There are other choices a nursing student has to make before selecting a program. One of those choices is whether to seek an Associate in Science degree (A.S.N.) or a Bachelor of Science degree (B.S.N.). The biggest difference between these two options is the amount of time required to complete the degree. An A.S.N. will take about 2 to 3 years to complete, while a B.S.N. will take 4 to 5 years. Graduates of both types of degrees will have the same job opportunities right after graduation; both degrees offer recent graduates entry-level positions. The difference is that, in the long-term, a B.S.N. offers more advancement opportunities than an A.S.N. There are some positions, such as administrative and management positions in hospitals, that are only open to nurses with a B.S.N. Another option for those interested in a career in nursing are accelerated B.S.N. programs. These programs are open to those with a Bachelor's degree in a different field and usually take 1 to 2 years to complete.
Students who decide to seek an A.S.N. have the option of returning to school to earn a B.S.N. Most schools offer R.N. to B.S.N. programs with varying admission requirements and program lengths. Another option available to A.S.N. graduates are B.S.N. to M.S.N. (Master of Science in Nursing) accelerated programs. These programs are designed to have students complete an accelerated B.S.N. in one year, and two years to complete the M.S.N.
Post-graduate work in the Nursing field offers an R.N. more opportunities and responsibilities. After earning a Master's degree in Nursing, nurses can work toward Advanced Practice Nursing (A.P.N.) degrees. Currently, there are four options: Certified Nurse Midwife, Clinical Nurse Specialist, Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist, and Nurse Practitioner. The responsibilities of A.P.N.s vary according to state regulations; however, they are, generally, able to provide the same or similar services as physicians, such as diagnosing illnesses and prescribing medications. Most programs take about two years to complete with admission requirements varying among schools.
These programs are commonly offered by community colleges and technical vocational schools, usually hospital-based nursing schools. This program usually takes a year to complete. Graduates of this type of program can take the licensure examination to become an LPN/LVN (Licensed Practical Nurse/Licensed Vocational Nurse).
Associate Degree in Nursing (Associate of Science in Nursing)
An associate degree in nursing is also commonly offered by community colleges. This type of program allows LPNs/LVNs to further their degree and be eligible to take the NCLEX-PN examination. This degree focuses on a more comprehensive nursing skills and practice but very little on nursing theory and research. This type of degree is one of the quickest approaches to become a nurse. This is also the minimum requirement of becoming a registered nurse.
Bachelor of Science in Nursing (Undergraduate program)
This program involves a four-year curriculum from a university or college where the focus is mostly on nursing theory and practice. The first year of study involves general courses while the last two years will be devoted to nursing theory and research as well as clinical duties. It also involves intensive classroom teaching and related learning experiences in the clinical areas (hospitals, mental health institutions, community, and in the clinics). The bachelor’s degree is a course where graduates are prepared to take the NCLEX-RN due to the higher level of studies obtained, making them more competitive to become licensed registered nurses.
RN to BSN Degree
This degree is specifically designed for registered nurses who want to further their studies into bachelor’s degree with a very flexible study schedule.
Master of Science in Nursing (Graduate program)
The master’s degree program usually requires a bachelor’s degree certificate. It offers a wide range of nursing specialization focusing on research and advanced clinical skills. The usual majors offered are Adult Health, Psychiatric Nursing, Nursing Administration, Community Health Nursing, Nursing Informatics, and Family Health Nursing. A master’s degree program is required for someone who wishes to pursue an advanced practice nursing roles. It will typically take 18-24 months to obtain a master’s degree.
Doctorate Nursing Degree Program (Post-graduate program)
This type of program usually takes about four to six years. This is the highest degree one can earn in the field of nursing. It involves extensive research and advanced clinical practice where the focus is the clinical and administration and management aspects of nursing. This also includes research, leadership skills, and courses in nursing philosophy and science. It prepares the nurse to effect change in the clinical as well as administrative levels of healthcare. The doctoral programs available in universities are the following: Doctor of Nursing Education, Doctor of Nursing Practice, Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing, and dual Doctorate program.
Master of Science in Nursing/Philosophy in Nursing Dual Degree Program
This is an intensive and accelerated program simultaneously offering both masters and PhD courses. This usually takes five years to complete.
These are not considered as degrees per se, but these are some programs and courses that might be a stepping stone of someone who aspires to become a nurse or the level of nursing practice you are licensed to do. These programs and courses are taken with a license thus taking and passing certain examinations are needed before one can practice the profession as limited by the course, program, or license.
CNA (Certified Nurse Assistant)
Certified Nurse Assistants (CNA) can work in a number of healthcare settings such as a hospital, nursing home, hospice, or in a community. Technically, they are not nurses but they usually work under the supervision of a licensed practical nurse or a registered nurse. It is a starting point for those interested to work in the medical field and to check out if the nursing profession suits their preference and needs. Their duties are limited to basic nursing care such as vital signs taking and bed making.
LPN/LVN (Licensed Practical Nurse/Licensed Vocational Nurse)
An LPN/LVN can perform the functions of a CNA plus some additional roles that are not within the range of a CNA. These roles might include giving of medications, care planning with other healthcare team members, and performing cardio-pulmonary resuscitation. However, they are guided and under the supervision and leadership of a registered nurse and cannot transcribe doctor’s orders. They also provide technical and physical support to regular RNs in the clinical area. The NCLEX-PN examination is taken to obtain a license for these programs.
RN (Registered Nurse)
These are the standard of the nursing industry. They are also much preferred in hospitals as direct careers of patients and the frontline in the medical field. A registered nurse (RN) is capable of performing all the roles of a CNA and LPN/LVN. Registered nurses can also choose a sub-specialty in any field in nursing by taking continuing education units or applying for examinations for certifications. Regular RNs specialize in the hospital area where they work like ICU nurse, ER nurse, or Pain management nurse. The NCLEX-RN examination is taken and passed to become a registered nurse in the specific state that you want to work in.
APRN (Advanced Practice Registered Nurse).
There is a need for taking certifications and further studies to become an advanced practical nurse. The common specialties for advanced practice nursing are certified nurse anesthetist, primary nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, and clinical nurse specialist. A certified nurse anesthetist is someone who administers anesthesia in surgeries while a certified nurse midwife takes care of postpartum women, delivery, and prenatal care. These are some of the examples of roles that an advanced practice registered nurse does.