If you have a desire to work in the nursing industry, you likely are just as excited as you are confused. While there are several well-known nursing professions, how do you even get started in an entry level nursing position? Unlike other healthcare professions, which have limited career options and standardized training requirements, nursing is just as versatile and unique as the patients you’ll treat.
Although there’s much to consider when determining whether this is a career path for you or not, it all begin by understanding how an aspiring nurse transforms into a licensed and successful member of the healthcare team.
Whether you’re ready to start your journey into this dynamic field, or are simply looking for more information, let’s investigate the necessary steps and essential info you need to take your passion and career to the next level!
Non-Degree Entry Level Nursing Careers
For many aspiring nurses, the only experience they have in this profession is watching TV shows or reading nursing blogs. While these provide skewed insights into the life and work of today’s nursing staff, how exactly do you get started in this field?
If you have limited experience, or none at all, the easiest and quickest way to begin your journey is by earning certifications and licenses. We’re going to cover degree programs and opportunities generated by these advanced-level training programs, but for now, what are your options if you don’t have a degree (and don’t immediately want to enroll in such a lengthy training program) and still want an entry level nursing career?
The following positions are classified as entry level nursing and don’t require a two or four-year degree. Instead, they are available to all aspiring nurses who simply complete a certification program, which generally take a year or so to complete.
Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA):
This is one of the easiest and quickest ways to go from dreaming about being a nurse to actually working in a medical facility. Certified Nursing Assistants, or CNAs, require minimal training and are among the most in-demand positions in the United States.
As many current and former CNAs can attest, this is an excellent opportunity to investigate life as a nurse without having to dedicate years of training. If you wish to fully understand what it takes to be a nurse, what the average day is like and whether or not you’ll actually enjoy this type of employment, then you should seriously consider becoming a CNA.
Training for this entry level position is quick and held in community colleges, vocational schools or accredited training organizations throughout the country. While the exact training requirements vary from state-to-state, the average program consists of:
- Shorter Training Durations – The typical CNA training program can last anywhere from several weeks to 6 months. Factors such as how much time you can commit to the coursework and state regulations determine the final program duration. The most important element to consider when searching for a program is to only enroll in one that’s accredited by your state and national certifying agencies. Check with your local community college or contact your State Board of Nursing for a complete list of accredited CNA training programs near you.
- Theoretical and Practical Coursework – Throughout your CNA training program, you’ll be required to take classroom theoretical courses, such as anatomy and general nursing concepts, as well as hands-on practical courses. Practical training is performed in a medical facility and provides direct experience with clinical concepts and patient care requirements.
Upon graduating from your CNA training program, you must take and pass your state certification examination. This test will vary based upon your state, but typically includes a written exam and a hands-on practical examination. Make sure you’re prepared to take this exam by spending a month or so after graduation studying exam questions and confirming your abilities.
Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
Licensed Practical Nurses, which are also known as Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVN) in select states, requires slightly more training. Essentially, this entry level nursing position has greater responsibilities than a Certified Nursing Assistant, but less than a Registered Nurse.
As an LPN, you’ll work directly with patients, nurses and physicians. Your responsibilities may include assisting with gathering, updating and organizing essential patient documentation as well as performing more in-depth patient treatments, such as inserting catheters or dressing wounds. LPNs are generally the point of contact between physician and patient. You’ll have the most face-time with patients and will be responsible for communicating with patient loved ones.
Much like every other nursing specialization, requirements to becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse vary based upon your state. However, all states require aspiring LPNs to hold a high school diploma, or GED, and complete an accredited training program.
Unlike Certified Nursing Assistants, LPN training programs typically last at least 12 months and require a greater understanding of the human body, nursing process and other core concepts. Training will consist of both classroom and clinical components.
Upon completing an LPN training program, you’ll be required to pass a licensing examination proctored by your State Board of Nursing. Once you’ve earned your LPN license you can start an entry level nursing position or you can continue your education by taking additional certification courses or enhancing your career by entering a BSN degree program.
Navigating Nursing Degree Programs – A Brief Overview
Think there’s only one or two different types of nursing degree programs? You better think again!
Nursing degree programs come in a variety of shapes and sizes. While this may be confusing if you’ve never investigated the educational requirements of becoming a nurse, once you understand the basic degree offerings, it’s not as complex as it may seem.
The following are the most common, and in-demand, nursing degree options in the United States:
Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)
A common misconception regarding nursing degrees, especially for those wishing to become a Registered Nurse (RN), is it requires an intensive four-year bachelor’s degree. While this is a preferred education pathway, it’s not the requirement.
One of the most affordable, and fastest, ways to become a Registered Nurse, while still receiving a proper education, is to enroll in a two-year Associates Degree in Nursing program.
It’s important to clarify that it is possible to become a Registered Nurse without earning any degree. This is commonly through a vocational school and provides graduates with a certificate rather than a degree. While this is a viable option, spending slightly more time and money on an ADN degree yields higher starting income and greater chances of securing solid employment.
Within the ADN program, you’ll undergo both classroom and clinical training. This two-year program, which may be completed in slightly under 24 months if you enroll in an accelerated program, provides you with all the necessary training to not only quality for the national licensing NCLEX-RN examination, but better prepares you for employment.
Before deciding that this is the perfect education pathway for you, it’s important to understand that hospitals, treatment centers and most private practices require a Registered Nurse to hold a bachelor’s degree. This is often confusing for new nursing students as they commonly assume earning an RN license is enough to work anywhere RN’s are employed. This is, unfortunately, not true.
Bachelor of Science in Nursing Degree (BSN)
If there was an industry standard regarding nurse education, this is it. When you enroll in a four-year BSN degree program, you receive the gold standard in theoretical and clinical training, not to mention, holding a BSN is a requirement for many RN positions.
Along with providing a solid foundation, earning your Bachelor of Science in Nursing qualifies you for continued training in one of the many nursing specialties. This is why it’s important to understand not only your short-term nursing goals, but also your longterm career aspirations. For example, if you wish to work in psychiatric institution, earning a BSN degree is the first step in securing employment within such an institution followed by continuing your education.
Master of Science in Nursing Degree (MSN)
While many nurses stop their official training after securing a BSN, if you wish to enhance your career opportunities, then the next logical step is to earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree.
This graduate-level degree is ideal for those who wish to work in advanced-level nursing units or continue their career into a specialization. Along with offering greater career advancement opportunities, earning your MSN means you hold a greater-than-average understanding of the nursing field. This obviously translates into higher compensation, but more importantly, it means you’ll have an opportunity to make a real difference in the nursing industry.
Whether you wish to continue your career and become a highly specialized nurse in forensics, pediatrics or psychiatric institutions, or assist aspiring nurses by becoming a nurse educator, earning an MSN degree offers the greatest flexibility and options out of the previous degree programs we discussed.
Essentially, deciding what degree program is best for you requires understanding what you want out of your career. Don’t worry if you can’t make a complete decision at this point. The most exciting element of nursing degrees is its flexibility. For example, you can earn an RN license via an ADN or certification program, and if you decide to continue your education, you can accelerate your career by enrolling in an RN-BSN Bridge Program.
Ultimately, listen to your heart and mind. After all, as a nurse you must learn to adhere to the compassion that stems from your heart and the knowledge that flows from your mind.