While all levels of nursing offer great benefits and rewards, how do you choose between different nursing degrees? You may need to weigh the expenses of different programs versus the salary and opportunity benefits. You also may have to keep in mind how long you can afford to be enrolled as a student and how to juggle employment on top of school commitments. The answer varies for each potential nursing student, but here's a breakdown of the overriding differences.
Practical nurses, also known as LPNs or LVNs, earn a certification rather than a degree in preparation for taking their licensing exam. Once accepted into a practical nursing program, most students graduate within two semesters, but they earn lower wages than both levels of RN degrees. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that LPNs earn, on average, $19.42 per hour nationally.
Another important distinction for LPNs is that they usually work under the supervision of RNs and rarely work in supervisory roles, except in certain settings as determined by state regulations. Likewise, depending on your state of practice, you may not be able to start IVs or administer intravenous medications as an LPN, or you may need additional training and certification to do so.
Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)
There are two different nursing degrees for RNs: an associate degree in nursing (ADN) and a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN). Once accepted into a program, those students pursuing an ADN usually complete training within two years while those pursuing their BSN complete a traditional four-year bachelor's degree.
Once you graduate, you'll work alongside your BSN colleagues without any noticeable distinctions in most jobs. Most employers don't usually differentiate between ADNs and BSNs when determining salary. The BLS reports a national average wage of $31.10 per hour for RNs as of 2010.
Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
ADNs and BSNs rarely see a difference in pay for the same job. There are those ADNs who find they are not eligible for certain job opportunities because they lack a BSN. Some areas of nursing that desire or require a BSN include administrative positions, nurse consulting, research and teaching, as noted by the BLS. Particularly with the latter, you'll likely want to pursue a master's degree, so a BSN is necessary before starting a master's degree program.
Even with financial aid, many prospective nursing students must work while going to school. A four-year program may not be realistic when you're juggling a hectic family and work schedule. The great thing about the structure of nursing degrees is that you can start out as an LPN and work your way up to BSN. Some associate degree programs even allow students to apply for their LPN licenses after two semesters, or break down the program in two parts. You may choose to stop after your first two semesters and work as an LPN rather than continue your studies for an associate degree and return to school at a later stage.
Nursing school requires a time commitment, so choose the best program for you, and know that you can always go back for further training when the time is right for you and your family.
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