers do not require a BSN. Also known as a nurse’s aide, a certified nursing assistant (CNA) provides patients with basic care under a nurse’s direction. CNAs help patients with daily activities, take vital signs, answer phone calls, and support nurses by performing non-nursing functions.

    How to become: CNAs must earn a high school diploma or GED certificate. Next, they complete a CNA program at an accredited school approved by the state board.

    Salary expectations: The median hourly pay for a CNA is $14.82 an hour or $30,830 annually.

    14. Licensed Practical or Vocational Nurse

    Known as LVNs in CA and TX, licensed practical nurses work under an RN’s direction. Their primary responsibilities include checking vital signs, inserting catheters, changing dressings, collecting specimens, maintaining health records, and discussing care plans with patients.

    How to become: An assisted living or nursing home nurse who works as an LPN must earn a diploma in practical nursing from an approved educational program and pass the National Council Licensing Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN).

    Salary expectations: The median pay for an LPN is $23.47 an hour or $48,820 a year.

    15. Clinical Nurse Specialist

    A clinical nurse specialist (CNS) is an advanced practice nurse who directly manages patient care and works either independently or under a physician’s direction. A CNS prescribes medications, diagnoses conditions, orders tests, and educates patients.

    How to become: A CNS should maintain an active RN license and hold an MSN, although some state boards expect candidates to hold a DNP. A CNS should also have APRN certification.

    Salary expectations:The BLS identifies the median annual salary for similar APRNs like nurse midwives, nurse practitioners, and nurse anesthetists as $117,670.

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