What Education Is Needed to Become a Nurse?

Nurses perform numerous tasks, from providing fundamental healthcare to assisting surgeons with advanced and critical procedures. Aspiring nurses can pursue several educational options based on their career goals and level of care they hope to provide. Read on to learn more about education programs to be a nurse.

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Educational Options for Nurses

Registered nurses (RNs) care for patients, provide support to patients' families and assist doctors in medical procedures. Like doctors, RNs typically specialize in areas such as ambulatory care, critical care, hospice or palliative care, pediatrics or surgery. Additional education can lead to further specialization opportunities, as well as management and administration options.

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. A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is also available. Registered nurses may also choose to pursue accelerated RN-to-BSN or RN-to-MSN programs.

Associate of Science in Nursing

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, 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.

Licensing Requirements for Nurses

All registered nurse program graduates take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). Obtaining licensing is required in order to legally be eligible for employment. License renewal requirements vary by state and may include continuing education courses and a background check.

Requirements for Licensed Practical Nurses

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.

LPN training programs allow nurses to begin work after completing one year of study. These programs are available at community colleges and vocational schools. After completing the necessary education, graduates of a licensed practical nurse training program can take the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN). Practicing LPNs can also pursue an LPN-to-RN training program.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Faster than average growth in employment opportunities are anticipated for both areas of nursing. During the decade spanning 2010-2020, 22% job growth was expected for licensed practical nurses, while expansion of 26% was predicted for registered nurses, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2012, the annual median wage for licensed practical nurses was $41,540, and the wage for registered nurses was $65,470, the BLS revealed.

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