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How Nurses Increase their Education Levels

Careers in the healthcare industry, especially nursing, continue to be among the most in-demand careers. Many nurses begin their careers as Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) or earn associate’s degrees in nursing (ADN) to become Registered Nurses (RNs). However, you can advance your career and help address nursing shortages by increasing your education levels.

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Different Education Levels

As a nurse, you have the opportunity to increase your level of education and improve your chances to become eligible for new career openings.

Always make sure your nursing program is accredited by an established and recognized organization, such as the following:

  • Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)
  • American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN)
  • Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC)

Here is the pathway for nurses to increase education levels and open new doors of opportunity in the nursing profession:

Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN): This two-year nursing degree program is typically available in community or technical colleges, or through blended learning options (a combination of online courses and hands-on clinical hours). While this has been the minimal level required to become a registered nurse (RN), an increasing number of healthcare employers prefer nurses who have the next education level, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).

Once you successfully earn your ADN degree, you can contact the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) and apply to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses or Registered Nurses (NCLEX-PN or NCLEX-RN, respectively). When you pass the NCLEX, you can obtain your nursing license and legally practice as an LPN or RN.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN):  This four-year nursing degree program is usually offered in colleges or universities, or online programs with mandatory on-site clinical. Many community colleges and four-year colleges or universities form articulation agreements, meaning RNs with ADN degrees may apply for a “2 + 2” program. They can transfer their two years of courses to an RN-to-BSN program and complete it in two years instead of four.

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN): This is typically a one- or two-year degree program beyond your BSN degree or a bachelor’s degree in a related field. The MSN degree is necessary if you want to apply for a position as an Advanced Practice Nurse (APN) or Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN). This advanced degree typically makes you eligible for higher earnings, and establishes you as an authority in clinical practice.

Another component of most MSN degree programs is the option to choose a specialty, such as pediatric nursing or intensive care nursing. You might also want to explore the clinical nurse track.

Certain mid-level nursing roles, such as a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) or a Nurse Practitioner (NP), require specialized master’s level nursing degrees.

Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) or Doctor of Nursing Science (DNS):  This is the highest level of education you can obtain in your nursing career. You must first earn your BSN and MSN. Then you may choose to specialize in clinical nursing and earn your DNP degree, or become a nursing instructor or researcher with the DNS degree.

Educational Options and Continued Education

You may choose to attend nursing classes or degree programs in the traditional fashion, in classrooms. On the other hand, online nursing courses may be more convenient for you if you already have a full-time nursing career.

Either way, you typically have to complete a number of on-site clinical hours to apply your “book” knowledge in a hands-on, practical way to demonstrate your competence as a nurse. This includes getting used to wearing scrubs, as well as all the equipment to perform your job well.

In addition, you will need to maintain your nursing license through taking ongoing designated trainings and continuing education units (known as CEUs) as designated for your particular career position. Your state board of nursing can give you more details on what is necessary to renew or keep your nursing license active in your own state.

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