Nursing is a popular career path and there are numerous ways to enter into this field. Some individuals choose to go through the entire education process before joining the career field, while others jump quickly into the work force and may work up to higher positions over time. These two paths help explain why there are many different programs to choose from. Once you have decided what your time frame and career goals are, you can start looking for the right nursing program for your success.
LVN or LPN Programs
If you are looking for a quick way to begin working as a nurse, LVN (licensed vocational nurse) or LPN (licensed practical nurse) programs take about a year to complete and will get your foot in the door.
- Career Options: This education path will prepare you for an entry-level nursing job. After the completion of the program, you will need to pass the NCLEX-PN exam before being eligible for a nursing license. Most of the positions available will be supervised by an RN with higher qualifications.
- Education Overview: An LPN or LVN program can take 12 to 18 months to complete, but this could depend on if the student is attending school part or full-time. Most of the courses revolve around basic skills that are necessary for patient care. Classes can be taken at community colleges, vocational schools, and even online. Hands-on training often takes place at a local healthcare facility.
LPN to Associate’s Degree Bridge Program
Once nurses have started working at the entry level, they may choose to continue their education to have access to more positions.
- Career Options: Finishing this program will open more job possibilities than with just an LPN credentials, and associate's degree graduates could enter the work force at a higher level
- Education Overview: In this program, students will build complexity onto their previous education. Classes will include liberal arts subjects to help students be better rounded. Students will also be required to participate in clinical practice, which usually occurs at clinics and hospitals in the area. While some classes require the students to be in attendance, some may be taken online for more flexibility.
Associate's Degree in Nursing
Students who want to handle more responsibility and make more money may want to explore earning an associate's degree in nursing (ADN), which is a step up from an LPN. It is also known as an associate of science in nursing (ASN).
- Career Options: Students who complete the program may be able to find work as an entry level RN. This could include more responsibilities like including providing individualized care while utilizing quality improvement and evidence-based practice. Because this is a quicker way to get started with a career, it is a popular choice for students who want to start making an income.
- Education Overview: A program for an ADN usually takes around two years; although, it may take longer for those who are taking classes at a slower pace due to work or family responsibilities. Classes can be taken at a vocational school or community college, and course work may include social and natural sciences, computer technology, English and communication, and humanities. Students will learn via lab time, class lectures, and clinical practice. Graduates can take the NCLEX-RN for registered nurse licensure.
LPN to BSN Bridge Program
Students who are LPNs and want to expand their education to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) will save time in this program. It takes into consideration the previous education, so students don’t have to go through the entire four year BSN program.
- Career Options: The major benefit of this program is that it prepares graduates to work in management positions. Graduates earn their RN title, but a bachelor’s degree places them higher up the ladder than RNs with an ADN. It is also a good degree to have for those who may want to continue to earn an even higher degree.
- Education Overview: Full-time attendees could finish this program in only four semesters. While students can earn it on a part-time basis, they should keep in mind that the curriculum is more rigorous than the LPN program, so they should plan their schedule accordingly. A combination of liberal arts classes and more advanced nursing courses along with clinical work should be expected.
Bachelor of Science Program
A BSN (Bachelor of Science Nursing) program is the best path for those who want to be eligible for the most popular jobs. It is seen as the preferred degree by employers and leaders in the nursing industry.
- Career Options: Many career positions require a BSN, so earning one is your best chance in getting a desired job. If you want to build your professional nursing resume, earning a bachelor’s degree is a good starting point. The path to higher positions such as management and supervisory positions can go a lot quicker with a BSN.
- Education Overview: A BSN program usually takes about four years to complete, so applicants should be prepared for the commitment. Coursework will combine liberal arts classes, basic sciences, applied sciences, and nursing-related studies. Along with classroom lectures and discussions, students will have a lot of lab time to apply what they have learned. The last part of the program will include practical and clinical work that will usually take place off campus at a nearby hospital, clinic, or other healthcare facility. At the beginning of the program, some classes may be available online, but as the program progresses, students may need to be present for scheduled classes.
RN to BSN Bridge Program
Some students choose to pursue their BSN after earning their RN credentials through a diploma or associate's degree program. This bridge program is much shorter than for those who start their bachelor’s degree education from the start.
- Career Options: Just as with a traditional BSN program, this bridge program prepares graduates to enter into higher nursing positions and make more money.
- Education Overview: For those who already are RNs, this program is faster and more flexible than completing a traditional BSN program. Some programs will give credit for past coursework and work experience, so students may be able to earn their degree in two years. Because it is designed for working nurses, more classes can be taken online and there are more flexible schedules.
BSN as a Second Degree
Individuals who have earned a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field could earn their BSN on a faster track.
- Career Options: Graduates of this program will have the same career opportunities as those who went through a BSN or RN to BSN program. Depending on their first degree, graduates may be able to tie the two together and open up more opportunities in the nursing field, such as from a business or marketing aspect.
- Education Overview: Previous coursework will be taken into consideration, and many students could earn a BSN in two years or even less. Some online classes may be offered for flexibility but they will be challenging, and clinical work will require students to be present.
Master of Science in Nursing
Students who want to pursue specialized nursing opportunities may want to get their MSN (Master of Science in Nursing). In this program, nurses may focus their studies in areas such as research or advanced clinical training. Nurses who want to work in hospital administration or public health may work on earning that degree at the same time.
- Career Options: Earning an MSN will allow you to move up the ladder in your career. The advanced skills that have been developed will allow you to provide care similarly to a medical doctor. Some positions that you are eligible for with a master’s degree include nurse midwifery and nurse practitioner. A higher degree also demands a higher salary.
- Education Overview: In general, a master’s degree could be earned faster than a bachelor’s degree. An MSN can usually be earned in 18 to 24 months; although, a joint degree, such as an MSN/MBA, will often take longer. MSN programs will be focused on an advanced specialty and will usually include a final project or thesis. Online classes are often available, but expect a rigorous curriculum.
Master's Degree Bridge Programs
As with other nursing degrees, there are bridge programs available for earning an MSN. There is an RN to MSN bridge program, which can be started right away after earning your RN licensure. There is also a direct entry program for individuals who have their bachelor’s degree in a different field.
- Career Options: Graduates who finish the MSN bridge programs have the same career opportunities as those who went through the traditional program.
- Education Overview: Current working nurses could apply their prior coursework to their master’s degree program. They can also take online classes, and there are multiple start times to help those who are working while attending school. Non-nurses who are taking the program often take three years to finish the program. While the last two years includes traditional MSN classes, the first year is often focused on basic nursing education and skills.
Doctorate of Nursing Programs
An even higher degree than an MSN is the Doctorate of Nursing (ND). Graduates with this degree are in high demand and earn higher salaries. There are three main careers that this degree prepares nurses for and they include clinical research, health administration, and advanced clinical practice. Nurses who choose to follow this path must understand that doing so is a major commitment. There are different levels that one can pursue.
Three Year Program
Students who enter this program can decide between two areas of study. The Doctorate of Nursing (ND) curriculum focuses on building skills to become an advanced practice nurse specialist. The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) focuses on developing leadership skills in clinical practice.
- Career Options: Which program you choose should depend on your career goals. Earning your ND will make you eligible for jobs that require making fact-based decisions in educational, clinical, and business settings. If you want to work in system management, research, patient outcomes, or clinical care, the DNP program may be a better fit.
- Education Overview: Both programs usually take a minimum of three years to complete; although, the ND program can take up to five years. Depending on the program, you may be able to find one that is flexible with your work schedule.
Students who want to build investigative skills may want to enter the Doctor of Nursing Science (DNSc) program. Graduates have the research, leadership, and clinical skills to make changes in the healthcare realm.
- Career Options: Careers are designed for those who want to make a positive difference in the nursing world. High level positions that graduates with a DNSc may be eligible for include an administrator, educator, or analyst.
- Education Overview: Students in the DNSc program should be prepared for a challenging five years of school. While part-time options may be available, it could take up to eight years to finish with that route. Along with rigorous coursework, students will spend time doing comprehensive research and preparing a final dissertation.
The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) programs that have been developed for nurses are advanced degrees that focus on the philosophical side of the field. Nurses who have more of a research and scholastic-based mind may want to pursue this degree to build a theoretical basis for the improvement of not only nursing but for healthcare in general.
- Career Options: Graduates with a PhD in Nursing will have a number of careers to choose from in the scholarly and professional realms. Many of the positions available revolve around leadership in different forms, such as in the formation of public policy and how health care is delivered.
- Education Overview: A PhD can typically be earned in four to five years when classes are attended on a full-time basis. Part-time attendance is an option, but having an outside job is not recommended for those pursuing the degree because of how challenging the program is for students. Unlike other nursing programs, the PhD curriculum does not include clinical hours. Instead, students will be involved with quite a bit of research and will prepare a final dissertation before graduation.