Nursing, as a profession, has transformed in terms of responsibility and empowerment. Although their roles as caregivers remain the same, nurses are now viewed as the primary patient advocate in any given healthcare situation. The field has becoming increasingly specialized, offering numerous paths and opportunities in multiple aspects of healthcare. Nursing also provides a strong career ladder, allowing nurses to take increasingly responsible roles as they progress in their knowledge and experience, including management positions. If you are a compassionate and detail-oriented individual, begin exploring nursing schools to find out how to enter into this growing healthcare field.
Nurturing Your Education: Nursing Degree Options
Undergraduate Degree Levels
Career and community colleges typically offer certificate programs for nurse assistants (sometimes called nurse aids) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) (sometimes called licensed vocational nurses (LVNs)). Nurse assistant programs usually last about ten weeks, while LPN programs can take around three semesters of study. Registered nurse (RN) programs are available as a two-year degree for the associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) and as a four-year degree for the Bachelor of Science in nursing (BSN).
There are also a variety of bridge programs for nurses with prior education, such as the LPN to RN degree for LPNs who would like to become RNs, the RN to BSN degree for RNs who would like to advance academically in order to improve career opportunities, and the BSN to Master of Science in nursing (MSN) degree for students who have already earned a bachelor’s degree in a different discipline but would like to now pursue a nursing career.
Graduate Degree Levels
Additionally, nursing degrees are available at the graduate level in the form of master’s and doctoral programs for nurses who would like to receive specialized education in areas such as nursing education, nursing administration or advanced practice nursing. Depending on the course load, master’s degree generally last two to three years, while doctoral programs can take from three to five years to complete and typically culminate in a research dissertation.
Nursing Program Curriculum
To join an undergraduate nursing program, you will usually need to have completed a high school diploma or GED and submit standardized test scores, such as SAT or ACT. In addition to requiring a bachelor’s degree and nursing license, many graduate level programs in nursing prefer students to have two to five years of experience as an LPN or RN prior to applying.
Although your curriculum will vary by school and degree type, during your nursing education, you might take classes such as:
- Anatomy & physiology
- Finite math
- Healthcare communications
- Health assessment
- Heath & wellness
- Alterations in health
- Clinical nursing
- Nursing management
- Nursing research
- Nursing information systems
Preferred Personality Traits
In conjunction with your courses, there are a number of personality traits that will assist you in your nursing career, such as excellent interpersonal skills for working with patients, as well as other healthcare professionals, strong organizational skills for managing multiple patients simultaneously, and attention to detail and critical thinking skills for assessing a patient’s condition and providing correct treatment.
From the nurse assistant to the advanced practice nurse, becoming a nurse requires the completion of an accredited nursing program and passing of a state licensing exam. However, exact requirements will vary by state. RNs must pass the NCLEX Examinations. More details on licensure can be found through the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.
Nursing Career Opportunities
Professionals in the field of nursing can be found in hospitals, doctor’s offices, clinics, and long-term care facilities. Because patients require care at all hours of the day, nurses may work outside of normal business hours, including nights and holidays. Those who provide in-home health care may travel in a specific geographic area throughout the work day. Nurses who choose an advanced or highly specific area of expertise may travel extensively and spend a week or more away from home.The responsibilities of nurses will vary by level, location, and individual facility.
Nurse Assistant Duties
Nurse assistants typically assist patients with daily living activities. Their responsibilities may include bathing patients, helping patients dress, serving patients meals, measuring vital signs, and transferring patients form their bed to a wheelchair.
LPN and RN Duties
Although RNs will generally have more advanced responsibilities than LPNs, both LPNs and RNs are in charge of providing patient care. Their responsibilities may include recording patient medical histories, giving medications and administering treatments, coordinating with doctors, helping to perform diagnostic tests, and interacting with patients’ families. LPNs often work under the direction of registered nurses, and facilities which employ LPNs may require there to be at least one RN on duty at all times. In some states and facilities, LPNs are not allowed to give intravenous drugs (IV), administer medication or perform new patient intakes and patient discharges.
Most RNs begin as staff nurses in hospitals. With further education and/or experience, they can be promoted to supervisor and administrative positions or they can choose to find work in the business, public health or education side of nursing. Nurses may specialize in areas such as:
- Addictions nursing
- Cardiovascular nursing
- Critical care nursing
- Genetics nursing
- Pediatric nursing
- Neonatology nursing
- Nephroloy nursing
- Rehabilitation nursing
Nurses can also choose to become advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). APRNs work collaboratively with doctors to develop a treatment plan for patients and can prescribe medication in most states. Specialties include:
- Clinical nurse specialists who provide direct patient care in a specialized nursing field.
- Nurse-midwives who provide prenatal and gynecological care.
- Nurse practitioners who blend nursing with primary care services.
- Nurse anesthetists who provide anesthesia during surgical and diagnostic procedures.
Health of the Nursing Job Market
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment growth for nursing positions should be faster than average in the coming decade. From 2010 to 2020, positions for nurses assistants are expected to grow by 20%, those for LPNs should increase by 22%, and RN positions are projected to grow by 26%. The anticipated growth can be attributed to technological advances, an enhanced focus on preventative care, and the aging baby boomer population. As hospital stays become increasingly shorter, more nursing opportunities will be created at doctors’ offices and out-patient care facilities. However, these positions might be competitive due to the normal work hours provided in non-hospital environments.
In 2012, the median annual salaries for nursing positions were as follows:
- Nurse assistant– $24,420
- LPN– $41,540
- RN– $65,950
- Nurse midwife– $89,600
- Nurse practitioner– $89,960
- Nurse anesthetist– $148,160
Joining the Nursing Profession
Employment opportunities will likely be most favorable in areas that are witnessing population growth, especially in the south and west. These are also popular areas for people from other regions to choose for their retirement, further increasing the demand for qualified nurses. Particularly for nurses who are willing to work shifts outside of normal business hours, jobs may offer high signing bonuses. Learn more about this challenging and rewarding healthcare profession by exploring nursing schools today.
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