After receiving the required education, nurses must become licensed in their practicing state and are required to complete continuing education courses to maintain their licensure, depending on their state's regulations.
Here are some key points about nursing. More detail is in the main article.
- Nursing is one of the most trusted professions in the U.S., polls show.
- Nurses can choose from a wide range of specialties.
- Qualifications range from a 1-year certificate to a PhD, depending on the role. Most nurses begin with a science degree.
- Training can take from 1 to 4 years, depending on the desired entry level.
- There is an ongoing need for nurses, resulting in good job security, a competitive salary, and a range of professional opportunities.
What do nurses do?
Nursing is a varied and respected profession.
Nurses work in a variety of settings and specialties. They may choose to practice in hospitals, nursing homes, medical offices, ambulatory care, occupational health, and community health centers, schools, clinics, camps, and shelters.
Nurses perform many professional tasks which may differ based on where they work or what area they specialize in. The American Nurses Association (ANA) lists nursing responsibilities to include tasks such as:
- performing physical exams
- obtaining medical/health histories
- providing patients with health promotion, counseling and education
- administering medications, wound care, and other health interventions
- coordinating patient care collectively with other members of the healthcare team
- supervising staff such as LPN's and nursing assistants
- taking part in critical decision making
- research responsibilities
The degree they hold may also dictate which are of specialty they are competent in practicing in. There are over 100 nursing specialties, including:
- Burn care
- Camp or school
- Diabetes care
- Emergency nursing
- Forensic nursing
- Home health
- Labor and delivery
- Medical surgical care
- Neonatal intensive care unit (NICU)
- Obstetrics and gynecology
- Psychiatric care
- Wound, ostomy and continence care
Some specialties and practice settings require certain educational criteria such as an Associate's Degree in Nursing (ADN or ASN), Bachelors of Science in Nursing (BSN), Masters of Science in Nursing (MSN), ), Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP,), Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD), or for legal nursing specialties, a Juris Doctor (JD) may be required. A registered nurse can also earn a specialty certification.
Advanced practice nurses
Some nurses may choose to extend their career by earning a graduate degree to advance their clinical training by going on to receive a master's or doctorate. These nurses are called Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRN's). Some APRN specialties include:
Nurse practitioner (NP): These advanced practitioners work in a variety of specialties and provide comprehensive care to patients. Depending on their state licensing boards, they are able to provide primary and preventative care, diagnose and treat certain conditions, and prescribe certain medications.
Nurse practitioner specialties may include acute care, adult health, family health, gerontology, neonatal health, oncology, pediatric or child health, psychiatric or mental health, and women's health. Nurse practitioners provide care to patients in settings like hospitals, nursing homes, clinics,and private practices.
Certified nurse-midwife (CNM): These advanced practice nurses are able to provide healthy and non-high risk women with obstetric and gynecologic care. They may practice in settings such as hospitals, birthing centers and patient homes.
Certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNA): These advanced practice nurses provide anesthesia to patients for surgery or certain procedures.
Clinical nurse specialist (CNS): Experts in an area of nursing practice, a CNS may be found working in many settings like hospitals, clinics, nursing home, offices, and within the community.
Becoming a nurse
There are 2 types of nurses, a licensed practical nursing (LPN) or in some states referred to as licensed vocational nursing (LVN) and a registered nurse (RN). Educational requirements vary for each and depend on the degree in which a nurse plans on accelerating their career.
The education that an LPN/LVN or an RN receive differ, as does their scope of practice.
An LPN/LVN receives a 1-year certificate or degree from a vocational or hospital or trade school. They can perform certain nursing duties, but they are not able to provide the same level of care to patients as an RN. To obtain a license as an LPN, they must take and pass the National Council Licensure Examination or NCLEX-PN.
An LPN/LVN may continue their education and pursue either an Associate's Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) through bridge programs. These can take anywhere from 2 to 4 years, depending on the chosen degree.
Some RNs choose to obtain an Associate's Degree in Nursing (ADN), a 2-year technical skill focused program.
There are many ways to enter into a nursing career and become an RN, but the preferred degree to obtain is a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).
This is a 4-year college program. It includes a curriculum based on coursework, lab time, and clinical skill development through a hospital or other medical experience-based program.
In order to practice as a registered nurse, the National Council Licensure Examination or NCLEX-RN must be taken and passed.
How long does it take to become a nurse?
Becoming a nurse can take anywhere from 1 to 4 years, depending on the level of nursing education planned.
- LPN/LVN: 1 year
- Associates degree RN: 2 years
- Bachelor's degree RN: 4 years
Nurses seeking an advanced degree will require additional education beyond their basic nursing education, which can range from two to five years depending on the degree being obtained.
Benefits of a nursing career
In the U.S., there is a growing shortage of nurses. It is anticipated that over a million nursing jobs will be available from 2014 through 2022, with a 16 percent increase in job growth. The nursing shortage is expected to continue through 2025.
For nurses, this shortage will offer potential job security, an option to advance or change career paths within the scope of nursing practice, and advanced education opportunities.
In addition, nursing currently offers a chance to work in non-traditional work environments, such as schools, government agencies, parks, and offices.
The wide range of specialties means that nursing can appeal to people with varied interests. They can use their nursing skills in a multitude of practice areas.
The median registered nursing salary is expected to be $66,640, in 2016 to 2017, but there are additional ways to increase earnings as a nurse.
- working overtime or on-call shifts
- working in higher paying specialties by gaining certifications and advanced degrees
- traveling to other higher paying states
- becoming a nurse educator
Nursing is a responsible and rewarding career, but it is not always easy. Developing skills such as stress management, listening skills, compassion, and inner strength can help nurses face the daily challenges of their chosen career path.
For more information on becoming a nurse, visit the American Nursing Association.