Are you considering becoming a nurse? If so, you probably have at least a few questions about the overall value of this career and just how difficult it will be to embark upon it. With several training options to choose from, the initial path to nursing certification can seem daunting to navigate.
Launching a career as a registered nurse isn’t as difficult or complex as it first might appear. Read on for a brief overview of what you can expect from a nursing career and what it takes to start one.
What Is a Registered Nurse?
Perhaps better known by its abbreviation “RN,” the title of “registered nurse” is conferred upon nursing professionals who have registered with the appropriate state board to obtain official licensure to practice. Depending on the career focus of the RN, the term “practice” might refer to any combination of direct care provision and coordination, physical and emotional support, and health information/wellness education.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for registered nurses is $77,600 and there is a steady demand for the services RNs provide. With a projected employment growth rate of 6 percent through 2031, the job outlook for RNs is slightly better than the average for all occupations. To better appeal to RNs, employers are generally offering attractive financial compensation.
Career prospects for registered nurses become even more attractive with advanced experience, education, and specialization. Examining the employment sector for nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, and nurse midwives, the BLS has identified an exceptional job growth rate of 40 percent. Furthermore, advanced nursing positions, when averaged together, command a healthy pay rate of $123,780 per year.
Educational Pathways to Become a Registered Nurse
There are many different routes to an RN license. The best way forward for you will depend entirely on your specific wants and needs. Each of the following training options comes with its unique benefits and drawbacks, you must ask yourself which best meets your personal goals and situational demands.
Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN)
Unless you already have a bachelor’s degree or advanced credentials that relate to nursing, the Associate of Science in Nursing is the most direct and immediate route to licensure as an RN. The ASN serves as a mark of knowledge and ability in the holistic care of patients who span a diverse range of demographics and populations. A good ASN curriculum will equip students with technical nursing skills and critical thinking capabilities while preparing them to provide patient-centered care and collaborating with fellow team members. In most American states, it is the minimum degree requirement to become an RN.
Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
The Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) offers many distinct advantages for prospective nurses with professional ambition. The BSN generally takes twice as long to earn when compared to the ASN, but it offers those who hold it a greater depth of training as well as improved hiring potential. The BSN is also a general requirement for postgraduate-level study.
Accelerated BSN Programs
There are many types of accelerated BSN programs available to students today. Those that provide a faster path to RN licensure typically require applicants to hold another bachelor’s degree, which may or may not relate to nursing. Another example of an accelerated BSN program is an RN-to-BSN program, which allows current RNs to earn a BSN in as few as ten months.
Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)
If you want to make a serious impact in the nursing world, provide advanced specialized care, instruct nursing students, or play a leadership role in healthcare administration, you will want to consider a Master of Science in Nursing. While some nurses enroll in an MSN program directly after earning their BSN, others might work for years before returning to school.
Additional Requirements and Licensure
Regardless of the training path they pursue and the university degree they obtain, all nurses must secure a license to practice within the US state where they plan to work. Although licensure requirements vary from state to state, all states require RN candidates to complete an approved postsecondary education and training program.
After nursing program completion, aspiring RNs must sit for the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). This federal exam is the same for all nurses throughout the United States, and all nurses face the same performance standards to pass it.
How Long Is Nursing School?
How long nursing school takes depends entirely on your current level of education and your career aspirations. Diligent students can generally expect to secure an ASN within two years. This is an ideal choice for those new to the field as a way to get your foot in the door t, but earning an ASN and choosing to not pursue further nursing education down the road could present some serious roadblocks to career growth.
For those interested in specializing or landing more advanced roles, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing is a logical next step. A typical BSN program will take an additional four years of study. However, many nursing schools offer an RN-BSN program that could help accelerate your timeline. For nurses who aspire to achieve leadership roles in the field, a Master of Science in Nursing is the standard, which can take an additional two years of schooling. As you can see, the length of time you should plan to commit to nursing school is contingent upon how ambitious you are – the greater the time commitment to nursing school, the greater your opportunities for career success.
Average Time to Become an RN
As we have seen, the average length of time needed to become an RN can vary dramatically from student to student and location to location. However, the average journey to state RN licensure is two years without a BSN and four years with one.
Advantages of Completing an ASN Program
Simply put, an Associate of Science in Nursing offers the shortest, easiest, and most straightforward path to the RN designation for most people. An ASN provides a broad and comprehensive foundation of nursing knowledge, theory, and skill with a thorough blend of classroom education, clinical simulations, and direct practical patient care. It’s an excellent steppingstone to more advanced education down the road.
Choosing the Right Program
Different nursing programs will appeal and cater to different prospective students. For example, many students simply cannot afford the tuition at certain schools. By completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), students may be eligible for one or more cost-effective student loans.
Online vs. On-Campus Program
Make no mistake about it: the choice between distance and in-person learning is extremely important. While online programs are generally far more convenient and often less expensive, the learning advantages of face-to-face instruction and class participation have yet to be effectively replicated in the virtual environment. Most nursing programs allow students to benefit from the best that both educational formats have to offer. With a hybrid approach, nursing programs allows students to tackle routine course materials online and interact with professors and classmates on campus for more important and complex matters.
People with serious existing time contracts or with plans to get through nursing school quickly should consider the fact that most online and hybrid programs give students considerable latitude when it comes to course schedules. As previously noted, the ASN is the shortest degree path to the RN designation for most people, allowing you to begin working as a nurse in less than two years.
Personal and Career Goals
Let your unique objectives guide the nursing program selection process. If you want to operate your own business or command a three-figure salary immediately upon graduation, you will probably want to bypass the ASN and make plans to pursue an MSN or other advanced credentials as soon as possible.
Clinical Training and Internship Opportunities
Extensive hands-on experience is an essential part of nursing education. Before you can safely provide care as a professional, you will want to perform as a nurse in many different capacities under the immediate supervision of program faculty.
Finding a Program in Your State
Because in-state schools are generally better equipped to guide you through all applicable license requirements and processes, you will want to find a nursing program that is approved by an official state licensing agency. For example, the West Virginia Board of Examiners for Registered Professional Nurses (WVBERPN) licenses all RNs in West Virginia. Explore all approved associate and bachelor-level nursing programs in WV.
Pursue a Nursing Career with Salem University
One of the best options for online and hybrid nursing education in WV is Salem University. We offer an Associate of Science in Nursing and more advanced nursing degree programs for those already in the field. Regardless of your needs and goals, we likely have a path forward that is right for you. Request more information about our various nursing programs, and start the program application process.