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What Education Is Needed to Become a Nurse?

Nurses perform numerous tasks, from providing fundamental healthcare to assisting surgeons with advanced and critical procedures. Learn about the education, job duties and licensure requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

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Essential Information

Educational programs in nursing are typically found in both public and private colleges, technical schools and universities. Some hospitals and high schools offer them as well. In addition to liberal arts courses, nursing programs require students to take courses related to the field such as biology, physiology, chemistry and anatomy. All nursing programs contain a supervised clinical component, and graduates of these programs must pass a licensing exam in order to begin work.

Nurse Type Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) Registered Nurses (RNs) Advanced Practice Nurses (APRNs)
Required Education Postsecondary certificate Associate's or bachelor's degree Master's degree
Other Requirements LPN license RN license RN license and APRN certification or licensure
Job Growth (2012-2022)* 25% 19% 31%
Median Salary $42,490 (2014)* $66,640 (2014)* $85,907 (2015)**

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com

Career Options

Graduates of approved nursing programs can pursue several educational options based on their career goals and level of care they hope to provide. Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) provide basic care while supervised by registered nurses and doctors. Registered nurses (RNs) care for patients, provide support to patients' families and assist doctors in medical procedures. Additional education can lead to further specialization as an advanced practice registered nurse.

Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs)

Licensed practical nurses (LPN), also known as licensed vocational nurses (LVNs), are supervised by registered nurses. They measure and monitor patients, assist in patient care and treatments and collect laboratory test samples. Most LPNs work in general healthcare and don't specialize.

For the decade spanning 2012-2022, 25% job growth is expected for licensed practical nurses, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This is faster than the average growth for all occupations. As of 2014, the annual median wage for licensed practical nurses was $42,490.

Registered Nurses (RNs)

Registered nurses (RNs) coordinate the treatment and care of patients. They work with doctors and other health professionals to administer medicine to patients, monitor their progress and educate their families on how to manage the patient's illness. In addition to hospitals, RNs can work at long-term health care facilities, outpatient health care centers and at patients' homes.

According to the BLS, the median annual salary for registered nurses was $66,640 as of 2014. The expected job growth for RNs from 2012 to 2022 is also faster than average. Job opportunities in registered nursing are expected to grow 19% due to the increasing need for health care services.

Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs)

The four types of advanced practice registered nurses are nurse anesthetists, nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and clinical nurse specialists. These individuals require advanced education and experience and must complete a graduate degree in nursing with a specialized program of study such as women's health, critical care or public health. Though they perform the same duties as registered nurses, they work more independently and can be primarily responsible for a patient's care.

The expected job growth for APRNs, according to the BLS, is 31% from 2012 to 2022. Their median salary as of May 2015 is $85,907, according to PayScale.com.

Educational Options

Associate of Science in Nursing

Students pursuing careers as registered nurses can earn an associate degree from a nursing program or complete a 4-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program. Associate degree programs for registered nurses typically take 2-3 years to complete. Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) degree programs are offered by community colleges and nursing schools. These programs, which can be administered in coordination with hospitals, provide training in nursing fundamentals, pharmacology and microbiology. ASN Programs may be a good fit for those who want a hands-on career and are not interested in pursuing administrative, research or teaching positions.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing

Those interested in greater career flexibility and additional clinical experience can pursue a BSN. These 4-year programs prepare prospective RNs for nursing jobs as well as managerial, clinical, research and teaching positions. BSN Programs may include courses in adult health care, health assessment and community health. Most BSN programs require students to acquire experience in clinical settings.

Master of Science in Nursing

Master's degree programs prepare nurses to become nurse administrators, advanced practice registered nurses, nurse educators and family nurse practitioners. Most master's degree programs in nursing emphasize advanced nursing practices, management skills and areas of specialty, such as women's health, critical care or public health.

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Avg. Wages For Related Jobs

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics