An Introduction to Becoming a Nurse
Nursing has always been a popular profession, but one that is understandably in demand for more individuals interested in working in healthcare. Becoming a nurse can be a long process depending on the type of nurse that you are interested in becoming.
There are many different nursing specialties that depend on nurses being competent at working as part of a team to assess and implement care to patients. To learn the many specialties you will be asked to demonstrate throughout your nursing career, you will need to undertake education and study for your chosen medical assistant profession. The difficulty of the courses, the skills you will need to learn, and the length of time your nursing education will last for will depend on the nursing level you want to achieve.
Why Choose a Career in Nursing?
Apart from the satisfaction of knowing that you’re helping people live better and longer lives, there’s also the fact that there is a shortage of many types of nurses in the United States. Reports state that the number of people training to become registered nurses is not sufficient to meet the demands for nurses across the country. The reasons for this shortage has been ongoing for several years, but the fact is that there are many job opportunities for graduates of nursing degrees throughout the states of the U.S.
Whether you attend a nursing school or undertake nursing programs online to fulfil your educational requirements to become a nurse, the end result will be a qualification of a Diploma in Nursing, Associate Degree in Nursing, Bachelor of Science in Nursing, Master of Science in Nursing or Doctor of Nursing Practice.
Diploma in Nursing
Taking a Diploma in Nursing will typically take around 3 years to complete. This type of nursing degree requires students to study subjects relating to chemistry, microbiology, physiology, nutrition, anatomy and others before moving on to intensive nursing classes. Whereas some years ago most registered nurses were educated by nursing diploma programs, that number is now significantly less than it once was.
Associate Degree in Nursing
Referred to as an ADN, this type of degree is the most common among students. An Associate Degree in Nursing can be a two-year degree, but might be extended due to prerequisite and co-requisite courses that needed to be taken.
Bachelor of Science in Nursing
Another degree that nurses can take to advance their education is a BSN. This is a four-year degree that involves students obtaining general education requirements for the first half of the degree, and the remainder concentrating on nursing courses. The difference between the BSN and ADN programs are that the former is more of an academic degree involving nursing theory and research, whereas the latter involves an “on the job” training approach.
When compared to an ADN graduate, a BSN graduate will have more clinical hours of study and classroom experience in nursing. When education for a BSN degree is complete the individual is a professional nurse, but may be required to fulfil a specific amount of clinical experience in some states of the U.S.
Master of Science in Nursing / Doctor of Nursing Practice
For graduates that want to further their education such as that of a nurse practitioner (NP), clinical nurse specialist (CNS), certified registered nurse anaesthetist (CRNA) or certified nurse midwife (CNM), advanced master’s and doctoral programs can be taken. After completing a doctoral program the student will be prepared for work in advanced clinical practice, health care administration, clinical research and nursing education.
Types of Nurses
Nurse Anesthetist Education and Resources
Anesthesiology is a fascinating area of medicine very few people ever think about until it’s time to have surgery. An anesthesiologist is the person who decides what type of anesthesia to use for a given procedure, how much to use, and how it’s administered. An anesthesiologist is assisted by a nurse anesthetist; an advanced practice nurse also known as a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA).
The position of a nurse anesthetist is widely regarded throughout the medical community as being the first specialty in the nursing field. Its history dates back to the late 1800s when the surgeons began growing frustrated by the number of complications and deaths arising out of the improper use of anesthesia. A group of nurses in the Northeast began working on this problem and eventually the specialty was established.
Becoming a Nurse Anesthetist
In order to work in this field one must have an advanced nursing degree. Typically the nurse anesthetist will have a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree plus certification from the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA). You’ll be able to identify one of these individuals by the credentials CRNA.
Individuals who know at the beginning of their studies they want to enter the field of anesthesiology can enter a program that will take them through associate and bachelor level course work and then on into the master program. The entire process usually takes between six and eight years depending on the school one chooses and the level of coursework required. It’s not uncommon for candidates to earn a bachelor degree first, and work a few years in another field, before heading into a master program.
Duties of the Nurse Anesthetist
The specific duties of the nurse anesthetist depend on what individual state law allows him or her to do. As a general rule, the nurse anesthetist is involved in determining the type of anesthesia appropriate for a given patient and administering that anesthesia before and during surgical procedures. It is an area of medicine which requires individual research for every patient in order to make sure the right options are utilized.
In most states the nurse anesthetist works together with an anesthesiologist to form what’s known as the anesthesiology care team. This collaborative effort utilizes both the advanced skill and knowledge of the anesthesiologist, who’s also a licensed physician, and the practical skills of the nurse anesthetist. Together the team will discuss options with patients and provide their care while under anesthetic. In some states, the nurse anesthetist is permitted to administer anesthesia without supervision. In other states he or she must be supervised by a licensed physician of any sort.
Job Outlook and Salary
As is the case with most careers in the medical profession, the job outlook for nurse anesthesiology is extremely bright. Government statistics indicate double-digit growth at least through the next 6 to 8 years. The majority of nurse anesthetists work in hospitals or outpatient facilities providing care in a pre-op setting. In states where direct and immediate supervision by a licensed physician is not required you can find nurse anesthetist positions in public health clinics and other settings.
The compensation for such individuals is not as much as some other medical profession careers, but still nothing to laugh about. According to statistics the average annual compensation in 2009 was just over $150,000. That makes the nurse anesthetist among the highest-paid in all the nursing professions. As an interesting side note, about 40% of all nurse anesthetists are male, as compared to 10% across all other nursing disciplines.
Registered Nurse Career and Education
When you and I encounter a nurse at a hospital or a doctor’s office, it is most often a registered nurse. Registered nurses make up the largest number of nurses across all disciplines, whether they are advanced practice nurses or not. How far a registered nurse goes in his or her career depends on the level of education and desire for career advancement. Some are content with a simple two-year degree while others go on to spend up to 10 years to earn a doctorate degree.
Registered nurses work in all sorts of settings. Some of the most common are private medical practices, outpatient facilities, hospitals, and public health clinics. Some of the lesser-known settings include colleges and universities, corporate medical departments, research facilities, pharmaceutical manufacturers, public and private schools, nonprofit medical missions, and so on. Regardless of the setting all registered nurses have one thing in common: a genuine desire to help people.
Becoming a Registered Nurse
There are three general categories of registered nursing characterized by the amount of education an individual receives. They are:
- associate of science in nursing (ASN)
- bachelor of science in nursing (BSN)
- advanced practice registered nurses
You can become an RN in as little as two years if you want to complete an associate degree program and pass your licensing exam. Entry level RNs with an ASN degree perform more advanced tasks than the licensed practical nurse (LPN) but are not necessarily allowed to do as much as the BSN registered nurse. Obviously, what this type of nurse is allowed to do is determined by individual state regulations. But since a typical ASN degree program is heavily focused on routine patient care, most registered nurses in this category will do things like dispense medications, chart recovery progress, attend to patient needs, keep records, and so on.
Those interested in a BSN degree will enter a four-year program instead. This four-year program will combine two years of liberal arts and general education with an additional two years of medical school. The BSN nurse does have a bit more leeway in the types of tasks she is assigned; she also tends to start at a higher rate of pay and get preference in scheduling.
Lastly, the advanced practice nurse is one who goes on to complete a master or doctorate program. Advanced practice nurses gain the skills and knowledge necessary to work as nurse anesthetists, nurse practitioners, nurse clinical specialists, and so on. Because of their advanced education they command some of the highest salaries in the nursing profession.
Regardless of the level of registered nursing we’re talking about, all candidates must be licensed in order to begin work. Some states require just the completion of an approved educational program and the state licensing exam. Other states require candidates pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) exam before they’re eligible to take the state exam. Also be aware that all states require students complete a state approved nursing program in order to be licensed. You cannot take a licensing exam if the education program you’ve completed is not approved by the state.
Duties of the Registered Nurse
It is impossible to list all the duties of the registered nurse because there are literally hundreds of different specialties involved here. Suffice it to say, the most basic care provided to patients is usually handled by licensed practical nurses rather than registered nurses. But the registered nurse in a hospital setting, for example, will still be dispensing medications, administering IVs, and the like. Some registered nurses will act in a supervisory role as department heads or shift supervisors.
Outside of the traditional hospital or clinical setting duties may be unlike anything we normally associate with nursing. For example, a registered nurse working for a pharmaceutical company may find herself fulfilling dual roles of consultancy and clinical testing. The consultancy portion would be assisting scientists in the development of new pharmaceuticals while the clinical testing would involve administering experimental medications to patients and monitoring results.
Job Outlook and Salary
Right now the need for registered nurses far outweighs the supply. In fact, the nursing shortage is so acute in some places that new graduates barely have to go through the interview process to get hired. According to government projections the outlook for registered nurses is very good through 2020 and beyond. The field is expected to see double-digit growth for quite some time. Some experts further believe there will be a significant spike in the number of open positions once the new healthcare regulations are fully implemented in 2014.
As for salary, it is hard to peg. Again, the large variation in specialties makes it difficult to give the top end of the pay range. However, new graduates entering a traditional setting can expect a starting salary of $30,000-$40,000. It goes without saying that earning potential increases where the demand for a specific type of registered nurse is high.
As a career, registered nursing tends to be high on the list in terms of job satisfaction, career development, and earning potential. It is a career that not many of us are interested in pursuing, but all of us will depend on at some point in our lives. Whether you’re looking to embark on your first career or pursue a second one, you could certainly do much worse than registered nursing.
The Clinical Nurse Specialist
The clinical nurse specialist is one of the more highly degreed individuals in the nursing profession, having put in 8 to 10 years of study in order to earn a master or doctorate degree. This type of nurse combines both patient care tasks and administrative duties designed to improve both the nursing profession and the delivery of healthcare services. As such the daily duties of a clinical nurse specialist can vary widely in accordance with the individual’s area of specialty and the institution in which he or she works.
Clinical nurse specialists are registered nurses first, being required to earn either a two or four-year degree and pass the licensing exam before being allowed to enter a master program. What makes the clinical nurse specialist career so unique is the number of specialties involved. The five most commonly recognized categories of specialty include:
- a specific demographic group
- a medical specialty such as cardiology or oncology; or a specific disease
- a specific type of care such as rehabilitative therapy
- a broad scope of health problems such as chronic pain or wound treatment
- a work environment such as ICU or the emergency department
Duties of the Clinical Nurse Specialist
It goes without saying that all clinical nurse specialists are capable of performing routine nursing tasks like measuring vital signs, doing patient interviews, and dispensing pharmaceuticals. Indeed, many clinical nurse specialists are involved in the routine care of patients to the degree their specialty requires it. Some are as involved as regular RNs or LPNs, while others are only involved in patient care in a supervisory role. Because these individuals have taken the time to receive such an extensive education they are often put to work doing other things outside of routine nursing tasks.
One of the big draws of this field of nursing is the ability to affect the future of the entire nursing profession. The clinical nurse specialist often contributes by helping to establish and develop methods by which nursing, in general, can be improved. These methods might have to do with patient care, distribution of drugs and supplies, interaction between shift nurses, and so on. Along the same lines the clinical nurse specialist is often engaged in trying to improve healthcare delivery systems as well. This position is almost a hybrid position combining routine nursing care with in-house administration.
Becoming a Clinical Nurse Specialist
In order to be licensed as a clinical nurse specialist one must first complete a program and be licensed as a registered nurse. From there the individual continues his or her education through the completion of a master or doctorate program. Part of the advanced education includes a clinical nurse specialist program which prepares the individual for the chosen specialty he or she is entering. There are no specific certifications given for some of the specialties; in such cases proof of education is sufficient. Also keep in mind that some states require you pass an additional licensing exam before you can begin working.
Job Outlook and Salary
Research from the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics indicates that the field of the clinical nurse specialist continues to do well in terms of job growth and career potential. The field is right in line with most of the other medical professions which are seeing double-digit growth. Experts believe that work should remain steadily available at least through the next 5 to 6 years and possibly longer. As of 2008 there were approximately 70,000 clinical nurse specialists throughout the United States and several thousand open positions.
As for compensation, an individual can expect a starting salary in the neighborhood of $50,000 annually. Compensation increases with years of service and specialty demand. In some cases, annual salary could well exceed $100,000 in a specialty that is in exceptionally high demand.
A career as a clinical nurse specialist is one that offers good salary and benefits, good working conditions, and the promise of being able to help those in need. Individuals interested in pursuing a career in nursing, but don’t yet know what specialty might interest them, should consider this as a career choice.
The Licensed Practical Nurse
The position of the licensed practical nurse (LPN), also known as a licensed vocational nurse (LVN) in Texas and California, is the lowest level of the nursing professions in the United States. It is a good career choice for individuals who are interested in the field of nursing but don’t have the financial resources or desire to complete a two or four-year program. LPNs typically are the ones who provide direct, hands-on, bedside care for patients. Most often they work in hospitals and nursing homes.
The appeal of the LPN position is that it enables workers to complete their education and get into the workforce very quickly. However, many individuals use the LPN position as a stepping stone to eventually become a registered nurse. Doing things this way allow an individual to get working as soon as possible so he or she can earn a living while undergoing a registered nursing program. In some cases the education and experience one receives as an LPN allows the individual to enter an accelerated BSN (Bachelor of Science in nursing) program to become an RN.
Duties of the Licensed Practical Nurse
Because state regulations limit the tasks a licensed practical nurse is allowed to perform, you rarely find them working anywhere other than hospitals and nursing homes. As stated earlier, their tasks consist mainly of the daily bedside care of patients. They will do things like check vital signs, monitor patient condition and recovery, watch for adverse reactions to medications, bathe and groom patients, help patients move in and out of bed, and so on. It is a demanding career which requires physical stamina and a lot of compassion.
The duties for a licensed practical nurse in a nursing home setting are often more demanding than those in the hospital setting. The primary reason for this lies in the fact that the nursing home is made up of elderly people and those with disabilities that prevent them from living elsewhere. That means a lot of strenuous activities like moving patients, changing linens, and bathing and grooming. In addition, since hospitals and nursing homes require 24-hour staffing, LPNs will work all three shifts.
Becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse
One of the benefits of pursuing a career as a licensed practical nurse comes by way of the relatively short certification program. A typical program focuses mainly on routine tasks of daily care and can be completed within one year. Courses are offered through local community colleges, nursing schools, vocational training centers, and hospitals. There are even some cases where programs are available to high school seniors as part of their final year of public school education.
The one thing candidates need to be aware of is that in order to take a state licensing exam you must complete a certification program that has state approval. Using Texas as an example, that state has hundreds of schools offering state approved nursing programs through which students can complete their education and then take a licensing exam. However, there are currently six schools in the state whose programs are not approved. Their graduates are not able to take the licensing exam at the end of their educational program. Why students would consider enrolling in such a program is unclear.
Job Outlook and Salary
An ever increasing demand for healthcare services indicates that the job outlook for LPN graduates is very bright. Currently, demand is out-pacing supply to the extent that there are incredible LPN shortages all around the country. As our population continues to age, and more baby boomers begin accessing long-term healthcare services, the demand for LPNs is expected to grow proportionately. Suffice it to say that graduates should have their choice of work assignments for quite some time in the future.
The earning potential for LPNs is obviously not as great as it is for those who go on to get higher degrees, but it’s also not bad either. According to the most recent statistics the average annual salary for an LPN in a hospital or nursing home setting is approximately $30,000. That’s certainly enough to raise a family on if you are budget conscious. For singles, it’s a salary which would allow one to lead a fairly comfortable life without having to worry about income.
Working as an LPN takes a certain type of individual with a strong back and a hefty dose of compassion. As a career choice it allows individuals to get to work very quickly with certification that only takes a year. If you’re getting ready to graduate from high school this spring you might consider becoming a licensed practical nurse. It is a rewarding career both financially and personally.
The Nurse Practitioner
The role of a nurse practitioner (NP) is one that is taking on greater significance as the demand for healthcare services increases. The nurse practitioner is an advanced practice nurse who has gone above and beyond a BNS degree (Bachelor of Science in nursing) to earn an MSN (Master of Science in nursing) or doctorate degree. Typically you’ll find these individuals working at hospitals, nursing homes, health clinics, and private practices. Some even open their own practice apart from physician control.
In some cases nurse practitioners work in less traditional settings such as research institutes, pharmaceutical companies, colleges and universities, government institutions, and all four branches of the military. Their duties vary depending on where they work and what their specialty is.
Becoming a Nurse Practitioner
The first step in becoming a nurse practitioner is to get a degree and be licensed as a registered nurse. From there the candidate will enter a master degree program which will add another 2 to 4 years of education to what they’ve already accomplished. As part of that further education the candidate will study for his or her specialty.
Some master degree RNs go on to earn their doctorate degree before finally taking the NP licensing exam and going to work. Although this is not as common as one might think, there is a move underway within the industry to require all nurse practitioners to earn a doctorate degree. Those who do pursue a doctorate degree are adding another 3 to 4 years to their education. From start to finish the entire process could take as long as 10 years to complete. Along the way the nurse practitioner will learn not only the daily skills of being a nurse, but also more advanced skills and knowledge required by their specialty.
In order to begin on the path of becoming a nurse practitioner you must at least have a high school diploma or GED. Once you finish your bachelor program you will need to be able to demonstrate your proficiency as a registered nurse before you’ll be allowed to enroll in a master program. It is very important that candidates for a master degree be able to demonstrate high levels of critical thinking. In most settings the nurse practitioner is only one step below the physician, so he or she must be able to think along the same lines as the doctor. The nurse practitioner candidate also needs to have excellent communication skills in both reading and writing.
The working conditions of the nurse practitioner can vary widely depending on the facility where he or she works. In a family practice setting for example, nurse practitioners typically find a more laid-back atmosphere with fulfilling interpersonal relationships between patients and staff. On the other hand the nurse practitioner in a busy, urban emergency room may find an atmosphere that is highly stressful and difficult to deal with on most days.
Adding to the stress in some settings is the fact that the nurse practitioner is in that “middle ground” between registered nurse and physician. That often makes her feel as though she is caught in the middle between the two parties. This can cause some measure of resentment if it’s not dealt with. New nurse practitioners just graduating would do well to consider the fact that their chosen profession can be stress inducing if they don’t handle themselves correctly.
Job Outlook and Salary
Every category within the medical profession is projected to grow significantly over the course of the next 6 to 10 years. The area of nurse practitioner is no exception. Right now demand is only slightly outpacing the number of graduates coming out of school, but that’s going to change quickly. Between states giving nurse practitioners more authority, and the onset of retirement for a good number of America’s baby boomers, you can expect to see the demand for nurse practitioners grow.
The latest surveys show the average salary for a nurse practitioner in the United States is approximately $75,000 per year. Those working in major metropolitan areas tend to make more than their more rural counterparts, and those with in-demand specialties will also earn better paychecks.
If you’re willing to put in the long years of education required, becoming a nurse practitioner is a good career choice. It is stable work, it pays well, and you have the ability to help your patients live a better life. What more could you ask in a career?
Nursing Continuing Education
In order to keep up with the advance of health care knowledge, nurses can attend Continuing Nursing Education (CNE) programs and courses. These classes aim to ensure that nurses are able to provide the best care to patients as possible, stay in line with the requirements of the Board of Nursing and to also advance nursing careers.
The American Nursing Credentialing Center and the American Nurses Association ensure that nurses can find nursing continuing education courses to attend, but this is also regulated at the state level in many areas.