The average time to complete most nursing school programs can range from 12 months to four years, depending on the type of nursing degree you are pursuing and the specific program you enroll in. If you’re thinking about a career in nursing, it’s common to consider what type of licensed nurse you’d like to be. Although many titles include “nurse,” the roles can differ in terms of responsibilities, length of time to complete a nursing program, and career outlook. This article will discuss how to become a registered nurse or licensed practical nurse and how to research nursing school programs.
Registered nurses, or RNs, provide basic and advanced care for various patient populations and clinical settings. RNs administer medications, assess patient vital signs, and collect lab samples. In addition to providing patient care, RNs are involved in healthcare strategy and leadership because of their additional clinical training.
Steps to become an RN
You can become a registered nurse (RN) in several ways. You will need to obtain a degree from an accredited institution and be licensed to practice as a registered nurse in your state. Options for degrees include a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN). You will have both classroom lectures and hands-on clinical rotations in school. Both classroom and clinical experience cover areas of nursing such as critical care, pediatrics, women’s health, microbiology, and pharmacology.
Typically, if you are pursuing either a BSN or ADN degree, it will take around four years to complete. If you obtain an associate degree in nursing, RN to BSN programs are available for those seeking a bachelor’s degree. Depending on the type of position and facility you choose to work for, they may require a bachelor’s degree.
To practice as an RN, you will need to gain licensure. Once you graduate from an accredited nursing school, you must pass the National Council Licensure Examination or NCLEX. Check with your state for additional testing requirements, such as background checks. There are several steps to complete before taking the NCLEX exam. First, submit an application to your nursing regulatory body, or NRB. Next, register with Pearson Vue to pay fees and schedule your test when appropriate. Once you’re deemed by the NRB and have registered with Pearson, you’ll receive authorization to test or ATT. You must have an ATT to schedule your exam. Upon successfully passing the NCLEX, you are considered a candidate for obtaining licensure by your respective state.
How long does it take to become a Practical Nurse?
A licensed practical nurse, or LPN, is a nurse who provides routine care for patients. LPNs typically work in hospitals, nursing homes, and long-term care facilities. These practical nurses work under the supervision of nurses and physicians.
Typical duties of LPNs can include administering medications, feeding & bathing patients, providing patient updates to doctors and nurses, and collecting samples for testing. Responsibilities for LPNs can vary by both the clinical setting and state in which you practice. Compared to RNs, LPNs have a limited scope of practice. For example, depending on the location, LPNs may be prohibited from drawing blood from PICC lines. Specific tasks completed by LPNs may require the sign-off of an RN.
To become a licensed practical nurse, you must graduate from an approved program typically offered by community colleges and technical schools. These programs usually take one year to complete and include classroom training and clinical rotations.
Once an LPN program is complete, students can take the National Council Licensure Examination or NCLEX-PN exam. Passing this exam ensures the LPN is adequately trained and helps grant licensure in their respective states. Registering for this exam is like that of the NCLEX exam for RNs.
How to research Nursing school programs
If you need help narrowing down which nursing school is right for you, check out the AACN (American Association of Colleges of Nursing) Member Program Directory offers advanced search features that allow you to filter nursing schools by location, affiliations, and programs offered.
When considering nursing school programs, there are several factors you should consider:
- School Accreditation
- When considering nursing schools, it’s essential to factor in accreditation. Accreditation occurs through the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing or ACEN. Accreditation involves a peer review of the quality of a nursing program, including a review of faculty, curriculum, resources, program outcomes, and students. Student passing rates for the NCLEX are also considered during the accreditation process. Schools must complete continuing education accreditation every eight years.
- Flexible transfer credit policies
- Transfer credit policies can be helpful if you change schools before starting your nursing program and don’t want to lose any credits you’ve already earned. For example, if you complete your prerequisites but enroll in a nursing program at another school, you may be able to transfer some or all of those courses so that you don’t have to retake them before starting your nursing program. Check your school’s policy to see how many hours can transfer and the criteria for which coursework can move from one institution to another.
- Class schedules (day/evening/weekends)
- Flexible class schedules are an excellent option for students who lead busy lives outside nursing school. Some programs may offer night, evening, and weekend options in addition to traditional classroom hours and online options.
- Classroom and practical requirements
- The nursing school curriculum covers various topics, including pharmacology, medical/surgical nursing, critical care nursing, community health, psych, pediatrics, and obstetrics. With each of these classes, you’ll have the opportunity to practice in live clinical settings. Coursework includes nursing theory and practice, clinical reasoning, and professionalism & leadership. During these practical, hands-on experiences, you’ll work with your nursing instructor and nurses on the units to deliver patient care. Both the classroom and the practical applications are meant to prepare you for graduation and completion of the NCLEX.
- Future opportunities and upper-level options
- When considering nursing schools, it’s helpful to consider if the school has additional opportunities for career advancement. Some programs may only offer associate or bachelor degree options, while others offer bridge programs and advanced-level degrees. Specific programs provide opportunities for those who have previously earned degrees to bridge into bachelor’s or master’s degree options. For instance, if you’re a nurse with an associate’s degree, schools may offer a program that allows you to earn a bachelor’s degree in less time. Options for RN to MSN (Masters of Nursing) bridge programs are also available. Opportunities for advanced degrees and continuing education are excellent ways to boost a nurse’s career pathway.
There are many factors to consider when choosing which nursing career path is right for you. When considering which nursing school you’d like to attend, consider what specialty you want to work in, which state you’d like to practice, and your future career outlook.
Earning a nursing degree can create many opportunities for your career and increase your earning potential for years to come. If you’re interested in this and any other topic related to nursing and nursing schools, follow NurseHub on Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok.