Nurses have the flexibility to choose where and when they want to work and what aspect of nursing they want to work in. A nursing career starts with an undergraduate nursing degree and may continue through master's and doctoral programs.
A nursing career offers numerous opportunities. Nurses can earn an undergraduate degree to work as a licensed practical nurse or registered nurse. After becoming licensed, nurses can choose to pursue additional education and training to qualify for advanced practice nursing roles; both master's degree programs and Doctor of Nursing Practice programs are available.
|Required Education||Associate's degree in a nursing program*|
|Other Requirements||NCLEX-PN or NCLEX-RN exam*|
|Additional Education||Bachelor's, master's or doctorate in nursing; board specialty certification*|
|Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)||12% (for registered nurses); 11% (for licensed practical nurses)**|
|Mean Annual Salary (2018)||$75,510 (for registered nurses); $47,050 (for licensed practical nurses)**|
Sources: *Nursing World, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Those who have an interest in working as a nurse should start with a high school diploma. High school courses that may best prepare students for a future nursing career include mathematics, chemistry, biology, physics and English. In order to get a feel for what a nurse does on a daily basis, students might consider volunteering time at a nearby hospital to gain valuable experience. This experience may help a student gain admission to a nursing program offered by an accredited school. College admission tests like the ACT, SAT or National League for Nursing Pre-Admission Exam may be necessary, depending on which school is chosen.
Decide on a Degree Program
Entry-level nursing degree programs, such as licensed practical nurse (LPN) programs (also called licensed vocational nurse (LVN) programs in some states), Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) programs and hospital diploma programs, prepare students to become LPNs or registered nurses (RNs). Coursework in a typical nursing degree program includes study in human anatomy, biology, chemistry, pharmacology, nutrition and hands-on training in nursing care.
The LPN program takes about one year to complete. The ADN is a 2- or 3-year long program at most community colleges. Hospital diploma programs are diminishing, but they can still be found in certain areas. All of these programs allow students to go on to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and beyond. Students who choose to earn the BSN spend four years training to practice in all areas of healthcare.
Those who have a BSN are poised to earn a master's degree and specialize if they so desire. Most students who sit for the RN exam have earned a BSN, an ADN or even a diploma. The BSN is preferred for nurses who work in public health, school nursing and the military.
Accelerated degree programs offer a BSN or master's degree in nursing to those who have previously earned a bachelor's or master's degree in another field of study. Because students already have general education knowledge, these programs are shorter than a typical nursing program. Degree completion programs are also available. These degree programs allow RNs with only an associate's degree or diploma to earn a BSN or master's degree.
Earn a License
Upon graduation from school, nurses must be licensed in order to practice. An examination called the NCLEX-RN or NCLEX-PN must be taken to earn licensure as a registered nurse or licensed practical nurse, respectively.
Consider Additional Education
A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is necessary for work as an advanced practice nurse, in positions such as nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist, nurse midwife or nurse administrator. This degree is also a prerequisite for the doctoral degree in nursing.
Doctoral programs can lead to careers in nursing practice, research or academia. Examples of these degrees include Doctor of Nursing Science, Doctor of Nursing Practice, Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing and Doctor of Education.
Earn Specialty Area Certification
The American Nurse Credentialing Center (ANCC) provides RNs the ability to become board certified in numerous areas of specialty training. Specialty certification is offered to RNs who are licensed and who have a graduate degree in nursing, with proper education including content specific to their field of choice. An examination must be passed before certification is awarded in numerous areas of specialty. These areas include orthopedics, pediatrics, oncology, emergency room, neuroscience, gastroenterology and more.
Nurses with specialty certification must fulfill continuing education by attending conferences, publishing articles in journals or participating in online learning. Recertification is necessary every five years.
Choose a Place to Work
Nurses are employed in many settings. Beyond the expected hospital job, nurses are found working in medical clinics, long-term care centers, surgery centers, nursing schools, insurance offices, research centers, schools, corporate health divisions, military facilities, drug treatment centers and many more facilities.
Nurses start off as licensed practical nurses or registered nurses as they enter the work force. A master's in nursing allows for a career focus within the nursing field, such as becoming a nurse practitioner, nurse administrator or nurse midwife. Doctoral degrees provide further options for nurses to enter into research while certifications offer nurses specialization opportunities, such as pediatrics and emergency room nursing.