Choosing a career in nursing offers many benefits including job stability, potential for specialization or diversity within the field, and the chance to contribute meaningfully to the lives of others.
Nurses are among one of the career professionals most in demand in the United States today. This is the result of a number of factors, including the aging of the U.S. population, changes in health care practices, and a shortage of qualified PhD-level nursing faculty.
Having a nursing degree can open up a variety of career options. Jobs vary widely and depend on:
- the length and focus of one’s education,
- the type of work experience one has, and
- the license or certification one holds.
Nursing careers are projected to grow more than most other careers through 2018. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the most stable employment for this occupation will be found in home health care services, private physician offices, nursing care facilities and other outpatient service locations. Positions in the typical hospital setting may experience slower growth due to the high cost of inpatient services that has led to earlier discharges. The increase in technological advances has also allowed for long-term care to take place outside of the hospital setting.
Keep in mind that if you are beginning your career, there is currently a shortage of trained and qualified nurses and a shortage of teaching staff. Plenty of jobs will continue to become available as experienced professionals leave or retire from this occupation as well. Look at your career with a futuristic outlook versus just the short term and be sure to design your educational goals accordingly. Also, salaries can range from about $42,000 to $90,000 per year, depending on the type of career path you choose.
What qualifications do I need to become a nurse?
Do you enjoy science? Would you like to have a flexible schedule? Are you nonjudgmental, empathetic and a good listener? There are many different ways to become a part of the nursing profession, and specific jobs can vary widely. Before choosing this career path, you must consider:
- the area or specialty in which you would like to work,
- the level and focus of the education you wish to pursue,
- the type and years of work experience you will need to have,
- the time you want to spend to achieve your goal
- the license or certification you will need, and
- the financial resources available to help fund your education.
Also, state boards of nursing determine which programs are acceptable, or accredited, so it is always wise to check in with your state's board to get a full list of acceptable programs before making a choice.
The following information outlines the types of training or educational requirements needed to be an RN (registered nurse) or LPN (licensed practical nurse) and scholarships that may be available.
Certificate Program: This type of program prepares the student to become a certified nursing assistant (CNA) or nursing aide. This option requires a high school diploma or equivalent. Nursing assistant students are required to complete a 75-hour training course, often taught at a community college, and to pass a competency exam such as the National Nurse Aide Assessment Program (NNAAP). These types of programs are often available at nursing homes, hospitals and long-term care facilities. Make sure the program you enroll in is accredited by the National League for Nursing Accredited Commission (NLNAC). Upon completion of training, nursing assistants are skilled at tasks such as walking, feeding, and bathing patients and generally work under the supervision of a registered nurse. There are very good prospects for those seeking employment since this occupation is expected to grow faster than many other nursing occupations. You might even be able to get scholarships for this type of program - it certainly doesn't hurt to try!
Vocational Training: Taking a vocational training educational path will enable you to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or a licensed vocational nurse (LVN). Training to become an LPN or LVN is often available through vocational schools, hospitals or community colleges. The training can take as little as one year to complete and requires a high school diploma or its equivalent for entry. Professionals at this level typically work under the direction of a registered nurse (RN) or physician. LPNs and LVNs are directly involved in patient care and perform tasks relative to the scope of their training and experience. These tasks may range from simple to complex procedures including administering medications, recording chart information, assisting in surgeries, patient care planning, first aid, and other basic care.
Both the LPN and LVN designation are considered entry-level degrees. Upon completion of training, students are required to pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN). LPNs and LVNs must also be licensed by the state in which they will work.
Once you have this certification, you may wish to consider additional training to become a registered nurse to increase your skills and earn a higher salary.
Colleges or University Diploma: Students who desire to become registered nurses (RNs) should investigate college and university programs. These are more intensive and require a minimum of two to four years to complete. When comparing the associate's degree option to a bachelor's degree RN program, it is important to consider your long-term career aspirations.
Associate's degree nursing programs can be more affordable and are often found at community or junior colleges. These programs offer a two to three year curriculum that prepares nurses to provide direct patient care in a variety of settings. There are also hospital-based programs affiliated with junior colleges that offer a Hospital Diploma. These students earn an associate's degree along with a diploma in nursing.
A bachelor's degree program (BS/BSN) is likely to be found at a college or university. This type of diploma will afford a student a wider range of career options and will prepare you to practice in a wider variety of health care settings. It also provides the greatest opportunity for career advancement and is required if you wish to pursue a master’s degree. A BSN is usually required before you can sit for the RN exam. Many scholarships are available at this level.
The most important role of a registered nurse, directly involved in patient care, is to ensure the safety and well being of patients. RNs work not only as patient advocates, planning and implementing care of the sick, but also work to promote the continued well being of those who are healthy, including activities such as patient education and counseling. RNs perform a wide range of duties and often supervise and oversee the work of nursing assistants, orderlies, and LPNs or LVNs.
Students in this group are required to take and pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX RN). The NCLEX RN test is a comprehensive computer based test designed to measure skills and knowledge in relation to the demands of the job.
Master’s Degree In Nursing (MSN): With a master’s degree you can continue to work toward an Advanced Practice Nursing (APN) degree to become a Nurse Practitioner, Clinical Nurse Specialist, a Nurse-Midwife and more. Those with a bachelor’s degree in nursing or a registered nursing degree may continue their education in order to specialize in a field of interest or be able to provide similar services that physicians do, such as prescribing medications and diagnosing illness. An MSN takes approximately two years to complete and can open up more opportunities, preparing you for a career in advanced clinical practice, research, nursing informatics, and health care business management. There is also the generic master’s degree in nursing that is offered for those who have a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field.
Doctor of Nursing Programs: Those with a master’s degree may pursue advanced training in the form of a doctoral degree. The demand for this type of degree is also expected to be very high in the next 10 years. You have the option to enter a programs for doctor of nursing (ND), doctor of nursing practice (DNP) doctor of nursing science (DNSc) or doctor of nursing philosophy (PhD). Each of these can require an additional three to six years of study and may require a clinical defense or dissertation upon completion. Those who pursue this option may become leaders in the health care industry, do clinical research or become a health care administrator. This educational path requires a significant commitment.
Nursing scholarships are available through a variety of sources. They may be awarded based on financial need, on merit or may come with an obligatory service requirement. Some scholarships come from Universities or private foundations while others come from the U.S. government, military programs or professional associations. Certain scholarships may require you to perform a specific type of service in a certain type of health care environment for a specified amount of time in exchange for monetary assistance. Do your homework. Many scholarships require you to be accepted or enrolled in a specific type of program.
As you can see, there are an enormous amount of opportunities for nurses and several considerations when deciding what type of career you wish to pursue. Your decision will dictate your particular educational needs and requirements.
Once you have determined the type of program that will meet your career objectives you will want to find a school - whether in a traditional facility or an online university - that will meet those needs. This will require some research and careful assessment. Be sure to visit prospective schools and meet with the faculty. Sit in on classes when possible. This will provide you with some excellent firsthand experience as to the fit of a particular school or program. This is also a good time to check into enrollment requirements and visit with a financial aid counselor.
The effort you put forth researching options, such as working as a LPN, RN or as a nursing informatics specialist, and planning a path of study are invaluable steps in reaching your goal. Remember that each state may have different requirements for licensing and testing. Be sure to check with a state licensing board in the state where you want to work. The journey to become a nurse will undoubtedly be one of the most exciting, challenging, and ultimately, rewarding journeys of your life.