In many ways, nurses serve as the backbone of patient care. They are invaluable members of their healthcare team who provide expertise and compassion and ensure consistency for optimal patient outcomes. Nurses can work in various positions and have different educational backgrounds.
With so many educational options, it may be difficult for aspiring nurses to know where to begin. One remarkable aspect of nursing lies in its opportunities for continued career growth and personal development. Nurses can return to school at any point to gain additional skills, training, specialized certifications, and education.
Ongoing education can help nurses stay informed of the latest practices and advancements in their field. With this in mind, let’s begin this deep dive into nursing education with a common question many nurses ask:
Do You Need a Bachelor’s to Be a Nurse?
The answer depends on the kind of nurse you want to become and how education ties into future career goals. Nurses can hold various educational backgrounds, titles, and responsibilities. Each pathway has its educational requirements, licensing board, opportunities for advancement, and earning potential.
Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) can hold a diploma or certificate in addition to their nursing license. Registered nurses (RNs) can hold an associate or bachelor’s degree. Advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) hold a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree.
Regardless of their educational background, nurses can earn comfortable salaries. However, as nurses earn more education, they have more opportunities for placement, career advancement, autonomy, and a salary increase.
Licensed practical nurses work under the supervision of medical professionals such as registered nurses, physician assistants, or physicians. They work alongside RNs to create and revise patient care plans, assist with procedures, monitor vital signs, and more. Depending on where they work, LPNs can bathe, dress, and feed patients who are unable to perform these tasks themselves.
Practical nursing programs take 1-2 years to complete at a local community college and can award a certificate or diploma. Program graduates must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nursing (NCLEX-PN) to obtain licensure and begin working. Practical nursing graduates can only legally work as an LPN once they obtain licensure.
With an average salary of $48,000, LPNs can earn a comfortable living without a degree. LPNs have several options for career advancement within the medical field. LPNs can advance to supervisory LPN positions or consider returning to school to further their education.
LPNs can complete an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) program or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program. LPNs transitioning to ADNs or BSNs must also sit for the NCLEX Registered Nurse (NCLEX-RN) exam to advance their license.
Registered nurses create and coordinate patient care plans with doctors and other medical professionals. They supervise LPNs, provide post-treatment care for patients, educate patients and their families on their treatment plans, and more. They can administer medication, assess the results of treatments or exams, and update charts with any changes in the patient’s condition.
RNs work as part of a healthcare team alongside physicians and other healthcare professionals.
RNs can hold either an ADN or a BSN. ADNs have completed a 2-year nursing program at a local college. BSNs have completed a 4-year nursing program similar to the one offered at Berry College. Both programs prepare graduates to sit for the NCLEX-RN exam.
While both ADNs and BSNs can operate as RNs, some employers may prefer BSNs to ADNs. ADN programs focus primarily on the clinical side of nursing and developing bedside manners. These programs emphasize quickly developing a strong foundation to become a nurse.
BSN programs build upon this foundation and push them to develop research and leadership skills. They expose students to social sciences such as sociology to better understand outside factors that may negatively impact patient care.
With an average salary of around $77,000 a year, RNs can live comfortably. However, it should be noted that the salary reported by the BLS refers to BSNs. It is still being determined if this salary includes ADNs.
RNs have plenty of room for career advancement and professional growth. RNs can work in supervisory positions, administrative positions, or bedside positions. RNs can also return to school to complete an advanced degree such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN).
MSN programs offer a wide range of concentrations, which may only align with some goals. RNs interested in becoming MSNs should consider their desired specialty area before choosing a program.
The focus of their MSN program determines the career pathway an APRN pursues. Some MSN programs include:
- MSN – Nursing Education
- MSN – Nursing Informatics
- MSN – Family Nurse Practitioner
- MSN – Nursing Leadership in Healthcare Systems
- MSN – Nursing Leadership and Administration
- MSN – Public Health Nursing
Although this is not an exhaustive list of MSN programs, it showcases the diverse specialties APRNs can pursue. This diversity allows APRNs to hold various titles, positions, and responsibilities. Common titles for APRNs can include:
- Nurse Practitioner (NP)
- Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)
- Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNA)
- Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM)
Each role has unique responsibilities and Board certification. APRNs diagnose, counsel, and educate patients on acute or chronic diseases as certified nurse practitioners. As certified midwives, APRNs provide gynecologic, prenatal, and postpartum care to their patients and family planning services.
When deciding whether to pursue an MSN, choose a focus aligned with overall career goals and personal interests.
Nurses can take many different educational pathways to gain the experience and knowledge required to care for patients. Nurses can always return to school at any career stage, regardless of their educational entry point. Additional education and training can increase a nurse’s skill set and allow them to transition to other nursing careers.
Embracing opportunities to gain additional skills and education allows nurses to continue providing quality patient care. Careers in nursing allow others to make lasting, positive impacts on the health and well-being of others. From educating patients to coordinating with professionals, nurses bring warmth, consistency, and compassion to their team and patients.