To become a nurse in the US, you are required to have completed at least some accredited training to gain licensure. However, with colleges and universities offering such a range of nursing degrees, choosing the right one for you and your career can be a bit confusing. Here are some nursing degree programs that can boost your career wherever you are in your nursing journey.
Certified nursing assistant certificate
A certified nursing assistant (CNA) certificate is a diploma offered at community colleges and vocational schools, with the option of both online and classroom-based learning. Compulsory clinical hours at a healthcare facility offers on-the-job learning. You will learn how to provide essential healthcare services, such as infection control and taking vital signs, and how to help patients with routine tasks. Obtaining a CNA is the fastest way to qualify for an entry-level nursing position, so is perfect if you would like to earn a wage while building up practical experience before progressing to a more advanced nursing degree. A CNA certificate allows you to work in entry-level hospital roles, assisted living facilities for the elderly, and continuing care in retirement communities.
Licensed practical nurse/licensed vocational nurse certificate
A licensed practical nurse (LPN) certificate (or licensed vocational nurse [LVN] certificate, as the role is known in Texas and California) prepares you to work under the supervision of doctors and registered nurses (RN). These are available at hospitals, vocational schools, and community colleges, but make sure that you choose a program that is accredited by the AACN or the NLN—only credits earned through an accredited program can be used for transferring to a higher nursing degree, should you eventually decide to do this. You will learn how to carry out key clinical duties such as changing dressings and inserting catheters, administering medication and injections, and helping to ensure the overall comfort of the patient. You will also learn the basics of medical topics such as anatomy and nutrition. As an LPN/LVN certificate is a non-degree program, it is a good option if you want to join the nursing profession but don’t have the time or money to dedicate to a college degree. With an LPN/LVN certificate, you will be qualified to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN). Passing this exam and fulfilling all other state requirements will enable you to be licensed as an LPN.
Associate’s degree in nursing
Once you have got gained some experience in the field as an LPN/LVN, you might feel that you would like to progress to a position with more responsibility (and a larger pay packet). To become a registered nurse (RN), you will need to obtain an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN). These are available at community colleges and some four-year institutions, and some colleges offer a hybrid online program combining online learning with on-site clinical instruction. An ADN program will teach you how to assist physicians during medical procedures such as operations and examinations, and how to dress wounds and run diagnostic tests. You will also gain management skills such as supervising LPNs/LVNs and CNAs, and how to pass on self-care information to patients. You will also receive extensive on-site clinical training. Gaining an ADN will make you eligible to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN), a nation-wide requirement for all RN licensure. Although many RNs go on to have long and fulfilling careers in hospitals, you can use your RN license to work in environments as diverse as travel nursing organizations, the military, and health insurance companies.
Bachelor of Science in nursing
You can still have a career in nursing if you would prefer to go down a more traditional college degree route. A Bachelor of Science in nursing (BSN) is a four-year degree program that will prepare you for becoming an RN in more of supervisory capacity. With a BSN qualifying you for higher-paying jobs, and an increasing number of hospitals in the US only hiring RNs who have a BSN or higher, this is definitely a route worth considering. The length of time a BSN takes to complete ensures that a lot of ground is covered—you will graduate with a thorough understanding of healthcare, both practical and theory. Modules include scientific topics (such as anatomy, biology, and chemistry), as well as teaching specific nursing duties like patient care and assisting with surgery. However, a BSN is not just for newbies to nursing. LPN-to-BSN degree programs let LPNs/LVNs gain degree credits for a previous accredited LPN/LVN certificate experience in the field. Likewise, an RN-to-BSN degree program allows an RN who has previously gained an ADN to transfer educational credits to meet the BSN program requirements. This means that they will gain their BSN in a shorter amount of time.
Master of Science in nursing
A master of science in nursing (MSN) will help you if you want to practice in a specialized role, qualifying you as an advanced practiced registered nurse (APRN). MSN programs are available to suit a range of medical specializations and flexible part-time and online learning options to suit your life and career. For instance, if you would like to specialize in family nursing but are unable to attend classroom-based lectures, look for online family nurse practitioner programs. You can study an MSN if you are a licensed RN who has already earned a BSN. However, it is possible to study an MSN if you are a licensed RN with an ADN and extensive clinical experience, but no BSN. If this is the case, the MSN program can be tailored to allow you to simultaneously pursue a BSN and MSN. If you are studying an MSN after having previously gained a BSN, you can expect the program to take two years to complete; if you do not have any BSN credentials, and are completing the master’s in tandem with a bachelor’s, it will take roughly three years to complete depending on your pace and commitment.