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How to Become a Nurse: Degrees and Career Options

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When thinking about healthcare careers, most of us immediately imagine doctors. Surgeons, anesthetists, and those in other doctoral positions also benefit from a sterling reputation supported by a difficult and lengthy educational process. However, when receiving care you're likely to spend more time with a different set of women and men who make dramatic and significant contributions to all things medical: nurses. Though medicine is constantly changing and progressing, nurses will always remain a source of excellent treatment and safe medical practice. Those interested in nursing have a wide variety of career options available.

Nurses work not only with doctors, but also directly with patients, educating and advocating for quality care while helping to catch problems as they arise. Nurses also specialize their care to the particular medical needs of their workplace. Hospice nurses specialize in elder care, and those working with children have special training in pediatric nursing care. The sheer variety of roles and positions that nurses can fill translates into many possible cer tifications and training options for nursing.

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Compared to doctors or other medical professionals, the academic portion of a nurse's preparation is relatively short in duration. Nurses current enjoy great desirability in the job market. As such, many schools expedite their training via accelerated bachelor's or master's degrees. Those who would like to eventually teach in nursing can take up advanced master's or PhD programs for the proper training.

Career Specializations

  • Registered Nurse: These nurses, also known as RNs, are the most popular form of the profession, occupying 2.6 million jobs in healthcare. Their set of skills is highly refined and complex in comparison to the abilities of other nurse types.
  • Licensed Private Nurse: LPNs, also called Licensed Vocational Nurses, are specifically sought after to care for ailing patients at the special request of their doctor or physician. They often work in a patient's home.
  • Certified Nurse Assistant: CNAs provide basic or standard care and health management as directed by their doctor or supervisor.
  • Advanced Practice Nursing Career: Midwifes and nurse anesthetists fall under this category. The scope of the care they can provide is often determined by each individual state.

Degree Levels

  • Associate Degree in Nursing: 2 years to complete
  • Bachelor's Degree in Nursing: 4 years to complete
  • Master's Degree in Nursing: 2-4 years to complete
  • Certified Nurse Assistant: 75 hours to complete
  • Nurse Practitioner Training: 2 years to complete
  • Licensed Private or Vocational Nurse Training: 1 year to complete
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing: 4-5 years to complete

Education and Certification Requirements

Advanced practice nurses must pass the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners National Certification Program. CNAs are required to undergo certification in order to earn the right to practice; this training can be found at many community colleges and vocational schools. They must adequately complete the National Nurse Aide Assessment Program in order to officially earn the CNA title. LPNs and LVNs must enroll in training programs similar to those required for CNAs.

In addition, they must also successfully pass the National Council Licensure Examination. The paths to becoming a registered nurse (RN) are numerous and varied. Firstly, they can complete two-year associate degrees or four-year bachelor's programs. Accelerated programs shorten the education process to just one single year. Upon the completion of any of these programs, RN candidates are also required to pass the NCLE exam.

Because nursing programs are individualized according to the needs of the specific degree attained, there is a disparate breadth in the kinds of classes offered. On the whole, however, most nursing programs are sure to provide thorough familiarity with such subjects as nutrition, chemistry, human anatomy and physiology, human body development, microbiology, pharmacology, psychology, communications, and nursing science.

Contrary to popular belief, excellent proficiency in math or science is not required to study nursing successfully. Great skills in these disciplines certainly do not impede the learning process; however, they comprise only a small percentage of the training required. It's much more important that aspiring nurses display a passion for they way in which the human body is structured, as well as in its processes and functions. (BLS), (Coalition for Nursing Careers in California)

Salary Information

CNAs are not frequently salaried employees, receiving a typical hourly pay of nearly $12. Licensed vocational/private nurses take in an annual haul of $28,000 on average. Registered nurses can expect a yearly salary of more than $60,000. As with many other professions, higher salaries are awarded to those with higher level degrees.

In the nursing world, a master's degree can command a yearly income of nearly $90,000. High demand for nurses has also resulted in many companies awarding signing bonuses to prime candidates; new graduates can receive upwards of $10,000 upon enlisting with an interested organization. (Coalition for Nursing Careers in California)

Job Outlook

This is an exceptionally good time to consider nursing as a potential career. Particularly for registered nurses, the job market indicates a marked increase in demand for nursing. Demand for new RNs is predicted to grow by 22 percent between 2008 and 2018. The majority of this growth will be felt in physicians' offices, home health care services, and nursing care facilities -- interestingly, demand for nurses in hospitals remains relatively low. Nursing is also a profession whose demand is partly dictated by location. LPNs, for instance, tend to quickly get work in urban environments because of rapid turnover and the fact that most people who leave the LPN position do so permanently. (BLS)

Related Careers

Dental hygienists are similar to nurses in that they work closely with other medical professionals as well as with patients, except their work specifically concentrates on the teeth. Sonographers and ultrasound technicians play extremely important roles in helping to monitor the health of pregnancies.

Paramedics, alongside emergency medical technicians (or EMTs), perform critical medical work to sustain victims in sometimes perilous scenarios. Physician assistants help with minor injuries to patients, verify their medical histories, and interpret the results medical tests and exams, while making preliminary diagnoses for doctors. (BLS)

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