How Much Nursing School Do You Need to Qualify for Your Dream Career?

women and men nurses standing in a row
Nursing degrees can be as unique as the patients you go on to serve in your health care career. There’s no one-size-fits-all education when it comes to this fascinating and in-demand sector of the medical field. How long it takes you to earn your nursing degree is totally dependent on the career credentials you’re aiming for, the program you select, and your own motivation and timeline.

Let’s examine some of the most popular nursing degrees open to you, the coursework you can expect, and a sampling of the careers, salaries, and job outlooks for each level of nursing.

Practical Nursing Diploma

If the nation’s nursing shortage combined with your passion for comforting people inspires you to get out there and deliver hands-on care ASAP, a Practical Nursing program is ideal. You can earn a diploma in as little as 12 months, and after passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN), you’re qualified to work as a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or licensed vocational nurse (LVN.)

Practical nursing degree programs can be found at community colleges, technical schools, and career colleges. They typically last a year and include theoretical training and supervised clinical practice in patient care. Sample courses include:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Anatomy
  • Psychology
  • Emergency Medical Technology
  • Child Growth and Development
  • Nutrition and Diet Therapy
  • Maternal-Child Nursing
  • Health Care Ethics

What do LPNs and LVNs do?

Under the supervision of physicians and registered nurses (RNs), LPNs and LVNs are responsible for a range of patient care and administrative duties. They spend a large amount of time working one-on-one with patients performing the following tasks:

  • Taking vital signs and blood samples
  • Obtaining patient histories
  • Feeding, bathing, and dressing patients
  • Administering basic care, including changing bandages and inserting catheters
  • Transporting patients

State regulations determine the tasks that LPNs and LVNs may perform, reports the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). “In some states, LPNs with proper training can give medication or start intravenous (IV) drips, but in other states LPNs cannot perform these tasks.

Where are LPNs and LVNs employed?

Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses held about 724,500 jobs in 2016, according to the BLS. Rewarding opportunities are found in a variety of health care and medical settings. The largest employers were:

  • Nursing and residential care facilities: 38 percent
  • Hospitals; state, local, and private: 16 percent
  • Physician offices: 13 percent
  • Home health care services: 12 percent
  • Government: 7 percent

LPNs may enlist in the U.S. military as medics who provide emergency care on and off the battlefield. They also find employment in correctional facilities and rehabilitation centers. LPNs with clinical experience can become traveling nurses, working for short-staffed hospitals across the country for limited periods of time.

What is the job outlook and pay scale for LVNs and LPNs?

The BLS projects a 12 percent growth rate for employment of licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses from 2016 to 2026. This is primarily attributable to the aging baby boomers who will require some type of in-home or in-facility care.

The median annual wage for licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses was $45,030 in May 2017, reports the BLS. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $32,970, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $61,030. The highest-paying median wage was found in government positions: $46,660.

Associate Degree in Nursing

If working as an LPN inspires you to seek additional responsibilities, an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) prepares you for a professional role as an RN. These degree programs typically take two years to complete and provide you with the skills and knowledge you need to pass the NCLEX-RN.

Nurse Journal notes that earning an associate degree in nursing is the most common path to an RN today. One of the biggest advantages “is that it takes just two years of coursework and clinical hours to become a practicing RN. Then, you can start to work as a practicing nurse and gain essential work experience in the field.”

Most ADN (or ASN) programs require you to already have classes in biology, chemistry, anatomy, and physiology to be accepted. Examples of common coursework include:

  • Foundations of Nursing Fundamentals
  • Pharmacology
  • Concepts of Nursing — Health Promotion
  • Concepts of Professionalism, Management, and Leadership
  • Concepts of Nursing in Acute Care
  • Concepts of Nursing in Chronic Illness Care and End of Life
  • Entry into Professional Nursing Practice

Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing

Another path to a career as a registered nurse is through Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) programs. Nursing is an increasingly competitive field; many employers now require candidates to hold a bachelor’s degree. BS-qualified RNs enjoy more job opportunities and career promotions as hospitals, long-term care facilities, rehabilitation facilities, and outpatient clinics prefer to hire nurses with bachelor’s degrees.

Some students enter these BSN programs with a bachelor’s degree in another field. The previous credits can often help them obtain a Bachelor of Science in Nursing in these accelerated, or direct entry, programs in 15-18 months.

Others without a bachelor’s degree can seek out traditional BSN programs. These take about four years to complete since they include all non-nursing prerequisite classes as well as nursing prerequisites and nursing classes. The nursing program itself is about two years and includes clinical hours, explains RegisteredNursing.org.

What do RNs do?

Registered nurses assume a wide variety of roles in patient care. Specific job titles and duties vary depending on the place of employment and the types of patients served. Common areas of accountability for RNs include:

  • Assessing and recording the medical history and symptoms of patients
  • Monitoring medical equipment
  • Performing diagnostic tests
  • Administering medications and treatments
  • Establishing or contributing to a plan of care
  • Educating patients and their families
  • Assisting in rehabilitation and therapeutic care
  • Providing grief counseling for those in a critical care setting
  • Collaborating with doctors and other health care professionals
  • Overseeing LPNs, CNAs, and other health care staff

Many RNs choose to specialize in caring for specific patient populations, such as neonatal nursing, critical or cardiac care nursing, addiction nursing, and geriatric or pediatric nursing.

Not all RNs work in direct patient care. The BLS notes that RNs might also work “as nurse educators, health care consultants, public policy advisors, researchers, hospital administrators, salespeople for pharmaceutical and medical supply companies, or as medical writers and editors.”

Where are RNs employed?

Of the approximately 3 million jobs held by RNs in 2016, hospitals accounted for the largest number, reports the BLS:

  • Hospitals; state, local, and private: 61 percent
  • Ambulatory health care services: 18 percent
  • Nursing and residential care facilities: 7 percent
  • Government: 5 percent
  • Educational services; state, local, and private: 3 percent

RNs are also employed in physicians’ offices, nursing care facilities, home health care service organizations, schools, and the military. Traveling RNs are very much in demand, and Nurse.org notes that there are “more than 400 travel nursing companies nationwide can who match nurses with available positions at hospitals, clinics, and other facilities. Some nurses choose to get their own contracts and work as an independent.” The incentives and benefits for traveling nurses can be very generous, and a typical salary ranges from $65,000-$90,000 a year, depending on the specialty, the location, and the contract. Many positions pay a lot more.

What is the job outlook and pay scale for RNs?

The median annual wage for registered nurses was $70,000 in May 2017, according to the BLS, and employment is projected to grow 15 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. Some of the reasons for this growth in employment include:

  • Demand for health care services from the aging population
  • Need to educate and care for patients with various chronic conditions, such as arthritis, dementia, diabetes, and obesity
  • Increased need for help in facilities that provide long-term rehabilitation for stroke and head injury patients, as well as in memory care facilities for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients
  • More people being admitted to long-term care facilities and outpatient care centers due to financial pressure on hospitals to discharge patients as soon as possible
  • Greater need for in-home health care

RN to BSN programs

Currently working licensed RNs with ADNs who want to advance their career or deepen their education can earn a BSN in as few as 12 months with an RN to BSN bridge program.

Post University’s RN to BSN degree-completion program is designed for associate degree or diploma-holding RNs who want to continue their education, but need flexibility as practicing professionals. Courses are taught in an eight-week, 100 percent online format and center on:

  • Leadership in contemporary patient care
  • Cultural competency
  • End-of-life care
  • Population and community health nursing
  • Clinical reasoning and ethical decision-making
  • Communication, team building and collaborative strategies

Post University’s online RN to BSN curriculum

Unlike other online nursing schools, Post University’s RN to BSN planned practice experiences are immersive. In each course, you make real-life decisions and interact with colleagues and patients in a completely virtual context.

Your General Education requirements include classes in Common Core, Liberal Arts, Math (Statistics), and Science (Microbiology). Major Core classes include:

  • Professional Aspects of Nursing Practice
  • Health Assessment
  • End of Life: Death, Dying, and Bereavement
  • Cultural Influences on Health, Illness, and Health Care
  • Nursing Leadership and Management
  • Population and Community Health Nursing
  • Nursing Capstone

Post University offers 15 open electives and minors in Legal Studies, Emergency Management, Human Services, or Management and Leadership that can improve your skill set and further enhance your career or shift your area of specialty.

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