Nursing Programs

How to Become a Nurse

There are three paths to becoming a registered nurse (RN). At the end of each path is the same nursing licensure exam.

Passing the licensure exams – regardless of the path – leads to the same initials appearing after your name – RN.

Behind door #1: Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).

This is a four-year program offered by colleges and universities.

Behind door #2: Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN). This is a two-year program, mostly offered by community colleges.

Behind door #3: Hospital Diploma. This is a two- or sometimes three-year program based in a hospital setting. Many diploma schools are affiliated with community colleges where students take their general education requirements. Depending on the structure and the affiliation, sometimes the community college will grant an ADN degree. This is a very big plus because it makes credits more easily transferable.

In addition to the three possibilities mentioned above, recently schools have been adding accelerated track nursing programs for students who already have a bachelor’s degree. This most often leads to a BSN degree. If you have a degree in botany or nuclear physics, a program like this might be a useful one for you. However, since the curriculum is sometimes stuffed into as little as 10 months, the work can be grueling. Many students have said they are not able to maintain any type of outside employment while participating in an accelerated nursing degree program.

There are benefits and drawbacks to each of these routes.

For example, a diploma program is often not as highly regarded as a bachelor’s degree, but diploma schools often offer more clinical time than a bachelor’s degree, which is one very important component of the value of a nursing program. Also, more and more people are looking to get a nursing degree online through one of several accredited programs.

In general, the BSN gives you the most opportunity for advancement. A BSN also allows the most flexibility. A BSN is also required for admission to a master’s degree program in nursing. In this way, it is better to get a BSN immediately if you know you want to be a nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist or nurse midwife. However, not all students have the money or the time to put in four years between them and a nursing paycheck.

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It’s best to weigh the pros and cons of each type of program and then get as much education as you can afford. Even if you don’t get your BSN the first time around, many schools offer an RN to BSN degree, often designed in such a way that you can obtain this degree while maintaining full-time employment. An added benefit is that often your employer will pay for your continuing education in this case.

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