RN Diploma, Certification and Certificate Program Information

There are various options available for training to become a registered nurse (RN) and maintaining a nursing license. Individuals interested in an RN diploma or certificate can enroll in hospital or college programs.

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Essential Information

Individuals wanting to become RNs via a short-term program have the choice to enter a LPN-to-RN certificate program or a 2- to 3-year diploma program. RN diploma and certificate curricula are sometimes entry-level programs, but there are also other programs structured as continuing education or transitional tracks for individuals with a nursing background. Some of these routes may allow for online studies.

Depending on the route you take, some programs will require you to already be a licensed practical nurse (LPN-to-RN); have completed an orientation program (LPN-to-RN); have a nursing license (graduate certificate); be CPR-certified (graduate certificate); have liability insurance (graduate certificate); or even hold a completed bachelor's degree (graduate certificate).

As you earn your diploma or certificate, you may choose from a number of specializations, such as cardiology, pediatrics, obstetrics and psychiatric nursing. Graduates of an RN certificate or diploma program are qualified to take the RN national licensing exam.

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) to Registered Nurse (RN) Certificate Program

RNs are responsible for evaluating and caring for the ill and documenting patient symptoms, medications and reactions. They often supervise LPNs or Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) and communicate with treating physicians. An LPN-to-RN certificate program generally requires 30 credits for completion.

LPN-to-RN students gain practical nursing skills and learn to treat varying conditions in patients of all ages. At the certificate level, RN students take foundational science classes and participate in lab work and a clinical practicum. Topics of study include:

  • Foundations in nursing
  • Trends in nursing
  • Nursing the mentally ill
  • Pediatric patient care
  • Nursing the elderly
  • Surgical nursing

Registered Nurse Diploma Program

RN diploma programs are generally offered through hospitals. RN diploma programs are occasionally offered online, with students completing clinical practices at a local facility. Diploma program students participate in hands-on lab experiences and lectures. Students also take general education classes and specific nursing topics in:

  • Nursing principles
  • Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Injection procedures
  • Medical nursing
  • CPR and first aid

Graduate Certificate for Registered Nurses (RN)

The graduate certificate is continuing education training geared toward individuals who may not want to pursue a Master of Science in Nursing degree program but desire advanced RN training. RN graduate certificate programs are research-intensive. Students delve deeper into nursing topics, such as:

  • Patient assessments
  • Critical care nursing trends
  • Health and nutrition
  • Statistics
  • Diseases and the body

Popular Career Options

Individuals who have earned an RN graduate certificate may be eligible for positions with greater responsibility. Specific job titles include:

  • Head nurse
  • Assistant unit supervisor
  • Home health aide nurse trainer
  • Travel nurse
  • RN case manager

Graduates of nursing diploma programs are qualified for RN positions in outpatient and inpatient facilities. Specific job titles include:

  • Home health care nurse
  • Staff nurse
  • Nurse-midwife
  • Pediatric nurse
  • Ambulatory care nurse

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

Employment of RNs was predicted to increase 16% beginning in 2014 and continuing through 2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics ( The BLS also noted that in 2015, RNs median salaries were $67,490 annually.

Continuing Education

All states require that RNs be licensed, which requires that they graduate from accredited RN programs. Further, all states require the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX-RN). Some states have additional requirements. Voluntary specialty-area certifications are available from the American Nursing Credentialing Center.

Graduates of RN diploma programs may decide to continue their education toward a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Graduates of more advanced RN programs may be eligible for management positions.

Whether you're just starting a nursing career or you're an LPN wanting to advance or you're just looking to advance your skills as an RN, there are a number of paths you may follow, including diploma and certificate programs. Students who complete these programs can not only expect a pretty fair salary, but also growth in job opportunities that's much faster than average.

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