Nurses are in demand. The American Hospital Association reported that in 2005 there were 168,000 available jobs in hospitals across the United States. Of those, 126,000 were for nurses. This is an excellent time to pursue one of the avenues of nursing. From nursing assistants to those with master’s degrees, it is a rewarding, challenging field with a lot of opportunity for growth.
Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) are increasingly sought after and students can earn their certification in as little as a few weeks to a month. Classes are mainly taught by registered nurses (RNs) who cover basic responsibilities and help with real-life situations that require a certified nursing assistant. Classes can often be found through a local chapter of the Red Cross or nursing homes. Once certified, CNAs are responsible for bathing patients, administering injections, monitoring temperatures, helping patients remain ambulatory, and anything else the supervising nurse delegates to them. The experience of being a CNA can be a good springboard to a career as a registered nurse.
Pay rates for CNAs vary depending on the place of work but are above minimum wage.
Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) provide a variety of patient services under the supervision of a doctor or a registered nurse, such as drawing blood, taking temperatures, administering medication, or performing routine tests. An LPN must have a high school diploma and complete a two-year practical nursing program. A lot of colleges offer this course, and some high schools are starting to as well. After completion of the training, the LPN candidates have to have some practical work experience before they take the NCLEX-PN, which is the national exam for obtaining certification. They also have to take the state exam. LPNs can expect to earn about $16 per hour to start, and more in areas affected by the nurse shortage.
Registered nurses (RNs) are critical to the quality care of patients. They can work in a variety of settings (hospitals, doctors’ offices, schools, industrial settings, etc.) and have a vast array of responsibilities. RNs have more freedom to work than LPNs, who need to have approval and supervision for their tasks. The earning potential for an RN is also greater – starting salaries are around $40,000, and most registered nurses earn closer to $50,000.
There are several ways to become a registered nurse. One is to become an LPN and then gain two years of work experience. You can then enter an accelerated LPN to RN course. An advantage of going this route is that often your current place of work will reimburse tuition. Some nursing programs will only accept applicants who are LPNs.
Another way to become an RN is to get an Associate’s of Science in Nursing (ASN). The ASN course lasts for two years and teaches students technical skills. Upon graduation, students are registered nurses. An associate’s degree has several advantages: it is far less expensive than a four year college education; students who are still undecided on whether they want to continue on towards a bachelor’s degree can get their associate’s first and still become RNs; it allows students to enter the workforce and start earning money more quickly; and it also makes it easier to go on to a bachelor’s degree.
If students decide to earn a Bachelor’s of Science in nursing (BSN), it takes four years. Having a BSN is advantageous for several reasons. It makes it easier to advance in your career, you can increase your earning potential, and a lot of nursing jobs now require a BSN. It also allows you to move into supervisory positions. A lot of bachelor’s students are nurses who have worked in the field for a number of years and want to advance their careers. For these students, many universities and colleges offer an RN to BSN program. Nurses are given credit for prior school and work experience. The classes tend to be more flexible and may be offered on weekends or evenings to accommodate for the nurses’ work schedules.
For those starting college without prior education or work experience, a four-year BSN program is offered. The first two years focus on general education requirements, while the last two teach nursing skills.
For students who have earned a bachelor’s degree in another field, there is the option of getting a second degree in nursing. They are given credit for their liberal arts requirements and can finish the program much more quickly. They also may be able to take an accelerated BSN course, which allows them to finish in 12-20 months.
Getting a BSN will improve your job prospects and income, as well as providing more opportunities for advancement.
The next step for those who want to climb the ladder in their career is a Master’s of Science Degree in Nursing (MSN). A lot of master’s students already have BSNs, but there are programs that will accept nurses with ASNs. Those students will earn both a BSN and an MSN within the same curriculum. You can also find programs that accept graduate students from non-nursing backgrounds. These students will receive credit for general coursework already finished and will complete one year of undergraduate-level nursing instruction, followed by two years of master’s level nursing work.
Nurses working towards an MSN have several options of specialties, including:
Advanced Specialist Role
Clinical Nurse Specialist
Advance Practice Nurse
Certified Nurse Midwife
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist
The pay for these specialties varies, but nurse practitioners can expect to make around $70,000. A master’s degree increases job options and salary.
There are many exciting career opportunities in the field of nursing. There is always room to advance and work up from where you start. Each degree or certification in nursing allows you to have a satisfying career, and you can continue your education and assume more responsibilities and challenges, as well as higher pay and more flexibility.