Nursing is a career filled with professional and emotional satisfaction, as well as a good way to make a living. Demand for nurses is expected to remain high for the foreseeable future, primarily because of the aging baby boom generation. Unlike many careers, nursing offers multiple educational options. You can become a licensed practical/vocational nurse (LPN/LVN), a registered nurse (RN) or an advanced practice nurse (APN).
LPN/LVNs provide direct care under the supervision of a registered nurse or physician. Their scope of practice is more limited than that of an RN, and they are less likely to work in a hospital setting. LPN/LVNs typically spend about 18 months in school, learning basic hands-on clinical skills. Some LPN/LVN programs offer an associate degree. After graduation, the student must pass a national exam called the NCLEX-PN in order to practice.
What’s In A Program?
All nursing programs must meet accreditation standards and include basic education such as anatomy, physiology, microbiology, nutrition, human development, chemistry and psychology, as well as general education requirements like English and math. Each program has a clinical component, in which students perform nursing tasks under the supervision of an instructor and experienced nurses. The clinical components include hospital practice and may also include outpatient facilities or long-term nursing care facilities.
More Advanced Education
Baccalaureate programs provide basic nursing education, usually in the first two years. In the second two years, students learn about adult and childhood disease, acute and chronic health conditions, psychiatric or mental health nursing and community nursing. BSN programs include much more extensive courses on nursing theory, humanities, nursing research, healthcare economics, nursing informatics (the use of computers for nursing documentation and care) and health policy.
Masters degree programs build on all previous educational levels. They are designed to prepare students for advanced practice, and include courses on the same level as those for doctors. A nurse anesthetist, for example, can practice at the same level as an anesthesiologist in most states, while a nurse midwife can deliver babies. A masters program is also designed for the initial preparation of nurse researchers or nursing educators. Doctoral nursing programs are the ultimate in nursing education. By the time a student gets into a doctoral program, the focus is no longer on bedside nursing, but on performing research or very high-level clinical functions such as administering anesthesia.
For many nurses, the educational process is a series of stepping stones. The student begins with an LPN/LVN certificate, goes on to diploma or associate degree, obtains a license and begins working as an RN, then goes on through part-time education in a bachelor’s program. Many continue to advance to the masters or doctorate level.