How to Become a Nurse: Degrees in Nursing
Nurses are in high demand. A career in nursing offers multiple career paths, flexibility, a good salary, and the opportunity to help others.
What Is Nursing?
Nursing is a profession in the healthcare industry. Nurses often care for ill patients and provide assistance during certain medical procedures. They can also help promote healthy behaviors and offer tips for illness prevention.
In the U.S., nurses must be licensed in the state where they wish to practice. There are different educational and licensing requirements for various types of nursing jobs.
To receive the proper education for a nursing career students can get a bachelor’s or master’s degree in nursing from a traditional university. There are also programs for earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) online.
Different Types of Degrees in Nursing
There are several different types of nursing degrees with unique coursework and exam requirements. Most nursing jobs require a specific type of nursing degree.
Diploma in Practical Nursing (LPN)
This program is attractive to many students who want to start their careers right away. With a diploma in practical nursing, a student can take the exam to become a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN). A Diploma in Practical Nursing is a certificate, not a degree, but it gives students the chance to get their LPN license and start working while they decide if they want to pursue further nursing education.
LPNs care for patients and perform basic tasks such as monitoring vital signs. Some people choose to maintain a career as an LPN while others continue their education by enrolling in an associate, bachelor’s, or master’s degree program.
Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN)
The next step after a diploma is to pursue an associate degree in nursing. Students with this type of degree may take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) to become a Registered Nurse (RN). RNs have more responsibilities than LPNs. They can administer medication, perform certain treatments, and offer educational advice.
Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
While the NCLEX-RN exam is open to graduates with an ASN, some students choose to pursue a bachelor of nursing degree before earning their license. Many hospitals and healthcare organizations prefer to hire RNs who have BSNs instead of just associate degrees.
Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)
Students who want to further their formal education can pursue a masters in nursing. With this advanced degree, a student can complete state licensure requirements to become a Nurse Practitioner (NP).
Nurse Practitioners have more responsibilities and autonomy than RNs. An NP can provide advanced care related to prevention, wellness, and disease management. They can also diagnose and treat certain illnesses, interpret medical tests, and prescribe medication.
Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
This advanced degree is one of the highest degrees that a nurse can obtain. It’s a practical degree, as opposed to a research-focused Ph.D. in Nursing. A DNP indicates the nurse is at the top of their field in terms of education.
A person with a DNP will likely work as an NP, although they may advance to leadership or administrative roles in a healthcare facility. A DNP graduate may also work as a Nurse Anesthetist or a Nurse Midwife (CNM). Another option is to take the certification exam to become an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN). This credential allows a nurse to work directly with patients to evaluate and manage treatment and care.
Nursing Degree Requirements
Each type of nursing degree has different requirements.
- LPN: An LPN is a certificate program, not a degree. Most students earn a Diploma in Practical Nursing, which takes about 12 months, before taking the NCLEX-PN exam to become an LPN.
- ASN: Most ASN programs take two years to complete, although students with an LPN credential may be eligible for accelerated programs at some universities.
- BSN: Generally, it takes three to four years to earn a BSN. Students with an ASN may choose an accelerated program that takes less time — sometimes under a year. Many students choose to get a BSN online instead of enrolling in a traditional on-campus program.
- MSN: This advanced degree usually takes students between two and four years to complete.
- DNP: Full-time students may earn a DNP degree in one to two years. It usually takes three to four years for part-time students.
To succeed in nursing school, students should have good study skills and a strong background in science. There are additional requirements for advanced degrees. For example, a DNP candidate must be a licensed RN with at least one year of experience.
Salary Range for Nursing Degree Graduates
According to 2020 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual pay for different nursing careers varies:
- LPNs: $48,820
- RNs: $75,330
- NPs: $117,670
Can You Get a Nursing Degree Online?
There are many RN-to-BSN degree programs that allow students to get a nursing degree online. Some notable programs are those at the University of Texas-Arlington, Purdue University Global, and Capella University. Many working RNs prefer an online program they can complete without interrupting their career.
What Role Do Nurses Play in Healthcare?
While doctors are the most well-known medical professionals, nurses are the backbone of the healthcare industry.
Nurses provide crucial care to patients and assistance to doctors. They help patients feel comfortable during exams and treatments, and they also provide essential health and wellness information. Nurses often act as advocates, communicating with members of a patient’s healthcare team to improve care.
- There are approximately 4.2 million registered RNs in the U.S., and 90.6 percent are female
- There are around 950,000 registered LPNs in the U.S., and 91.9 percent are female
- There are over 325,000 NPs registered in the U.S.
- The job of NP is ranked #3 on U.S. News & World Report’s 2021 Best Jobs list
- There are over 3 million open nursing jobs in the U.S., and projected growth between 2019 and 2029 is 7%
- A BSN is now required for new hires by 41% of healthcare employers, and strongly preferred by 82% of employers.
- Within 4 to 6 months of completing their programs, 94% of BSN grads have job offers
Help Your Child Begin Their Nursing Career
If your child wants to work in healthcare, nursing is a great choice. Nurses are in high demand, and there are many opportunities with good salaries and benefits. Whether your child wants to start with an associate degree or pursue a DNP, the right education will open doors to myriad healthcare careers.
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