How to Become a Nurse

As the demand for health care continues to grow, nurses are faced with growing responsibilities and increased employment opportunities. Nurses work in a variety of medical settings including educational facilities, hospice centers, and surgical floors. Regardless of where they work, nurses are trained to be patient advocates and provide patients and their families with advice and guidance. Some typical responsibilities include recording patient histories and symptoms, running diagnostic tests, analyzing medical information, operating diagnostic and treatment equipment, administering prescribed treatments and aiding in patient follow-up.

Besides the different specialties of nursing, there are also different types of nurses. The three most basic distinctions are:

  • Licensed vocational nurse, LVN, or licensed practical nurse, LPN
  • Registered nurse, RN
  • Advanced care nurse
  • These different types of nurses have different levels of education and also different scopes of practice, responsibilities, and pay.

    Nursing school

    Nursing schools and programs vary dramatically in their admission process, cost, and exposure to clinical, hands-on, experience. When trying to find the right program, you will need to consider the time commitment, your level of health care background, and your future career aspirations. Also make sure that the nursing school program you choose is state approved and that you will be eligible to sit for the National Council Licensure Exam or NCLEX.

    LVN or LPN programs are usually year-long certification programs taught at technical, vocational or community colleges. The curriculum is generally a mix of classroom study and clinical experience and covers basic nursing concepts and patient care practices. Some programs offer credentialing in specialties like IV therapy, gerontology, long-term care, and pharmacology. LVNs and LPNS need to pass the NCLEX-PN exam to become licensed. Some schools offer LPN to RN programs, which allow working nurses to advance their careers.

    There are three ways to become an RN. The first is to complete a bachelor’s degree in nursing, or BSN, at a four-year college or university. The second is to obtain an associate degree, or ADN, in nursing at a two-year program at a community college or technical school. The last option, and one that is not very common, is to complete a three-year RN diploma program, which is usually sponsored through a hospital. A BSN is typically required for nurses to advance beyond RN into advanced care nursing jobs or administrative positions. RN to BSN programs exist, as do accelerated BSN courses for people who already have a bachelor degree in another field. However, to actually become a registered nurse students must pass the NCLEX-RN exam.

    Advanced care nurses have a graduate degree and a previous background in nursing or health care. The four kinds of advanced care nurses are: clinical nurse specialist, nurse anesthetist, nurse midwives and nurse practitioners. The scope of practice and the regulations governing advanced care nursing vary from state to state. In some locations, they are allowed to prescribe medication and perform limited surgical procedures. Advanced care nurses often hold positions of leadership.

    Nursing jobs and salaries

    More than 725,000 LPNs/LVNs worked in the U.S. and earned mean annual wages of $40,900, according to May 2009 BLS data. However, Connecticut, New Jersey and Rhode Island were some of the highest paying states and LPNs/LVNs there earned mean annual wages above $50,000. Occupations for LPNs/LVNs are expected to grow by 21 percent during the 2008-2018 decade and could result in 155,000 new positions.

    More than 2.6 million registered nurses worked in the U.S. as of May 2009, according to the BLS. They earned mean annual wages of $66,530. California, Hawaii and Massachusetts were the highest paying states and registered nurses there earned mean annual wages above $80,000. Nationwide, opportunities for RNs are expected to grow by 22 percent during 2008-2018 and could result in 580,000 new jobs during the decade.

    The BLS does not list occupational information for advanced care nurses. However, it could be assumed that because these nurses have a master’s degree and advanced education that their annual wages would be higher.