Choosing to pursue a career in nursing is a smart move. There will always be a need for caring and compassionate people to care for the sick and injured in our society.
Right now is an especially good time to get into this challenging yet rewarding career path. The average age of the population is rising and people are living longer and longer lives. Hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and other facilities catering to the elderly will need more nurses in the coming years to help meet patient demand.
As a nurse, you’ll have the opportunity to help people feel cared for as they navigate their healthcare challenges. Once you’ve decided to be a nurse, though, it’s important to figure out what kind of career you want—and what kind of degree you should pursue.
Understanding the Different Types of Nursing Degrees
Many people don’t realize that nurses can hold different degrees and even different careers within the field of nursing. If you want to become a nurse, it’s important to choose the degree that will allow you to pursue your career goals. Let’s take a look at some of the nursing degrees you might want to consider.
There are three main categories of nursing degrees: licensed practical nurses (LPNs), registered nurses, and advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). Within some of these categories, there are different degree options for students.
LPN programs are short, only a year long. Nurses in these programs learn how to care for patients, but may be somewhat limited in the types of careers they can pursue and the income they can learn. LPNs perform basic duties assigned by doctors and nurses, such as taking patients’ vitals, creating status reports, and giving medication to patients.
Registered Nurse is the title most people are familiar with. The majority of people who go into the field of nursing begin with pursuing an RN degree. Students can earn an RN through two-year associate’s programs or four-year bachelor’s programs (BSN—Bachelor of Science in Nursing). These days, many employers either prefer or require a four-year degree for employment, however.
To become a registered nurse, students must pass the NCLEX exam (National Council Licensure Examination) in addition to earning their degree. There are also additional certifications students can pursue in order to boost their credentials and specialize in different types of healthcare, like pediatrics or psychiatric nursing.
Advanced degrees in nursing offer even more career options. Nurses who want to become nurse educators or hold leadership roles often pursue a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), which requires a bachelor’s degree and a few years working as a registered nurse. Earning an MSN takes an additional two years of study for full-time students.
The other most popular advanced nursing degree is the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), which allows nurses to become nurse practitioners. Nurse practitioners have more autonomy than nurses and can deliver similar care to a family doctor. Nurses who hold a BSN can earn a DNP in 3-4 years, while nurses with an MSN may need only 1-2 years of study.
Considering Career Paths in Nursing
Before deciding on the nursing degree you want to pursue, it’s important to think about what kind of career path you want to follow. Obviously, if you’re thinking about becoming a nurse, then you’re likely to be a compassionate person with a passion for helping people get well. But you don’t have to work directly with patients as an RN for your entire career if you don’t want to. Setting some career goals can help you make smarter strategic decisions about your future.
Think about your interests and skills. Are you suited to a leadership position? Do you enjoy teaching others? Would you like to deliver more advanced care to patients as a nurse practitioner? Or is there a certain population or specialty you find interesting? These are the kinds of questions you should ask yourself before deciding on a nursing career path and degree.
Here are just some of the careers and jobs you might consider within the field of nursing:
- Staff nurse
- Traveling nurse
- Charge nurse
- Pediatric nurse
- Psychiatric nurse
- Concierge nurse
- Forensic nurse
- Nursing educator
- Nurse practitioner
- Nurse manager
- Director of Nursing
- Chief nursing officer
You can work as a nurse in different settings. You could become a school nurse or choose to work in a nursing home and even correctional facilities. The possibilities are endless, and you don’t have to decide on your entire career path right away. With that said, it’s a good idea to think about your future career goals when choosing a nursing degree.
Finding a Nursing Degree to Match Your Wants and Needs
Once you have some idea of your preferred career path in nursing, you can use that goal to choose a degree program to help you get there. There are several factors to consider when choosing the right nursing degree for you.
First, think about how long you’re willing to be in school. Can you accomplish your career goals with a bachelor’s degree instead of an MSN? Or would the extra years be worth it for the additional opportunities?
You should also think about practical factors. How much are you willing to spend on a degree, and will your future job prospects pay for those costs in the long run? Do you want to attend school online or on campus? Are you planning to work and go to school part-time?
Getting the most valuable degree for you means thinking about your lifestyle, responsibilities, and goals realistically and choosing based on what you want out of life. Take your time and consider all the different factors as objectively as you can!
Does the Degree Prepare You for the NCLEX Exam?
If you want to become a registered nurse, you will need to pass the NCLEX exam before you can get hired in a hospital or other medical facility. If you want to have more responsibility than a nursing assistant or an LPN, then you need to choose a degree that will prepare you for the exam.
A two-year or four-year nursing degree will culminate in the NCLEX exam. If you think you might want to pursue an advanced nursing career in the future, it’s a good idea to choose a bachelor’s program that will allow you to move on to a DPN or MSN program down the road.
Connecting Degrees with Future Healthcare Careers & Opportunities
Healthcare is changing rapidly as Americans demand new options for their care and the population ages. These changes will usher in new responsibilities and opportunities for nurses in fields like telehealth and concierge healthcare.
The concierge model is subscription-based, personalized, and focuses on quality preventative care, rather than expensive interventions. Instead of paying for direct services, concierge healthcare patients have direct access to doctors and nurses whenever they need help with their health. This model is patient-focused and allows nurses and doctors to build strong relationships with those in their care and help their patients maintain their health and well-being.
Choosing your degree based on what’s up-and-coming in healthcare is a great way to ensure that you are prepared for the nursing careers of the future. It’s important to stay on top of trends to advance your career!
Leave Some Opportunity for Personal and Career Growth
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the options, don’t worry. You don’t have to have all the answers before you get started on your degree. All you need is an idea of where you want to take your career.
Many of these degrees offer lots of flexibility and new opportunities for talented and adaptable nurses. Leave some room for personal and career growth as you pursue your degree. Follow your interests! Ultimately, you’ll be happiest if you give yourself room to grow and find out what you’re best at.
Nursing isn’t always an easy career, but most nurses wouldn’t choose to do anything else. Follow your instincts and choose the degree that will help you achieve the future you’re imagining for yourself!