There’s a high demand for qualified nurses today, and it’s only expected to grow in the coming years. With growing rates of chronic conditions, the push for specialized home care services, and people simply living longer, more and more nursing jobs are becoming available.
There are several steps to starting your career in nursing, and it all begins with an accredited nursing degree. Depending on your timeline and career aspirations, you can pursue an entry-level degree, or continue your education through the Bachelor’s, Master’s or Doctorate level.
If you are interested in entering this rewarding field, here’s an overview of the basic types of nursing degrees so you can choose the one that’s right for you.
Entry-level nursing degrees
An entry-level degree in nursing is a great option for those who want to enter the field without spending the time and money required of a traditional college degree. It can also be a valuable option for prospective nurses preparing for a bachelor program. The three most common options for entry-level nursing degrees are:
1. Diploma in Nursing: A diploma in nursing typically requires one to three years of study. It offers coursework on a variety of nursing issues, though its focus lies in a hospital-based training program.
2. Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN): The ADN, sometimes called the Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN), is offered at community colleges and some four-year institutions. It typically requires 18-24 months of study, including both coursework and a supervised clinical practicum. An associate degree is the minimum educational requirement to become a registered nurse (RN).
3. Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) programs: LPN programs, also known as Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN) programs, offer non-degree diplomas or certifications. LPN certification programs take between 7-24 months to complete and require a combination of practicum hours and nursing coursework. They are offered at hospitals, community colleges, and vocational schools.
Regardless of nursing degree program, all entry-level students must pass the NCLEX exam before they can practice. Entry-level nurses can work in a variety of settings, including nursing and senior care facilities, hospitals, physician’s offices, and home healthcare.
Bachelor’s degrees for nurses
Bachelor’s programs offer more advanced training than entry-level programs, and thus offer greater career and financial opportunity. These nursing degree programs typically require four years of study, though the time may be reduced for those coming in with nursing coursework and experience. Bachelor’s programs require both general education and nursing coursework alongside clinical hours. The options for bachelor’s degrees include:
4. Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN): This pre-licensure degree is designed for those intending to enter the field with a bachelor’s degree. Earning a BSN will qualify a nursing student to sit for the NCLEX exam.
5. LPN to BSN: LPNs can earn their bachelor’s degree in as little as four semesters through an accelerated track.
6. RN to BSN: This post-licensure degree is for ADN and nursing diploma holders who want to obtain their bachelor’s degree in an accelerated program.
Master’s degree in nursing (MSN)
MSN degrees prepare students to practice in a specialized role known as an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). They also prepare graduates to take on other advanced nursing roles in administration, teaching, or research. As a result, MSNs also have access to increased financial and career opportunities.
Graduate programs offer higher-level coursework and training in nursing theory, research methodology and leadership skills. MSN programs are typically offered at the university level, as well as career and vocational schools. They take anywhere between 18 months to three years to complete, depending on previous coursework and experience. There are several nursing degrees available at the master’s level, including:
7. Direct Entry MSN: This nursing degree is designed for non-nurses who have a bachelor’s in another field. With base coursework requirements, this is the longest of the MSN programs.
8. RN to MSN: RNs with an associate degree or diploma can earn their MSN through an accelerated program with no BSN requirements.
9. MSN Nurse Practitioner (NP): This specialization allows nurses to work as nurse practitioners, whose job responsibilities closely resemble those of physicians.
10. MSN Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS): A clinical nurse specialist completes advanced training and education in a specific population, disease, type of patient care, or treatment setting.
11. MSN Clinical Nurse Leader: The clinical nurse leader specialization is a relatively new one. Clinical nurse leaders serve as a resource and work within a multidisciplinary team, and often manage other nursing staff. They tend to have advanced knowledge in general medicine, rather than specialize in a certain group or type of treatment.
12. MSN Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM): CNMs work closely with mothers throughout pregnancy, birth and postpartum. They are considered primary providers in all 50 states.
13. MSN Certified Registered Nurse anesthetists (CRNA): CRNAs work closely with physicians during procedures to safely administer anesthesia, monitor and oversee the surgery and recovery, and develop pain management plans. Some hospitals require CRNAs to have doctoral degrees due to the risk factors associated with anesthesia.
Doctorate degrees in nursing (DNP)
Doctorates are terminal degrees that prepare nurses for the highest-level jobs available. Programs typically take between three to six years to complete, depending on both your intended degree as well as your previous experience and coursework.
Those looking toward leadership positions in the clinical setting may opt to become a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). A DNP is a practice-oriented degree that focuses on advanced theory and leadership, and it can qualify nurses for top healthcare executive jobs. There are two kinds of DNP programs:
14. BSN to DNP: Nurses with a BSN can achieve both their MSN and DNP in one program.
15. MSN to DNP: These nursing degrees are geared toward MSNs seeking more advanced training in a specialty area.
For those interested in the academia or research tracks, there are also Doctor of Nursing Philosophy (PhD) and Doctor of Nursing Science (DNS or DNSc) programs.
Additional nursing education opportunities
In addition to the nursing degrees listed above, you can also pursue various specializations and certifications. Concentration coursework may be included in certain nursing degree specialty tracks, but nurses can also become specialists through board or professional certifications. Adding specializations and certifications to your resume can help you to secure work in the areas that interest you most.
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