Programs by Type
Becoming a nurse will provide many exciting and challenging opportunities in your upcoming profession. There are several different types of programs that will train you to become a nurse, and nursing schools offer a variety of degrees and educational methods to prepare you to work.
When preparing for nursing school, consider what type of nurse you would like to become and how long you want to study in a program. Some people want to complete school sooner and get into the workforce, while others choose to devote more time to education and possibly an advanced degree. Your personal preference and situation will guide you to what type of nursing program to choose.
The longer the duration of a program, the more advanced your role as a nurse will be. Alternatively, if you choose a shorter program, your scope of practice will be more limited. You can complete a program to become a licensed practical nurse in about one to two years, which will allow you to work with patients, providing bedside care and comfort. You will play a big role in supporting other members of the health care team.
To become a registered nurse, you can choose one of three methods: a diploma-based program, an associate’s degree, or a baccalaureate degree. Diploma programs are often two to three years in length and are typically affiliated with hospitals. They often prepare nurses to work in a hospital setting or that of a doctor’s office or specialty clinic. Associate’s degree programs are also two to three years in length and teach many of the same concepts as diploma-based programs. These nursing schools are usually affiliated with technical or community colleges.
A bachelor’s degree in nursing is a four-year program that teaches the concepts of nursing care as well as other, advanced nursing practices. Students receive a well-rounded education in science, mathematics, and social skills, in addition to nursing studies. All programs—whether a nursing diploma, an associate’s degree, or a bachelor’s degree—will prepare you to become a registered nurse. After graduation, you can take a licensing exam to begin working.
Nurses who choose to continue with school may achieve a master’s degree in nursing, which is often an additional two years beyond a baccalaureate degree. The length of the program, the amount of class work, and the number of clinical rotation hours depends on the area of specialization.
A registered nurse (RN) works to care for patients in a variety of ways; and depending on which job you choose, your scope of practice may allow you to perform many challenging tasks. An RN has trained through a nursing diploma program or an associate’s degree program or has a bachelor’s degree in nursing and has taken an exam for licensure to practice.
Registered nurses are the backbone of health care and can be found in all types of settings. They work in hospitals, mental health centers, home health, schools, doctor’s offices, prisons, and community centers, among many other locations. Registered nurses provide direct care to patients to help with activities of daily living; they also administer medications, perform procedures, and assist physicians with medical practices. They must learn how to follow the orders of physicians for patient care, yet understand what measures they can take on their own to provide comfort and assistance for each patient.
In some situations, RNs have a wide scope of practice that extends beyond bedside care. An RN who works in a critical care unit may have the authority to perform lifesaving measures for a patient if a physician is unavailable, depending on the institution’s policies. Some RNs transport patients, deliver babies, or assist with surgery—all within their scope of practice.
In other situations, RNs supervise other health care workers to manage daily activities in the work environment. They may arrange schedules, do research, or provide education to members of the community. A registered nurse is often connected with others in similar professions to collaborate together to arrange for patient care. She may need to consult physicians, counselors, social workers, insurance companies, law enforcement, or emergency services to provide patient assistance.
Nursing schools that train students to become registered nurses teach about the importance of nursing standards and the effects of illnesses and injuries on the human body. By becoming an RN, you will learn many important aspects of the nursing profession while in nursing school. You will also learn many other concepts and practices while working, as each job as an RN is different. Becoming an RN will open doors to various possibilities for work, depending on your area of interest, and you will find challenging opportunities to use your knowledge and your skills.
Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
A licensed practical nurse (LPN) has training to work with patients and to support other members of the health care team. LPNs have gone to nursing school to study the basic concepts of nursing and to practice using their skills before entering the workforce.
Nursing schools that train LPNs often require one to two years of work before graduation. Before training to become an LPN, you must have a background of classes in science and social issues to prepare you for nursing work. LPN students learn about how to care for patients in activities such as bathing, dressing, and grooming. They also study pharmacology and learn how to administer oral medications and injections. They are educated about various types of diseases, chronic illnesses, and injuries in order to better understand how to care for these types of patients in a work setting.
Many LPNs work in hospitals, medical clinics, and nursing homes. Because they provide a considerable amount of patient care, LPNs are also trained to understand what patient conditions are normal and what requires intervention. They must know how to take care of patients during illness, but if a patient condition changes, they also understand when to notify a registered nurse or physician for more help. LPNs are often supervised by registered nurses, who may work in more of an administrative role. Because of this, it is imperative that the LPN communicate with the registered nurse to keep her informed about changes in patient condition.
Many LPNs choose to return to school to become registered nurses, while others sincerely enjoy their role at the bedside. Becoming an LPN requires an understanding of people and an ability to put aside personal feelings for those who have different educational, financial, or social backgrounds. If you desire to work with people and find fulfillment in helping others, becoming an LPN will provide opportunities for serving in that capacity.
Associate, Bachelors and Masters Degrees in Nursing
Associate Degree in Nursing
An associate’s degree in nursing, also known as an associate of science in nursing (ASN), is a technical degree that many students pursue to become registered nurses. If you want to finish school and begin to work as a nurse at a faster rate, you can achieve an ASN within two to three years.
An ASN degree is offered by many nursing schools that are part of community colleges or vocational schools. These programs are designed to train students to become nurses in order to move into the field to begin working. Nursing students often must have previous class work in areas such as science, social studies, and math before starting a program, but in some situations, these courses are part of the overall curriculum.
Nursing students who study for an ASN will learn nursing concepts in the classroom, such as human anatomy and physiology, nursing care standards, nursing diagnoses, and medication administration. They also study specific patient populations, such as geriatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, and adult medical or surgical care. Part of the ASN program involves working as a student during clinical practice, and the school will make arrangements for students to work shifts in designated areas. Students may either practice working as nurses, doing all care tasks for patients under the supervision of instructors, or they may shadow registered nurses while they perform most of the work. The goal of clinical work is to give students opportunities to practice the skills they are learning in the classroom and to prepare them for the work of a nurse after graduation.
If you attend nursing school to achieve your ASN, you can take the NCLEX-RN licensing exam to work as a registered nurse. For many students, obtaining an ASN degree is a valuable option because the program is shorter than that for a baccalaureate degree, and they can begin working as nurses sooner. An ASN degree is worthwhile to learn the basic aspects of nursing so you can begin to put them into practice and start working in your professional career.
Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing (BSN)
When you decide to become a nurse, you will need to choose what type of program you want to attend. Available nursing schools for you to choose for training may provide education that results in different degrees but will still prepare you to work as a nurse.
A bachelor’s degree in nursing, often called a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN), is an undergraduate degree that you can acquire from a four-year university or college. Depending on the area in which you wish to work after graduation, you may be required to have a BSN. This type of degree teaches basic nursing concepts but also offers more advanced training in some areas, which can lead to further opportunities within your nursing career.
Nursing schools that offer a BSN degree require that nursing students obtain a background in sciences, math, English, and other electives as part of beginning a degree. A basic understanding of science, such as human anatomy and physiology, is critical for later learning the concepts of nursing practice and medical procedures. Students then learn about how to care for patients, take courses in pharmacology, and study the effects of illness and injury. They also perform clinical practice by working as student nurses for a designated number of hours, shadowing registered nurses, or working to provide patient care in supervised settings.
In addition to basic nursing concepts, a BSN program will also teach some other advanced nursing concepts. Students may learn about nursing research and theories, mental health and critical care nursing, community health nursing, and nursing administration. They may have clinical practice time working in mental health institutions, following a registered nurse in the emergency department or intensive care unit, working with a public health nurse, or helping in school. These classes prepare students for the possibility to work in additional roles within nursing after graduation.
If you are considering an advanced practice role as a nurse someday, a BSN degree will also provide a foundation for further studies. Many nurses who choose to pursue additional certification or education within nursing often obtain a BSN as a starting point because this type of program provides a well-rounded experience that serves as a solid preparation for future work.
Master’s Degree in Nursing
Becoming a nurse opens the doors for many opportunities for employment in various industries. Going further to complete a master’s degree in nursing will provide you with new prospects for areas of specialization. Not only will a master’s degree enhance your education, but also your skill level will increase and you will learn to play a new role within the nursing profession.
A master’s degree in nursing first requires a background in nursing, although you do not necessarily need a bachelor’s degree before starting a program. If you have an associate’s degree or nursing diploma, some nursing schools provide an accelerated track for you to work on, from being an RN to obtaining a master of science in nursing (MSN). These programs are often designed for working nurses and may have flexible schedules compared with traditional programs. If you have a bachelor’s degree in nursing, you can also apply to an MSN program, provided you have graduated from an accredited undergraduate school.
Once you decide to return to school for your MSN, you can choose an area of specialty. Nurses with MSNs work in a variety of different areas, so consider the amount of clinical practice you would like to continue after graduation.
Some nurses with an MSN become nurse practitioners. These advanced practice nurses work alongside medical staff in hospitals, doctor’s offices, and community health centers to perform many similar tasks as physicians. They often work under the direction of a physician, but in some cases, they may work independently. Nurse practitioners often specialize in areas of interest and experience, such as critical care, oncology, family health, pediatrics, and neonatal care. Working as a nurse practitioner requires frequent contact with patients and continued bedside care.
Nurses who enjoy more of an academic role within nursing may consider nursing administration, research, or education as a specialty through their MSN. Nurse administrators work as managers for care units within health care centers and arrange schedules, handle grievances, and supervise the work of other nurses. Research nurses may study nursing science or may work as clinical nurse specialists, teaching other nurses about research outcomes and how to implement them into practice. Nurse educators often work to instruct nursing students and may be employed at nursing schools to teach future nurses.
Regardless of the area that you choose, an MSN is a challenging aspect for advancement in your nursing career.
Last Updated: 08/20/2013