How Long Is Nursing School?

Nurses can begin entry-level practice with a yearlong nursing school program, and career advancement comes with completing a 2-year associate's or 4-year bachelor's degree program. Master's degrees or doctoral degrees for advanced practice and research add several more years of education.

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Types of Nursing School Programs and Completion Times

Students can begin practicing as nurses following a 1-year vocational nursing program, while registered nurse licensure generally requires at least two years of nursing school. However, the full educational course leading to a doctorate in nursing can take eight years or more. The most popular nursing school programs are a 2-year associate's degree in nursing and a 4-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

Licensed Practical Nurse Programs

Licensed practical nurses (LPNs), sometimes known as licensed vocational nurses (LVNs), assist registered nurses and provide basic patient care. Nursing school programs for LPNs are typically one year long and involve classroom work as well as supervised clinical experience. LPN program graduates are able to take the NCLEX-PN exam, which grants the graduate the LPN license. Typical training for a licensed practical nursing program includes courses such as basic nursing, first aid, intro to pharmacology, geriatric care and psych care.

LPN training is available through vocational-technical schools and community colleges and allows the graduates to seek entry-level positions. Many graduates choose to take a ladder, or transition, program to become a registered nurse (RN).

Registered Nurse Programs

To become a registered nurse (RN), candidates must complete a diploma, associate's degree or bachelor's degree in nursing, and become licensed. Diploma programs are only offered by certain hospitals and are not as prevalent as degree programs. Earning a diploma qualifies licensed graduates for entry-level RN positions. Nursing diploma programs are typically three years long.

Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)

ADN programs offered through community and 4-year colleges last 2-3 years and qualify graduates for entry-level RN positions. Nursing associate's degree programs at community colleges can be taken either during the day or as a night or weekend schedule. Students study nursing fundamentals including anatomy, physiology, microbiology, pharmacology and nutrition, as well as related topics, such as psychology.

Students are also required to participate in nursing clinicals, which allow the student to practice everything that he or she has learned in a controlled environment. These tasks include making a patient's bed, understanding normal and abnormal heart sounds and breath sounds and monitoring a patient's charts.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

Similar to a diploma or ADN, a bachelor's degree in nursing can lead to a career as a registered nurse, but the BSN also provides the foundation for graduate and advanced study in nursing. Students without nursing experience can take a full 4-year BSN program and licensure exam, while those with an ADN or prior RN licensure can take a 2-year RN-to-BSN program. Prospective nurses with a bachelor's degree in a field other than nursing can enroll in a 2-year accelerated BSN program.

Courses included in a bachelor's degree program include anatomy and physiology, statistics, nutrition and diet, nursing theory and research, as well as common general education requirements such as English, history and social sciences. A BSN also requires that the student participate in advanced clinicals in hospitals, nursing homes or even psych facilities.

Master's Programs

A master's degree in nursing is generally needed for administrative positions as well as highly specialized care or opportunities in teaching and research. Admission to graduate nursing school programs requires a bachelor's degree. Some universities offer online education.

The 2-year Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program involves classroom study, research and clinical experience. Possible courses include evidence-based research, end of life care, pharmacology, ethics and informatics. An MSN student can choose to specialize in a field such as nursing leadership, anesthesia, case management or nurse practitioner.

Doctoral Programs

Doctor of Nursing (DN) programs take 3-5 years, including summers, beyond undergraduate programs. These programs prepare nurses with specialists skills to work in more advanced fields.

Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs take around three years to complete following a bachelor's degree and focus on clinical practice. This degree prepares nurses for leadership positions in which the graduates are expected to keep the balance between the quality of care at the facility and the financial responsibilities.

The Doctor of Nursing Science (DNSc) program allows nursing students to act as scientists as they investigate and research the health care system. The most popular areas of study are health care economics and statistical analysis. To graduate, a student must participate in more clinicals, as well as research and defend a dissertation.

The Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Nursing program prepares students to research and investigate the nursing industry to advance care provided at hospitals and nursing homes.

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