This nursing guide gives an overview of programs and career paths, from entry-level specialties to those with the annual salary of over $107,000.
Working as a nurse provides a variety of promotion opportunities. In this section, you will find a guide to nursing education and career advancement.
The process of becoming a nurse or getting to a higher level in this field can be divided into three steps.
1. Considering your eligibility and choosing a nursing path
Nursing is one of the areas where a variety of specialties exist, each with unique requirements of its own. So, to find out how to become a nurse, your first need to decide what type of nurse you want to become. Working in geriatrics or critical care, for instance, is utterly different from a career in midwifery or nurse education.
Also, you may be interested in working in a particular type of environment, from a hospital to a doctor’s office. Certified nurse aides often work in nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, adult day care facilities, and hospices.
Formal requirements and prerequisites
Whatever program you want to study in, there is a set of eligibility criteria and prerequisite requirements. They vary slightly by state and school, so it makes sense to investigate the requirements of each of the schools you are considering to make sure you complete them.
Some of the standard prerequisites for RN programs include specific scores on SAT or ACT, a GPA between 2.0 and 3.25, three years of math and science subjects, four years of English, and two years of another foreign language.
Red Cross mentions such training requirements for their CNA programs as TABE or verification of High School diploma or GED, as well as a criminal background check and physical form/TB test.
How much does becoming a nurse cost?
The cost varies depending on the type of program, the school, and residence.
A Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) program is short, in comparison with other levels of nursing, so the tuition is comparatively affordable. For instance, a four-week Red Cross CNA course costs around $1,300. Moreover, the price includes the cost of taking the Assistant Competency Certification Exam.
Of course, Red Cross program isn’t the only choice. To find out what a typical fee is, you multiply the cost per credit hour by the number of credit hours. Most often, in-state CNA students pay around $72 per credit hour, while out-of-state students pay around $270 per credit hour. A typical program includes between 27 and 32 credit hours (17 hours of career-related instruction and 10-15 hours of general education courses).
An ADN program costs around $32,000. Getting a master’s or bachelor’s degree costs much more as it supposes longer programs.
There can also be additional fees, like campus access fee, technology fee, vaccinations, a TB test, a criminal background check, etc.
The good news is that grants and scholarships are available. To qualify for a Red Cross grant, a student should be employed and work only 20 hours or less per week or make $8 or less per hour.
Some of the most known scholarships are offered by ASU (Dushan Komnenich scholarship for PhD Nursing students or Ph.D. Healthcare Innovation students), NBNA, McKnight Doctoral Fellowships, and Frank Lanza Memorial.
Also, you may opt for an associate’s degree program and then go on to earn a higher degree using tuition reimbursement from your employer.
2. Earning a degree
Here are the types of nursing degrees you may consider:
- ADN (associate’s degree) can be earned at community colleges.
Such programs are shorter, yet you may eventually discover that employers typically want to hire nurses with the higher degrees. You may get an Associate’s degree and continue your studies with the help of the financial support from your employer.
- BSN (bachelor’s) can be earned at colleges and university.
In many cases, you can get a bachelor’s or a master’s degree online provided you complete clinical requirements in your local community.
- MSN (master’s) can be earned at colleges and university.
- Doctoral degrees can be earned at colleges and university.
Also, there are several specializations, for instance Adult or Children’s Nursing, Mental Health Care, Nursing with Learning Disabilities, etc.
We can’t but mention special programs for those who already hold a bachelor’s degree in another field but want to change their career. The benefit of accelerated BSNs is that you will not have to take general education courses. An accelerated BSN program, which typically takes about a year and a half, is all about nursing skills.
Things to double check
A program that is nationally recognized gives you several benefits. In addition to being better accepted by employers, accredited programs also offer you a chance to continue education and get to a higher level, as well as a possibility to apply for financial aid.
How do you find out whether a program is accredited? You will receive this information in the nursing guide from your school of choice, but don’t forget to double check it. Moreover, it is considered more beneficial to opt for a college or university that has held its accreditation longer.
One more thing to double check is whether the program prepares the students for the exams required a license (a state competency exam or NCLEX). Many non-accredited schools prepare you for the NCLEX, yet they possess all the drawbacks of not holding an accreditation.
3. Getting licensed
As soon as you complete your program, you are ready to take the NCLEX or another exam of the same type (depending on the field you specialize in and the level of nursing). To take it, you need first to apply to the local nursing board. There is a nursing board in each of the US states. They are responsible for licensing nurses and thus protecting the public from incompetent employees. They function in a variety of ways, but typically their primary purpose is to work out the parameters allowing a student to get and retain a license. Also, they work with complaints concerning licensees.
The most important of the parameters is whether you pass the exam required for your nursing level:
- Certified nursing assistants (CNAs) are required to pass a state competency exam successfully.
- Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) are required to pass the NCLEX-PN successfully.
- Registered nurses (RNs) are required to pass the NCLEX-RN successfully.
- For nurse practitioners, a national certification exam is held.
- Midwives take the exam held by the American Midwifery Certification Board.
As the criteria for eligibility varies from one state to another, it is essential to check out the nursing guide for your state before applying.
What are the postgraduate opportunities?
There is a variety of degrees for postgraduate students. If you want a career switch, you may choose one of the following paths:
- specialize (midwifery, informatics, and addiction nursing are some of the examples)
- teach (the position of a nurse educator is available in many colleges and universities)
- research (if you hold the degree of a Doctor of Nursing Philosophy you can work in medical research).
What level of nursing are you aiming at?
As in many other fields, there are several levels, varying by the range of responsibilities and competence.
- Certified Nursing Assistant
This is the option for those who are ready to join the workforce as soon as possible. Requires a nursing course from four to 12 weeks (post-secondary certificate or diploma).
- Licensed Practical Nurse
LPNs are responsible for providing patients with basic care under the supervision of a registered nurse. Requires a certificate or diploma. The program typically lasts one year.
- Registered Nurse
The range of responsibilities includes administering medication, helping doctors, supervising other nurses (including patient care). Becoming a nurse with this range of responsibilities requires either an Associate’s or bachelor’s degree (two or four years respectively).
If you have already earned a bachelor’s degree, you can opt for continuing your education and gaining a new specialty. This guide to nursing offers the following list of such specialties:
- Nurse Midwife (requires a master’s degree)
- Nurse Practitioner (master’s degree)
- Nurse Leadership (bachelor’s or master’s degree).
- Nursing Informatics (bachelor’s or master’s degree).
While midwives and NPs earn around $107,460 a year, the median annual salary for those working in Nurse Leadership and Informatics is $96,000 and $87,000 respectively. How to become a nurse of a higher level? Typically, the only way is to take additional nursing courses and pass an exam. In return for your effort, you are very likely to get a higher salary.