Ways To Become a Registered Nurse

Ways To Become a Registered Nurse

Deciding to become a registered nurse (RN) is only half the battle once you have decided that this is the career you want to pursue. The other half is navigating your way through all the options available to get you there. The first step, in choosing the path to get you to the destination of being a RN, is to decide which type of educational program you want to pursue.

Being an RN, itself, generally means that you’ve obtained a certain level of competence by passing an examination (NCLEX-RN) which states you have the basic knowledge needed to perform this role. However, the education and training that leads up to this exam can vary.

RN Education Pathways

Each of the following ways to become an RN has its advantages and disadvantages, but as mentioned above, all must take and pass the same exam to earn the designation of Registered Nurse.

The oldest formal education for becoming a registered nurse is a diploma program. These programs are non-degree programs and are usually based within, or affiliated with, a particular hospital. Although this type of program is falling by the wayside, nurses of diploma programs usually have the most hands-on clinical preparedness of all the nursing program graduates. This is due to the program’s style which is closest, compared to other RN educational programs, to that of on the job training. Most diploma programs take 2-3 years, but are no longer widely available, so if there is not one in your area, you may have to relocate if this is the path you prefer. Another disadvantage is that many employers require nurses to have a college degree in order to advance to a leadership or management position.
For those who decide that they prefer a nursing program which also grants them a college degree, there are two main paths, one that grants an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) degree, and one which grants a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. Both of these degree programs include the component of core classes followed by nursing specific classes. The core classes consist of basic college courses required for most other degrees, which include courses in English, math, humanities, and also science classes such as biology, chemistry, and microbiology. Schools of nursing vary greatly in exactly which and how many of each of these courses are required, with bachelor degree programs usually requiring more than on college level course in chemistry and/or biology in additions to statistics, history, and more humanities and elective courses compared to their associate degree counterparts.
Many nursing programs which result in a bachelor’s degree require the student to complete the required core curriculum at another college or university prior to applying to the nursing school program. It is therefore very important to know exactly which classes are required before applying to the nursing school of your choice, and to find out if the core classes at your college of choice meet the approval of the nursing school(s) you are applying to. These types of programs may be referred to as 2+2 programs because they require 2 years at a “regular” college or university and 2 years in nursing school to complete the 4 year degree.

Associate degree programs generally take a total of 2-3 years to complete while bachelor degree programs generally take 4 years to complete.

Again, many employers may require at least a bachelor’s degree to advance to a management or administrative position. Also, some jobs, such as those in nursing research and those in public health may require a nurse to have a bachelor’s degree in order to even be considered for a position.

Difference in Pay Between RN’s with a Diploma, ASN or BNS

The pay for the entry level nursing position obtained after each of these programs can vary widely, though in most places the difference in amount is negligible, while in some areas of the country the difference may be noticeable. Different institutions may also put a cap on the highest hourly amount they pay after so many years of service based on the degree of the employee. As far as pay in terms of a degree, if there is a difference, those with a diploma are usually paid the least, associated degree in the middle range, and those with a bachelor degree are generally paid the most among these three nurse education programs.

Furthermore, RN salaries vary greatly depending on location and what type of facility. California, Alaska, & Hawaii are the highest paying states, with southern US states paying the least. Hospitals are usually higher, with public grade schools and government health departments paying the least of the facilities. Salaries can range $25,000 to over $80,000 for a Registered Nurse, with averages being about $58,000-60,000 per yr.

Advancement Opportunities for RN’s

In order to advance after working for a period of time a nurse may need to obtain a more advanced degree. The need for this will vary greatly depending on the employer. Most management positions, though, usually require at least a bachelor’s degree, and often a master’s degree.  Which ever degree you obtain in the beginning though, there is usually a path to a more advanced degree, the only difference being in the amount of time it takes. Many programs are available to nurses with an associated or diploma degree who want to advance to a bachelor’s degree. These programs are usually called a bridge program. Again it is important to check the schools requirements, because some do not accept those with only a diploma and not a degree.

For those that have already obtained a bachelor’s degree in nursing, there are similar programs available to advance to a  master of nursing program, and most are scheduled so that a nurse can continue to work while taking classes either at night, on weekends, or through self-study at home. Some advanced management or administrative positions may also accept or require the nurse to have an MBA, (Master of Business Administration) degree, instead of an MSN degree.

Which ever path to nursing is chosen, becoming a nurse is one of the most rewarding careers that you can choose and most patients will not care or know which type of education you chose, only that you are a qualified and competent RN.

Registered Nursing Programs

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