Nurses have many options when it comes to nursing degrees. In addition to a large selection of nursing schools nationwide, nurses have several different career paths available to them, all of which can be accessed with the right nursing degree.
Faster and more affordable degree programs may last one to two years, while more advanced programs last four years or more. The level of degree attained affects salary, daily job roles, and future advancement.
Nursing Degree Coursework
Most nursing programs involve similar coursework at their core. Although different programs feature additional, more advanced classes, nursing degrees generally cover course subjects such as:
- Nursing Practices
Classes related to the role of nursing may depend on the degree level sought, as more advanced nurses take on roles that expand beyond bedside care. However, all nurses learn how to work with patients in a number of settings, and how to properly care for and treat a wide range of conditions.
In addition to coursework, many nursing degrees feature hands-on training in a clinical setting. During this time nurses may learn in a simulated clinical environment, or work under the direct supervision of actual nurses and care practitioners. This allows students to experience the role of a nurse firsthand, adding practical value to a nursing degree.
Different Types of Nursing Degrees
There are primarily three levels of nurse degree, which relate to various levels of career advancement:
- Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) – An ADN degree is an entry-level program that generally takes between two and three years to complete. These programs include core coursework in nursing in addition to hands-on training in simulated or actual clinical settings. Most nurses with ADNs can begin entry-level nursing work upon graduating, and can becoming licensed. Many nurses choose to continue their education toward a BSN degree, often through RN-to-BSN programs with the help of their employers’ tuition reimbursement plans.
- Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing (BSN) – Unlike an associate’s degree, a BSN degree can take up to four years to complete. In addition to core nursing coursework and clinical experience, those pursuing a BSN degree receive general education in courses such as communications, mathematics, general life sciences and even business, leadership or critical thinking. Bachelor’s-level nursing degrees open the door to management and supervisory positions, and other advanced nursing roles. In addition, nurse administrative and teaching positions often require bachelor’s nursing degrees.
Which Degree is Best?
In general, bachelor’s degrees and other advanced degrees in nursing offer superior opportunities for advancement, while associate’s degree programs are faster and more affordable. The right degree depends on a nurse’s chosen career path.
According to the Health Resources and Services Administration’s 2008 National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses, the most popular path into nursing is the ADN degree, followed by entry-level employment while working towards a BSN. While this may be challenging for some, making use of an employer’s tuition reimbursement plan can relieve some of the cost of a BSN program.
For some, though, a career working bedside directly with patients is the primary appeal of becoming a nurse.
Upon graduation, the first priority for most nurses is to become licensed. Nurses must first become licensed at the national level by passing one of two exams:
- The NCLEX-PN for LPNs and LVNs
- The NCLEX-RN for RNs
In addition, every state requires nurses to become licensed at the state level by passing a state licensing exam. More information about specific state requirements can be found on the National Council of State Boards of Nursing website.
Becoming certified is another option for nurses upon graduation, as certification can enhance employability and provide several career benefits. Though certification is voluntary for nurses, many employers prefer to hire nurses who have achieved some form of certification.
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