How to Choose the Right Nursing Degree

Highlights the various degree paths that nurses and aspiring nurses can follow to advance their careers. Includes information about regular degree programs and bridge programs.
How to Choose the Right Nursing Degree

Whether you are just embarking on a nursing career or have been working in the field for some time, choosing the right degree program can be a bit of a challenge. To break into the nursing field, of course, you must complete a basic training program. To advance in your career, you'll want to earn a degree from a community college or university. Later, to progress into still more advanced roles, you might pursue a master's or doctoral degree. Figure out which nursing degree is right for you by reading on below.

1. Earn Your LPN Certification

If you are just starting out in your nursing career and want to get to work as quickly as possible, earning your certification for licensed practical nursing is probably your best bet. LPN training programs generally take around a year to complete. They are offered by hospitals, vocational-technical schools and community colleges around the country. Upon completing your training, you will be eligible to sit for the NCLEX-PN. After passing that, you will earn your certification and will be able to start applying for jobs as an LPN.

2. Earn Your ADN

Since LPN is an entry-level position, you won't command a very high salary there. Therefore, you might want to skip past that and move directly into becoming a registered nurse. The quickest way to achieve this is by earning your associate degree in nursing, or ADN. ADN degree programs typically take around two years to complete. They include coursework, lab work and clinical training at local health care facilities. Many programs have a hybrid option that lets you complete much of the work online. Upon earning your ADN, you will be eligible to sit for the NCLEX-RN. After you pass your exam, you can apply for your RN license and start looking for work as a registered nurse.

3. Earn Your BSN

If you aren't concerned about getting into the workforce immediately as a registered nurse, you might want to skip earning your ADN and pursue your bachelor of science in nursing, or BSN, instead. These days, many employers only hire nurses who have bachelor's degrees in general and BSNs in particular. Also, if you start with an ADN, you might eventually decide to earn your BSN anyway. By earning it right off the bat, you can save a lot of time and start qualifying for better pay and benefits sooner. It usually takes around four years to complete a BSN, so be prepared to devote a lot of your life to your studies for a long period of time. Once you are finished, you can sit for the NCLEX-RN, earn your RN license and start applying for RN jobs.

4. Earn Your Accelerated BSN

What if you have a bachelor's degree in a field other than nursing? The good news is that your previous education doesn't have to go to waste when pursuing a nursing career. In fact, you are in the position to skip ahead by earning your accelerated BSN. Also known as a second-degree BSN, this option is very attractive for anyone who has a bachelor's degree but who wants to move into the nursing field. The great thing about this option is that you can usually earn your BSN in two years or less, so you will save a lot of time. As with other nursing degree programs, you'll have to complete clinical training, coursework and lab work.

5. Earn Your MSN

If you are already working as a registered nurse but would like to move into an area of specialization, you should consider earning your master of science in nursing, or MSN. This advanced degree can typically be earned in 18 to 24 months. MSN programs are extremely rigorous, but employers often offer tuition reimbursement to help employees get there. Through an MSN degree program, you can pursue advanced roles such as nurse practitioner and nurse midwife. If you feel held back by only possessing an ADN or a BSN, it is well worth it to consider this option.

6. Earn Your DPN

Nurses who already have BSNs and who are interested in moving into highly advanced areas like clinical research, health administration and advanced clinical practice often decide to purse doctor of nursing practice, or DNP, degrees. This doctoral degree takes anywhere from four to six years to complete, so you will be dedicating your life to the pursuit for the foreseeable future. However, these degree programs are also usually designed with busy working nurses in mind, so you should get plenty of support along the way. With a DNP under your belt, you will qualify for more advanced positions and, without a doubt, much higher pay.

7. Earn a Nursing Degree Faster Through a Bridge Program

Finally, if you already have some nursing education, are ready to progress into more advanced levels and would like to do so as quickly and efficiently as possible, completing a bridge program to earn a more advanced degree may be a viable option. For example, if you have an ADN, an ADN-to-BSN bridge program can help you to earn your BSN in as little as two years. If you have a BSN but want to earn a master's or doctor degree, BSN-to-MSN and BSN-to-DNP degree programs are readily available. As with many other nursing degree programs, bridge programs often offer a hybrid online option, and they are typically geared toward helping busy, working nurses earn more advanced degrees. These programs are rigorous and challenging, but most nurses agree that they are well worth the effort.

As you can see, you can take your pick from a dizzying array of nursing degrees. The above list is only the tip of the iceberg because many degrees can be enhanced with specializations. Educate yourself about these degrees to more easily identify the one that is right for you.

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