How Long Does It Take to Complete Nursing School?

How Long Does It Take to Complete Nursing School?

Like many health care careers, the field of nursing requires highly specialized knowledge of patient care techniques as well as critical thinking skills. Unsurprisingly, all aspiring nurses must earn a degree from an accredited nursing program before they can begin working in the field.

Nursing programs and timeframes for completion vary depending on the school, and the route you take. If you’re attending school on a part-time basis you can expect the program to take longer, but that may work better for you if you have other life responsibilities. Full-time programs are generally very demanding between classwork and your clinical placement schedule. Whether you are considering attending nursing school or are seeking a specialty certification to enhance your degree, here are some options to consider, and how much time you can expect to dedicate to each.

Option 1: Associate’s Degree in Nursing

An Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) will allow you to break into the field in the least amount of time – typically two years. An ADN will equip you with the training you need for a specific technical scope of nursing practice.

While you can take the NCLEX exam and become a Registered Nurse (RN) with an ADN, you may wish to consider returning to school to complete a Bachelor’s program. An increasing number of hospitals are requiring nursing candidates to hold a Bachelor’s degree to be considered for employment, and many national nursing organizations have recommended that hospitals have a certain percentage of baccalaureate-prepared RN workforce.

Option 2: Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing

Earning a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing (BS/BSN) involves attending a college or university for a minimum of four years. As part of the  BSN training, you are preparing to work in the nursing field across all healthcare settings.

Courses along this degree path focus on psychology, chemistry, anatomy, physiology, adult acute care, chronic diseases, and pediatrics, along with nursing theory and behavioral sciences, according to the American Nurses Association.

Option 3: Graduate and Doctorate-Level Nursing Degrees

Graduate-level nursing degrees are the highest degrees you can earn in this field of study. Subsequently, they require more training and more time to complete than an Associate’s or Bachelor’s Degree. The most common post-graduate degree programs are:

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

This degree typically takes an additional two years on top of a BSN to complete and prepare aspiring advanced practice nurses, nurse administrators, and nurse educators.

Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN)

Once you have completed an MSN program, you can from there become an advanced practitioner.  These nurses are RN’s who are allowed to function independently under the supervision of a medical doctor to perform more elaborate functions.  They can prescribe medications, order and interpret laboratory values and can provide referrals to other MD specialists.

Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)

This degree typically takes an additional three to four years in addition to your BSN. These programs prioritize clinical experience and prepare you for leadership roles.

Option 4: Accelerated Nursing Programs

Accelerated nursing programs (sometimes called “second-degree nursing programs”) are specifically created for students who already hold a bachelor’s degree in another field, according to Gwynedd Mercy University. These types of programs provide students with the opportunity to take nursing courses over a shorter timeframe than a full, four-year BSN program and can take anywhere from 12 to 18 months to complete.

Additional Certifications

Depending on your career goals, earning additional nursing certifications on top of your degree may be required or desired to advance. Some of these certifications include:

AIDS Certified Registered Nurse (ACRN)

Registered nurses who have at least two years of clinical experience working in HIV or AIDS nursing can apply for an ACRN certification. The time it takes to earn the degree depends on how long it will take you to pass the exam, in addition to the typical timeframe of becoming an RN and earning two years of clinical experience.

Certified Pediatric Nurse (CPN)

The requirements for this certificate include:

  • Associate’s, bachelor’s or master’s degree
  • Completion of 1,800 pediatric clinical hours within the last two years or 3,000 hours of pediatric experience in the past five years (with 1,000 hours within the past two years).
  • An application that has been approved by the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board
  • Completion of the three-hour exam (175 multiple choice questions and customized introductory session)

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) 

This final top specialty certification requires the most training and allows recipients to administer anesthesia to patients for surgeries. Each applicant must have a master’s degree or higher from a nurse anesthesia program accredited by the Council on Accreditation, a valid registered nurse license, and at least one year of experience working in critical care before they can apply. Once they have these credentials, they’ll have to pass the CRNA exam.

Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP-BC)

This is an advanced certification that requires a considerable amount of training. Applicants must have a post-graduate or doctoral degree in nursing from an accredited college and 500 faculty-supervised clinical hours. 

Oncology Certified Nurse (OCN)

To earn this certificate, candidates need 2,000 hours of specialty practice and 10 contact hours of continuing nursing education in oncology. They also must pass the OCM exam and have at least two years of professional work experience in the last four years.

Once you’ve completed your desired level of nursing education, you’re ready to begin looking for work in the field. At Clipboard Health, you can find per-diem shifts at hospitals and healthcare facilities that are looking for CNAs, RNs, and other nursing professionals. Visit our Professionals page to apply and start booking shifts today.


Sources: (not cited)

Justine Nelson

Justine Nelson RN, BSN, has been a registered nurse for over 11 years with experience in home health, community health, school based nursing and healthcare based tech startups. Justine is passionate about developing new and innovative roles for nurses outside of traditional nursing roles. She currently serves as an RN content Specialist for Clipboard Health.

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