Registered Nurse Training
The three typical educational paths to registered nursing are a bachelor's
degree, an associate degree, and a diploma from an approved nursing program.
Nurses most commonly enter the occupation by completing an associate degree or
bachelor's degree program. Individuals then must complete a national licensing
examination in order to obtain a nursing license. Advanced practice
nurses—clinical nurse specialists, nurse anesthetists, nurse-midwives, and nurse
practitioners—need a master�s degree.
Education and training. There are three
typical educational paths to registered nursing—a bachelor's of science degree
in nursing (BSN), an associate degree in nursing (ADN), and a diploma. BSN
programs, offered by colleges and universities, take about 4 years to complete.
ADN programs, offered by community and junior colleges, take about 2 to 3 years
to complete. Diploma programs, administered in hospitals, last about 3 years.
Generally, licensed graduates of any of the three types of educational programs
qualify for entry-level positions as a staff nurse. There are hundreds of
registered nursing programs that result in ADN or BSN; however, there are
relatively few diploma programs.
Individuals considering a career in nursing should carefully weigh the
advantages and disadvantages of enrolling each type of education program.
Advancement opportunities may be more limited for ADN and diploma holders
compared to RNs who obtain a BSN or higher. Individuals who complete a
bachelor's degree receive more training in areas such as communication,
leadership, and critical thinking, all of which are becoming more important as
nursing practice becomes more complex. Additionally, bachelor's degree programs
offer more clinical experience in nonhospital settings. A bachelor's or higher
degree is often necessary for administrative positions, research, consulting,
Many RNs with an ADN or diploma later enter bachelor's degree programs to
prepare for a broader scope of nursing practice. Often, they can find an
entry-level position and then take advantage of tuition reimbursement benefits
to work toward a BSN by completing an RN-to-BSN program. Accelerated master's
degree in nursing (MSN) programs also are available. They typically take 3-4
years to complete full time and result in the award of both the BSN and MSN.
There are education programs available for people interested in switching to
a career in nursing as well. Individuals who already hold a bachelor�s degree in
another field may enroll in an accelerated BSN program. Accelerated BSN programs
last 12 to 18 months and provide the fastest route to a BSN for individuals who
already hold a degree. MSN programs also are available for individuals who hold
a bachelor's or higher degree in another field; master�s degree programs usually
last 2 years.
All nursing education programs include classroom instruction and supervised
clinical experience in hospitals and other healthcare facilities. Students take
courses in anatomy, physiology, microbiology, chemistry, nutrition, psychology
and other behavioral sciences, and nursing. Coursework also includes the liberal
arts for ADN and BSN students.
Supervised clinical experience is provided in hospital departments such as
pediatrics, psychiatry, maternity, and surgery. A number of programs include
clinical experience in nursing care facilities, public health departments, home
health agencies, and ambulatory clinics.
Licensure and certification. In all
States, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories, students must graduate
from an approved nursing program and pass a national licensing examination,
known as the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX-RN, in order to
obtain a nursing license. Other eligibility requirements for licensure vary by
State. Contact your State�s board of nursing for details.
Other qualifications. Nurses should be
caring, sympathetic, responsible, and detail oriented. They must be able to
direct or supervise others, correctly assess patients' conditions, and determine
when consultation is required. They need emotional stability to cope with human
suffering, emergencies, and other stresses.
RNs should enjoy learning because continuing education credits are required
by some States and/or employers at regular intervals. Career-long learning is a
distinct reality for RNs.
Some nurses may become credentialed in specialties such as ambulatory care,
gerontology, informatics, pediatrics, and many others. Credentialing for RNs is
available from the American Nursing Credentialing Center, the National League
for Nursing, and many others. Although credentialing is usually voluntary, it
demonstrates adherence to a higher standard and some employers may require it.
Advancement. Most RNs begin as staff
nurses in hospitals and, with experience and good performance, often move to
other settings or are promoted to positions with more responsibility. In
management, nurses can advance from assistant unit manager or head nurse to more
senior-level administrative roles of assistant director, director, vice
president, or chief of nursing. Increasingly, management-level nursing positions
require a graduate or an advanced degree in nursing or health services
administration. Administrative positions require leadership, communication and
negotiation skills, and good judgment.
Some RNs choose to become advanced practice nurses, who work independently or
in collaboration with physicians, and may focus on providing primary care
services. There are four types of advanced practice nurses: clinical nurse
specialists, nurse anesthetists, nurse-midwives, and nurse practitioners.
Clinical nurse specialists provide direct patient care and expert consultations
in one of many nursing specialties, such as psychiatric-mental health. Nurse
anesthetists provide anesthesia and related care before and after surgical,
therapeutic, diagnostic, and obstetrical procedures. They also provide pain
management and emergency services, such as airway management. Nurse-midwives
provide primary care to women, including gynecological exams, family planning
advice, prenatal care, assistance in labor and delivery, and neonatal care.
Nurse practitioners serve as primary and specialty care providers, providing a
blend of nursing and healthcare services to patients and families.
All four types of advanced practice nurses require at least a master's
degree. In addition, all States specifically define requirements for registered
nurses in advanced practice roles. Advanced practice nurses may prescribe
medicine, but the authority to prescribe varies by State. Contact your State�s
board of nursing for specific regulations regarding advanced practice nurses.
Some nurses move into the business side of healthcare. Their nursing
expertise and experience on a healthcare team equip them to manage ambulatory,
acute, home-based, and chronic care businesses. Employers—including hospitals,
insurance companies, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and managed care
organizations, among others—need RNs for health planning and development,
marketing, consulting, policy development, and quality assurance. Other nurses
work as college and university faculty or conduct research.
Source: Bureau of Labor
Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook
Handbook, 2010-11 Edition
Find related resources below:
Registered Nurse Employment
Registered Nurse Training
Registered Nurse Job Outlook
Registered Nurse Income