What to Know About Earning Your Nursing Degree

by Nancy

In terms of job security, it is hard to find a better career field than healthcare. No matter how much the industry advances, people always get sick and require healthcare workers. Heading into the new year, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing predicts a shortage of registered nurses. While the Association was correct, their initial prediction did not take into account the current coronavirus pandemic. The widespread nature of Covid-19 places an even greater emphasis on the need for healthcare workers.

For many students, becoming a nurse is much more feasible than becoming a doctor. Medical school is lengthy and expensive, with many students deep in debt before graduation. Nursing requires schooling, but it is not as demanding as becoming a doctor. Nurses play an important role in the healthcare industries, with nurses typically handling day-to-day patient care. There are many jobs available to nurses, some of which require different degrees. Find out more about the different categories of nursing, below.

Nursing School

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

Certified nursing assistants (CNA) work directly with patients to address their general needs while they are being treated. This includes helping them eat, get dressed, as well as monitoring vital signs while receiving care. Despite the name, CNAs are not technically considered nurses, and must work under a licensed nurse. In order to become a CNA, you must complete a state approved training program. Depending on where you live, this may take anywhere between three and eight weeks to finish.

CNAs often work in hospital settings, but jobs in nursing homes or residential care facilities are also available. These jobs are recommended if you prefer working with the same patients each time. If you are interested in a healthcare job, but do not want to commit to a longer program, getting your CNA is a good way to learn many of the necessary nursing skills while getting a feel for the job. Since you are working with higher ranked nurses, you are able to see firsthand what additional responsibilities come with other nursing professions.

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

Licensed practical nurses (LPN) are sometimes referred to as licensed vocational nurses (LVN) instead. Whatever the title, LPNs are responsible for providing basic patient care. Some common tasks for an LPN include taking blood pressure, inserting an IV and changing bandages. LPNs also act as an intermediary between doctors and patients, sharing information between both groups. LPNs are commonly called on to speak with family members as well to explain care plans for patients who need additional assistance after being discharged.

Unlike a CNA, you must get a degree to become an LPN. The basic certification requirement is completing a practical nursing diploma program. The length of these programs vary depending on the state, but it is commonly completed over a year. Enroll in a practical nursing program at technical schools, community and career colleges. Once you earn your degree, you must pass a National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN). After completing your examination, you receive your state license, which allows you to work in your state.

Many LPNs receive additional specialty training. This largely depends on what career you are interested in. For example, you can become specialized in fields like developmental disabilities, childbirth or IV therapy. How long it takes to complete these additional certifications depends on the program, but it commonly takes several months. Some expedited programs are completed within four to six weeks.

Registered Nurse (RN)

Registered nurses (RN) are sometimes referred to as standard nurses, since they have the responsibilities most commonly associated with the nursing profession. RNs have many roles, such as taking and updating patient information, monitoring patient health and performing diagnostic tests. RNs also administer some types of medicine and work with doctors to come up with a treatment plan. In some hospitals, RNs also oversee the other healthcare staff.

Because it represents such a broad field, there are many job titles for RNs. A few specialized classifications for RNs include emergency, psychiatric, pediatric and neonatal nursing. Two different degrees are associated with RNs. The first is an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) while the second is a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN).

How long it takes to complete your degree varies based on prior college experience. A BSN takes roughly three years to complete, but with prior medical credits, you can reduce this to as little as 18 months. An ADN program normally takes around 14 to 18 months to complete. Once you have your degree, you must complete the National Council Licensure Examination before you can work.

Which degree you choose depends on where you want to work. Some hospitals only hire nurses with a BSN, or offer a higher starting wage. It is not uncommon for students to get their ADN to start working as soon as possible, then gradually transition into earning their BSN.

Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN)

Advanced practice registered nurses are those who complete a Master of Science in Nursing degree. This is an advanced program, which requires you to have your BSN, though in some cases, you can take the program with only an ADN, if you have enough practical experience. APRNs perform the same tasks as an RN, but are also able to order advanced testing, participate in additional treatment and refer patients to specialists. There are also educational roles available to APRNs who want to work outside of a hospital. Becoming a director of nursing also requires APRN certification.