Weighing the Pros and Cons of Social Work and Nursing Careers: Which is

Weighing the Pros and Cons of Social Work and Nursing Careers: Which is

Social work and nursing careers are both designed for a special type of person. You need to be willing to engage every day with circumstances that would leave an ordinary person feeling devastated. You need to accept the possibility that your best efforts won’t always be enough and that when people on your patient or caseload hurt, you will as well.

If you feel up to dedicating yourself to helping others, both careers will be excellent avenues to consider. But which is right for you?

In this article, we take a look at the pros and cons of both nursing and social work.

Overview of Nursing

It usually takes four years of college to become a nurse. During this time, you will complete all of your usual college prerequisites, while also working on curriculum-specific obligations like clinical rotations and other state and federal nursing registration requirements.

There are accelerated programs that may allow you to complete your educational requirements quicker— these are particularly prominent for people who have already completed college and now wish to change lanes.

Regardless, once you finish school, you will be required to pass the NCLEX— nursing’s big, bad standardized test. While most people pass on their first or second try, it is a big barrier that can take months of preparation.

There are other credentials you can acquire, which include plenty of graduate degrees and additional certifications that widen the scope of your employment potential. However, you can work right away with only an undergraduate degree, and enjoy consistent and fruitful employment for the rest of your career.

Nurses make an average of almost $90,000 though depending on their location and seniority, they can easily make well into the six figures.

Pros of Nursing Careers

Nurses enjoy competitive salaries and purposeful work. They also have a lot more career flexibility than most people first realize. While floor nurses are the first thing that most people imagine, there are also school nurses, health educators, college educators, nurse managers, informatics nurses, and literally DOZENS of other career paths that are worth exploring.

Right now nurses are also experiencing a high level of job security. Because there has been a national shortage that has been developing for decades, today’s nurses have a lot more placement options. Not only is it easier to find work close to home, but they are also being offered more competitive compensation and benefit packages.

Of course, there are reasons behind the nursing shortage. Which leads us to our next point….

Cons of Nursing Careers

Nurses often see life at its hardest. They watch people suffer and die. They are exposed routinely to the inevitabilities of aging and disease. And then, after all that, they are usually left coming home to sit down to dinner with people who simply can’t relate to the hardships of their work.

That’s when they get to eat with their families at all. Hospital nurses work twelve-hour shifts that cover weekends and holidays. Mention that twelve-hour figure to a working nurse, and they’ll laugh humorously because really, there’s only time for work on the days that they are scheduled.

Between getting ready, commuting, and then getting back home, there’s hardly time to eat before they collapse in bed, ready to do it all again the next day. And of course, shifts routinely go over. If there is an emergency, or the floor is short-staffed, you can’t just leave because it is seven.

Roughly half of all new nurses quit within five years of graduation. It’s a startling figure that the healthcare industry has only very recently begun to work on rectifying.

Overview of Social Work

To get a job in social work you will need either a BSW or MSW (bachelor’s or master’s in social work). However, it’s important to understand that BSWs only qualify you for entry-level positions. Clinical social workers and other higher-level professions require a master’s degree.

Like nursing, there are many different career paths you can take with a degree in social work. However, the core responsibilities remain the same. Whether you are working with people with mental illness, addiction, prisoners, or families, your job is to advocate for the people on your caseload and connect them with the resources they need to succeed.

Social workers make around $80,000 a year, though once again, that figure can vary significantly based on the specifics of the position.

Pros of Social Work Careers

Social workers make above the median salary doing work that legitimately makes a difference in the world. They have a wide variety of career options to explore, and potential for advancement. They also may be eligible to receive specialized incentives. For example, some states have student loan forgiveness programs for people who stay in social work positions for the requisite amount of time.

Cons of Being a Social Worker

Social work, like nursing, puts professionals into contact with very difficult situations. As a social worker, you will need to deal with the fact that your choices have very real impacts on people’s future well-being. For many people, that’s a big burden to bear.

Social workers do encounter potential safety concerns as well. People often require the services of a social worker for behavior-related reasons. This means that social workers are sometimes at a heightened risk of experiencing assault or battery.

Finally, the hours may be very irregular. While you will work a “standard,” forty-hour schedule (usually) you will ultimately be responsible for meeting with people on your caseload during times that are most convenient for them. This might mean meeting at odd hours or on weekends as needed.


Don’t let the cons scare you away. Both nursing and social work careers are both highly rewarding and financially lucrative. If you think you may be interested in exploring one of these career paths, find out what educational opportunities are available online or in your community. You may be surprised how much flexibility there is in completing the necessary requirements.

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