You have several options if you want to become a nurse in the United States. You can become a practical nurse in as little as 12 to 15 months or further your education so you can become a Registered Nurse and advance to higher positions later in your career.
The amount of time it takes to become a nurse depends on your program and institution. During your training, you will learn a variety of skills that will prepare you to work in a healthcare setting.
Whichever path you take, many of these degrees can be bridged to the next so you can advance your career.
Types of Nursing Licenses
To become a licensed nurse in the USA and Canada, a candidate must take the NCLEX or the National Council Licensure Examination or NCLEX.
It is developed and administered by the NCSBN or National Council of State Boards of Nursing in behalf of member Nursing Regulatory Boards. These include NRBs in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and four United States territories including American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
A nursing license authorizes an individual to practice nursing in the state where they meet the requirements and qualifications. The NCSBN vows to protect the public by only certifying those knowledgeable in safe and effective nursing practices.
There are two types of NCLEX exams for the corresponding license types, the NCLEX-PN for Practical Nurses and the NCLEX-RN for Registered Nurses.
Licensed Practical Nurse
Becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse is ideal for those who want to practice nursing as quickly as possible. LPNs can do many of the same tasks as Registered Nurses such as providing basic care, taking vital signs, and obtaining patient histories. They usually report to a supervising RN and are not responsible for advanced duties such as crafting care plans.
If you decide to become an RN in the future, your work as an LPN will give you valuable skills and knowledge to boost through an LPN-to-RN bridge program. This will allow you to become a Registered Nurse more quickly by allowing you to earn credit for the education you’ve acquired.
Nursing Education Programs
Practical Nursing Diploma
A practical nursing program can be finished in 15 months or as fast as 12 months for full-time students. Once you’ve earned your diploma and pass the NCLEX-PN, you can work as a Licensed Practical Nurse.
Again, you can pursue a more advanced degree in nursing school whenever you please.
Associate’s Degree in Nursing
If you would like to have more major responsibilities as a nurse, you can take up an Associate’s Degree in Nursing or ADN. You can finish the required courses in as few as 18 to 24 months.
The ADN will qualify you to test for the NCLEX-RN and become a Registered Nurse.
RNs typically have more advanced duties than LPNs. Your role may vary depending on whether you work in a clinic, a hospital, ambulatory care, etc. The length of the program means more advanced studies, allowing Registered Nurses to specialize in different areas of medicine.
Popular specialties for RNs include pediatrics (children), geriatrics (the elderly), or oncology (cancer) nursing.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Median Pay for LPNs in 2019 is $47,480 a year while Registered Nurses earn an average of $73,300 per year.
Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing
Another way to become a Registered Nurse is to complete a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing. If you already have a Bachelor’s Degree in a different field and would like to shift to a career in health services, you can obtain a BSN in as little as 18 months.
RNs who already have an ADN can advance their career through further education and earn a BSN in as fast as 12 months.
If you aren’t already a nurse and don’t have a diploma or degree, an accelerated BSN program can be completed in just 33 months!
Compared to an ADN-level RN, a Registered Nurse with a BSN is qualified for more complex medical procedures under a doctor’s supervision. It will also qualify you to manage other nursing staff and of course, higher pay.
From a BSN, you can easily become a nurse educator, public health nurse, or other specialties which may not be available to ADN-prepared RNs.
This is because a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing also teaches nursing research, critical thinking, communication, management, leadership, and clinical skills.
Nurses with a BSN degree also tend to have better patient outcomes, proficient diagnoses, quality nursing interventions, and overall better patient care and management.
Due to the benefits of this advanced training, a proposed “BSN in 10” law is currently under discussion. This law, which is already in effect in New York, requires nurses to obtain a BSN within 10 years of acquiring their initial RN license. The goal is for 80% of nurses to have a BSN by 2020. A BSN may soon become the minimum entry-level degree for nurses in New York.
If you want to have more extensive clinical experiences, doing a BSN would be the right move!
Graduate-Level Nursing Degrees
The highest level of the nursing ladder is the Masters of Science in Nursing. With an MSN, you can become a nurse educator, nurse manager, or other positions of leadership. This is also a great option if you want to specialize in nursing research.
You can complete your MSN in as few as 18 months if you already have a BSN and years of experience and knowledge built throughout your career.
Nurse educators earn an average of $74,600 per year as of figures from May 2019 and Medical and Health Services Managers have a 2019 Median Pay of $100,980 per year.
Working While Studying
Education is expensive and not everyone would be able to afford to study full-time. While this may affect the length of time required to pursue your program of choice, you’re highly recommended to find a job that will allow you to study.
If you can’t find one, you can get a headstart on earning clinical experiences as a CNA or Certified Nursing Assistant. You will get familiar with basic patient handling and care through a course that will only take as little as six weeks.
While there is no license for CNAs, you need to pass a competency exam and register with your state’s board of nursing.
While this won’t count towards your formal education once you begin studying for your ADN or BSN, it will provide you valuable knowledge and experience that will make studying and passing examinations easier.