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Choosing a Career in Nursing: What You Need to Know

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Nursing is one of the most fulfilling career options, especially if you love working with and taking care of patients. Nursing is also rapidly growing around the world, as the demand for qualified nurses continues to increase. Additionally, a career in nursing is both lucrative and affords those who choose this career many opportunities for growth and career options. If you are considering becoming a nurse, this article will explain what it takes to become a nurse, the technical and educational qualifications you require, and an overview of the career itself.

Earning a Degree

A formal degree is required to become a registered nurse (RN). There are very few exceptions, but many of the positions you might be interested in will require that you have at least a bachelor’s degree. There are numerous positions for holders of an associate degree, but many positions require advanced degrees. Although there are lots of options and degree programs, we are going to look at some of the most common ones that show a clear path to getting hired for different positions.

The first option is an associate’s degree in nursing. This is the option that requires the least money and time investment, and is meant to teach foundational skills, knowledge, and attitudes about the nursing profession. Earning an associate’s degree in nursing will usually take two to three years.

The other, more popular option is earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). This is the traditional route to take and you do not need an associate’s degree to enroll in this program. Nurses who have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree will generally have an easier time getting a job, are given more responsibilities, and will usually earn a higher salary.

Because this degree exposes students to a lot of clinical areas and practices, it is arguably the best option for students who want to explore different nursing arenas and specialties before settling on one.

A Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree will take three to four years to complete and graduates have to pass the national licensure examination (NCLEX) before they are allowed to practice.

Those who already have a degree in some other field of study can apply for an accelerated nursing program. Since some of the coursework from the degree they already have will count towards the completion of the accelerated program, it is always easier if you are coming from a science background or have a science degree.  Let’s not forget about online courses and the opportunity to get both certified and recertified in crucial skills such as ACLS without putting a strain on your time.

Accelerated nursing programs are full-time, fast-paced, and very intense. Many universities offer 1-year accelerated BSN programs but you can expect up to 16 months depending on the institution you choose. Completing the accelerated degree program will make you very desirable in the job market because those who graduate from these programs prove they can handle the pressure and are prepared to work in stressful and fast-paced environments.

Obtaining a License

Obtaining a license is crucial for any nurse. Without the right credentials, you might have a hard time finding work or even practicing. The licenses you need will vary according to your location, specialty, and occupation. Most universities will guide you on how to obtain the correct licenses. Each license is awarded after passing the relevant exam(s). The most important exams for nurses include:

  • Certified Nursing Assistant – This exam is for those who want to become nursing assistants. Because certified nursing assistants do not have too many responsibilities, these exams are limited in the scope they test.
  • National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN) – This exam is a necessity for licensed practical nurses. Licensed practical nurses usually have more responsibilities than certified nursing assistants and this exam reflects that. This exam covers additional responsibilities such as conducting medical tests and administering medication.
  • National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) – This exam is for registered nurses. This is a much more intense and in-depth exam than the two above and is necessary for registered nurses to practice.

Obtaining Employment

After you obtain your degree and the relevant licenses, the next step is finding employment. Because nurses are in such high demand, there are numerous positions open. Do note that because nursing is becoming popular, there may be intense competition for some of the more nuanced positions that pay better.

The best options for those starting out include long-term care facilities and places with established medical communities. The demand for nurses in long-term care facilities and established medical communities give you many options to choose from, including numerous hospitals and universities.

Choosing a Specialty

It is important to remember that you do not need to specialize right away. You can take your time and work in different hospital settings to find out what positions and career paths are best for you. Remember that for positions that require certain specialties, you need to earn advanced degrees or obtain special certifications.

There are too many nursing specializations to list here, but some of the most popular ones include:

  • Neonatal Nursing – Neonatal nurses get to work with babies, and toddlers sometimes. Most of these nurses work in the neonatal intensive care units in hospitals, although some of them might work in different departments taking care of babies and their mothers.
  • Nurse Midwives – These nurses focus on pregnancies and deliveries. Because of the important work they do, these nurses are always in high demand and are compensated really well.
  • Clinical Nursing – Nurses who want to follow this career path require advanced degrees and certifications. Most of their work involves overseeing other nurses.
  • Critical Care Nurses – These nurses work in trauma centers and critical care units. Due to the scope of their work, most of them work in hospitals.

Going for Higher Positions

If you have specific career goals in mind, going for higher positions might require that you obtain higher degrees such as a Master’s of Science in Nursing, or to take a degree that focuses on hospital administration. These new qualifications will make senior-level options available to you and will result in more responsibilities and higher pay.

There are different paths you could follow to become a nurse. All of these paths will lead to a fulfilling career where you get to make a difference in people’s lives. Nursing is a fulfilling career, with a lot of opportunities for specialization and growth, and both of these are perhaps the biggest reasons why you should consider a career in nursing.

David Smith