May 13, 2011

What Kind of Education do You Need to Become a Nurse?

Ready to work in the nursing field? For someone who hasn’t thoroughly researched the options yet, the nursing education system can be a bit difficult to understand. Let’s take a look at the education you need to become a nurse at several different levels:

Certified Nurse Assistant: To become a CNA, you only need to complete a training program. For this career field, training takes four to six weeks in the classroom and 75 practical hours working with patients, so it is the fastest way to get started working in the nursing field.

Licensed Practical Nurse: Called licensed vocational nurses in some states, licensed practical nurses spend one to two years to school, depending on the program they attend. You’ll be able to do more tasks than a CNA, but on average, LPNs/LVNs don’t make as much money as registered nurses.

Registered Nurse: To become an RN, you have three different choices: First, you can join a hospital-run diploma program. Although these are becoming increasingly rare, it only takes about one year to graduate from this kind of program. A second approach you can consider is get an associate’s degree, which takes about two years to complete. Lastly, you can go for a bachelor’s degree, which is a great option if you want a leadership position or hope to earn a master’s degree eventually.

Advanced Practical Nurse: If you earn at least a master’s degree in nursing, which requires one to two years of work beyond a bachelor’s degree, you can become an advanced practical nurse. There are four main types of APNs:

  • Nurse Practitioner: If you’re interested in working directly with patients, this is the route to take.
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist: In this type of role, you could do practical work, but you’ll also work in teach, management, research, and other nursing fields.
  • Nurse Anesthetist: As the name implies, this type of APN works with general and local anesthesia during medical procedures.
  • Nurse Midwife: APNs who go down the nurse midwife path worth with expecting mothers, new families, and newborns.

In the coming years, APNs in all four categories will need to go beyond master’s degrees and earn a doctorate in the field before being licensed by the state.

Bridge Programs: Many nurses state off in lower-level positions and work in the field before going back to school. Rather than having to repeat your medical education from the beginning, some colleges offer bridge or accelerated programs for nurses. For example, an RN-to-MSN program is great for nurses who don’t yet have a bachelor’s degree, but who want to become an APN. With this type of program, you’ll earn your bachelor’s degree along the way without having to graduate and switch programs. Or, with an LPN-to-BSN program, you’ll earn a bachelor of science in nursing without repeating the basic classes you took during your LPN education. Bridge programs are perfect for working nurses who want to advance in their careers as quickly as possible.

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