Nurses hold an amazing spot in the hearts of Americans and also hold unique jobs that give them great job security and usually good pay and benefits. The reasons for this are simple. Primarily, nurses are so well-loved because they are needed to provide the hands-on care to individuals in nursing homes, hospitals, clinics and other health care facilities. When individuals cannot take care of themselves due to an acute or chronic disease or because of the typical aging process, nurses nearly always assume some level of care. In addition, nurses are among the most trusted professionals, ranking as number one in the 2019 Gallup poll for honesty and ethics.
However, the road to becoming a nurse is not for the faint-hearted. While it does not require the 10-plus years of schooling that physicians must have, nurses must still complete a variety of difficult classes and pass a written nursing licensure examination before they can begin their practice. If you are interested in this growing and rewarding career, learn what degree you will need and what path you should follow to reach your dreams.
What Degree Do You Need to Become a Registered Nurse?
The best and most accepted route these days for individuals wanting to become registered nurses is to obtain a bachelor’s degree in nursing. This may be a bachelor of arts or a bachelor of science degree depending on the type of college or university the individual attends and on his or her chosen education path and minor. Classes are usually heavy in the sciences and include a foundation in the following subjects.
- Anatomy and Physiology
After this foundation is built, nursing students will progress to specific nursing-related courses, including the following:
- Fundamentals of Nursing
- Medical-Surgical Nursing
- Maternity Nursing
- Psychiatric Nursing
- Pediatric Nursing
In addition, they will take a variety of basic classes to round out their professional knowledge, which could include human growth and development, social ethics and interpersonal relationships. These classes will help them interact with their patients, coworkers and supervisors and have the necessary knowledge to assume the care of patients of all ages and in all health conditions.
Of course, this degree also requires plenty of time spent outside the classroom. Plenty of clinical hours are a requirement of any nursing degree, but the number of hours provided will depend on the state and on the college or university.
Another option that used to be more popular but that is rarely used anymore is the associate’s degree in nursing. Today, these two-year degrees are merely used as stepping stones between high school and the bachelor’s degree, which is the degree required to take the NCLEX examination before state licensure.
What about Licensed Practical Nurses?
Of course, registered nurses are not the only types of nurses who provide direct care to patients in a variety of acute and ambulatory settings. Licensed practical nurses work under registered nurses in many hospitals and nursing homes. While they make less money and cannot hold leadership positions, they are still important parts of the health care system.
These LPN programs typically take only one to two years to complete, but graduates do not earn bachelor’s degrees. In addition, some states allow RN students to work as LPNs after two years in an approved college program.
What about Advanced Practice Degrees?
Registered nurses can also opt for advanced degrees if they wish to move along in their careers. A master’s degree may allow them to become nurse managers or nurse educators. They may be able to work in leadership roles or in the business side of nursing. Other nurses use master’s degrees and doctorates to become nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives or nurse practitioners. Here are some of the most common advanced nursing degrees seen today.
Master of Science in Nursing
The MSN degree allows nurses to advance in nurse practitioner roles, which they often use in clinical settings. In addition, certified nurse midwives and certified registered nurse anesthetists will need this degree.
Master’s in Nursing Education
This degree is the right choice for nurses who want to take their knowledge bases into the classroom. These individuals will work in colleges and universities and may provide clinical expertise to students in hospitals. Some also use this degree to become staff educators in health care institutions.
Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing
This PhD lets nurses get involved in the research side of health care.
Doctor of Nursing Practice
This is one of the most advanced nursing degrees designed for nursing experts as well as for those who want to work with health care policy or provide nursing leadership.
Because there are so many types of health care careers today, there are also numerous educational tracks for those wanting to get into nursing. Some choose to go directly from high school to college to earn a BSN and become an RN immediately. Others choose to start as LPNs and work their way up gradually to the level of an RN. Whichever track one chooses, all nurses have awesome job security. Registered nursing jobs are expected to grow by 15 percent across the United States by 2026 with over 400,000 jobs added in that time. The rapidly aging U.S. population, the increase in outpatient procedures and the need for home health care will help direct where nurses work in the coming years.