Nursing programs offer a variety of options depending on the student's career goals. Each stage can establish a career or be a building block to another level of education and expertise.
Many potential nursing students first get a certified nursing assistant certificate so that they can begin their journey with some experience in the medical world and have a means of employment that is a better fit for nursing students. Many nursing programs require this certificate or other qualified experience, and completion of this certificate program helps to make you stand out as a candidate who isn't going to bolt out the door at the first sign of blood or other bodily fluids.
Certified nursing assistant programs typically take 18 weeks, or one semester, to complete. Schools that usually offer these programs include community or vocational colleges and adult education programs.
The next step up the ladder is the LPN or LVN nursing program. Licensed practical or vocational nursing programs are widely offered through career and community colleges, and graduates typically work in long-term care settings. This course of study usually takes about 15 to 18 months to complete. Passing students then sit for the NCLEX-PN to become licensed.
Following completion of the LPN program, you have the option to bridge to various RN programs such as a LPN-to-RN program, which offers an associate degree in nursing. Students can also enter directly into the ADN level RN nursing program. Community and vocational colleges offer these programs along with private institutions. The program is two years, and an associate degree in nursing is awarded at the conclusion of the program. Students can then sit for the NCLEX-RN to become licensed registered nurses.
A bachelor of science degree in nursing is offered by colleges and universities and typically takes four years to complete. Some of these programs are designed to help students become RNs at the two-year point and then continue their studies towards the bachelor's degree. Other programs are more traditional and the student can sit for the NCLEX-RN only after they graduate.
Advanced practice nurses such as nurse practitioners need to study a specific field and gain their master's degree in nursing with that specialty such as family practice, mental health, or women's health. This typically takes one to two years, depending on how much time the nurse can devote to studies. A doctor of philosophy in nursing takes an additional two to three years to complete. Graduates of a master's program or a doctor of philosophy program can also become nurse educators.
Other options are less common. In fact, the diploma schools of nursing run by hospitals are disappearing rapidly. These are usually three-year programs, and the students reside in or nearby the hospital, gaining mostly on-the-job bedside nursing education and experience.
For students who already posses a degree, there are accelerated bachelor's programs and master's programs which take about two years to complete. These became popular when nursing schools became impacted and had long waiting lists. Students complete other studies in related sciences and then complete these programs through an accelerated curriculum.
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