Nursing Degree Programs – Information and Resources
Overview of Nursing Degree Programs
A nurse is a healthcare professional who protects and promotes the health of patients by providing care, offering advice, acting as an advocate or performing other tasks designed to prevent or alleviate illness and injury. If you decide to become a nurse, you can choose from a number of different roles, including Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), Registered Nurse (RN), Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA), Nurse Practitioner (NP), Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM) and Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS). Nurses can also specialize in various healthcare fields, including neonatology, forensics, ambulatory care, holistics and more.
Salary Information for Nurses
Nurses earn varying salaries based on their level of education, experience, location and other factors. However, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, you can expect to earn an average annual salary of:
•$41,540 as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
•$65,470 as a Registered Nurse (RN) or Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)
•$96,460 as a Nurse Practitioner (NP), Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) or Certified Nurse-Midwife (CNM)
Nurse Work Environment
As with a nurse’s salary, your work environment may also vary based on the specifics of the position. However, the BLS reports that most nurses work in hospitals, nursing homes, physician’s offices or other healthcare facilities. Most nurses spend a significant portion of their day standing, bending and stretching. In most cases, nurses must also be able to lift and move patients when necessary. Depending on the nature of the employer, nurses may work during business hours only, or they may work nights and weekends. Although some part-time positions are available, most nurses work full time.
Job Outlook for the Nursing Profession
The demand for new nurses in the United States is increasing faster than in most other professions. According to data published by the BLS, the average rate of expected increase for all professions in the United States from 2012 to 2022 is approximately 11 percent. The rates of expected increase for various nursing roles are as follows:
Profession Degrees by Level
Certificates – Licensed Practical Nurse
A Licensed Practical Nurse, or LPN, is a nurse who provides routine, basic care to patients under the direction of a Registered Nurse or other healthcare professional.
To become an LPN, you need a post-secondary non-degree certificate awarded by an approved educational program. These programs are approximately one year in length, but completion may take longer if you attend school part-time. You can find a suitable LPN program at a community college or technical school.
Specific curriculum requirements vary by state. However, LPN programs typically include the following courses:
•Foundations of Nursing
•Maternal Child Nursing
•Intro to Mental Health Nursing
Before you can enroll in an LPN program, you may also need to meet certain educational prerequisites, which may include completion of courses in college math, speech, anatomy and physiology. Most LPN programs include both classroom instruction and supervised clinical experience.
Associate of Science Degrees – Registered Nurse
Registered Nurses, or RNs, are responsible for providing and coordinating patient care within a hospital, doctor’s office or similar facility. They may also provide advice, support and educational resources to patients, families of patients and the general public.
To become an RN, you need at least an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN). However, some employers may require a bachelor’s degree before they will hire you, or they may encourage you to obtain your bachelor’s degree within a certain amount of time after you begin working. Associate’s degree programs usually take two years to complete when attended full-time.
Associate of Science in Nursing programs typically include the following courses:
•Anatomy and Physiology
•Maternal Child Nursing
•Mental Health Nursing
Many of the topics studied during an associate’s degree RN program are similar to those studied in an LPN program. However, these topics are covered more thoroughly during an associate’s degree program and may even be broken into multiple courses (i.e. Adult Nursing I, Adult Nursing II).
Associate of Science in Nursing programs typically include a combination of classroom study and supervised clinical experience. Before you can become licensed as a registered nurse in your state, you must also pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). Some states may have other licensure requirements as well.
Bachelor of Science in Nursing – RN
Although a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is not required in order to become licensed as a registered nurse, some employers may not hire you unless you possess this degree. For this reason, many prospective nurses obtain a BSN instead of an associate’s degree, or they go back to school to pursue this degree after obtaining an associate’s degree and beginning work as an RN.
Bachelor’s degree programs are usually four years in length. However, if you have already obtained an associate’s degree, you may be able to complete the requirements for a BSN in less than four years by enrolling in an RN-to-BSN program. Curriculums vary by state and college. However, most Bachelor of Science in Nursing programs including the following courses, some of which are general education courses:
•Anatomy and Physiology
•Cultural Studies/ Ethics
•Intro to Nursing Science
•Maternal Child Nursing
•Mental Health Nursing
•Illness and Disease Management
•Design and Coordination of Care
•Population Focused Nursing
The curriculum above is typical of a four-year BSN program. If you are enrolled in an RN-to-BSN program, your curriculum will likely be shorter. Most BSN programs have prerequisites, which may include the completion of specific general education courses or a passing grade on an equivalent exam.
After completing a BSN program, you must obtain a passing score on the NCLEX-RN before you can become licensed as a registered nurse, unless you already passed this exam after obtaining an Associate of Science in Nursing.
Master of Science in Nursing Degree – Advanced Practice Nurses
Advanced Practice Nurses may work under one of several titles, including Nurse Practitioner, Certified Nurse midwife or Certified Nurse Anesthetist. Depending on your chosen specialty, your responsibilities and work environment will vary. While Nurse Practitioners may spend their days providing primary care to patients of all ages, genders and conditions, Certified Nurse Midwives work primarily with women who are pregnant, have recently had a baby or hope to become pregnant. Certified Nurse Anesthetists provide anesthesia and related services to patients who are undergoing a surgical procedure. Advanced Practice Nurses may also specialize in a certain field of nursing, earning the title of Neonatal Nurse, Forensic Nurse, etc.
You must have either an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree before you can enroll in a master’s program. The length of time it will take to complete a master’s degree program depends on your educational history. If you are enrolling in an RN-to-master’s degree program, it will take two to three years to obtain your master’s degree. However, if you already have a BSN, you can complete a master’s degree program in as little as 18 months.
Your master’s program curriculum will vary based on the specialty you choose. In general, you can expect to study topics similar to those you studied when obtaining your associate’s or bachelor’s degree, but in more depth. You will also complete courses specific to your chosen specialty. As with most other nursing degree programs, master’s programs typically combine lecture and classroom study with supervised hands-on experience.
Most states recognize individual advanced practice nursing specialties and require you to become licensed in your specialty before you can work in the field. Licensure requirements typically include completion of an approved degree program and a passing score on a licensure examination.
Doctoral Degrees – Advanced Practice Nurses, Leadership Positions, Faculty, Etc.
To work in most advanced practice specialties, you currently need only a master’s degree. However, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, affiliated schools recently decided that the required educational level for advanced practice nurses should be moved from a master’s degree to a doctoral degree over time. Thus, many nurses are now deciding to specialize further or enhance their resumes by obtaining a doctoral degree. A doctoral degree can also be useful if you hope to be promoted to a leadership position or become a professor at a nursing school.
Two doctoral degrees are available to nurses: Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) and Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing (PhD). While the DNP is better suited for nurses who want to continue practicing in the field, the PhD is better suited for nurses who are pursuing teaching or research roles.
The length of time it takes to complete a doctoral nursing program varies considerably based on the type of doctorate you choose and your educational history. For example, programs designed only for students who already have a master’s degree take two years to complete, while programs designed to accommodate students with only a bachelor’s degree take three years or more. Curriculums also vary considerably, but often include advanced courses in nursing practice, research, health policy and economics. Most programs also require students to complete a minimum number of residency hours, during which students work in clinical settings and/or complete research projects.
Choosing a Program
Not all nursing programs are the same. When choosing a nursing program, there are several characteristics you should consider carefully.
Perhaps the most important characteristic to consider when evaluating various programs is the programs’ approval. In order to become licensed in your state, the program you attend must be approved by the state’s board of nursing.
Nursing programs may also be accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education and/or the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission. Programs with these accreditation have met certain quality and effectiveness standards required by the accrediting commission.
Another important factor to consider is a program’s graduation rate. Programs with low graduation rates may not provide enough student support and may be harder to complete.
Examination Pass Rate
Before you can work in the field, you must typically pass a licensure examination. A program’s pass rate will tell you how effectively the program has prepared its previous students for this examination.
Some programs may earn more respect from employers than others do. The proportion of previous students who are able to find employment as nurses after graduation indicates the program’s clout among employers, as well as its effectiveness in preparing students to land jobs.
Programs with low faculty-to-student ratios are often more effective because students receive more one-on-one attention from faculty members. Programs with higher ratios, on the other hand, require students to learn more independently.
Program flexibility varies considerably and is an important concept to consider as well. For example, while some programs may be willing to accept transfer credits from other programs, others may not. Likewise, while some programs offer multiple tracks for students with different educational backgrounds, others offer only one track. Some programs may also offer both full-time and part-time study. Be sure that the program you choose accommodates your background and scheduling needs.
Tuition and Fees
All programs charge tuition and other educational fees, but some charge more than others do. Before you apply, make sure that you can afford the cost of the program. If you cannot afford to pay all of your tuition at once, ask about any financial aid or payment plans the program offers.
Beginning Your Career
Remember that all programs have their own prerequisites and entry requirements. Be sure to research these requirements thoroughly before you apply to the program. Likewise, all states publish their own licensure requirements for various roles in the nursing field, which may include completion of an approved program, a passing score on a licensure examination, background checks and more. Consult your state’s Board of Nursing to learn about these requirements before you enroll in any nursing program.