A guest post from Elaine Hircsch
Nursing is a field usually without a shortage of jobs. Nurses comprise the nation’s largest group of healthcare professionals, and while a lagging economy might cause some healthcare organizations to tighten up on hiring and shift nurses to different departments to fill in during these periods, there are generally still nursing positions available.
Nursing is also a field that pays relatively well. Even in areas where financial resources are limited, recent graduates will find jobs earning at least $40,000 per year. There are several avenues to earn a degree or certification in nursing, both for persons desiring to enter the field for the first time and for those already working who want to advance their careers or seek increases in pay.
The minimum qualification needed to work under the title of nurse is completion of a one-year program to become a licensed practical nurse. In some states, this position is known as a licensed vocational nurse. This training may be attained at a community college, technical school, or in a hospital nursing education program. Graduates must take and pass the licensing exam in their state to work as licensed practical nurses. Nurses at this level work under the supervision of registered nurses, and may supervise nursing assistants.
Registered nurses have completed more extensive programs of study comparable to a master’s degree: two- or four-year programs, or a diploma program in nursing. Two-year programs are offered at community colleges, technical schools, and through hospital-based programs. Bachelor’s degree programs in nursing are offered at four-year colleges.
The unique aspect about all of these programs is that those who complete them take the same state board examinations to become registered nurses. This means that all of the programs include the same types of courses related to nursing care. However, those with bachelor’s degrees are better prepared for supervisory and administrative positions, and generally start out at higher salaries than those with lesser training.
LPNs can advance by returning to school to obtain a registered nurse degree. Some schools offer options that require less than two years of additional study to earn the two-year degree, and accelerated programs for registered nurses to earn bachelor’s degrees, usually with just two years of study. Hospitals sometimes co-sponsor such programs by paying students’ tuition and fees if the graduate agrees to work for the sponsoring hospital for a specified period of time.
Individuals with bachelor’s degrees outside of nursing can also enter accelerated programs. In these programs the focus is on nursing courses and skills, and prerequisites such as microbiology and pharmacology.
Bachelor’s-level nurses who want to earn advanced degrees have many options. There are master’s and PhD programs in nursing education at many universities. Additionally, accredited online degree programs make it possible for professional nurses to work toward advanced degrees or specialized certificates while they’re not on shift.
Due to the nature of their work, nurses may find it difficult to earn advanced certificates and degrees the traditional ways. However, there has never been a more exciting time for nurses to engage in advanced studies. Web-based education programs open up a whole new avenue for nurses to obtain advanced credentials without interfering with their work schedules, and in most cases certificates and degrees can be earned in a shorter time than in traditional site based programs.
UPDATE: For Further Reading: The Definitive Nursing Guide 2014