Becoming a registered nurse is the dream of many. You’ll get the chance to work in a highly motivating and ethical environment, earn a good wage, enjoy high social esteem, and make a difference in your patients’ lives.
However, long years of study and high tuition fees prevent many aspiring nurses from pursuing their dream.
While earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing could be indeed a lengthy and costly path, there are various alternative programs you can follow.
Nursing Apprenticeship Programs
Nursing apprenticeship programs are a new thing in the US healthcare scene. They have only been introduced a few years ago and are not yet available in all states. Some healthcare providers and facilities may also be reluctant to work with apprentices.
Yet, if you’re low on funds but dream of becoming a registered nurse, you might want to investigate this opportunity.
As an apprentice, you’ll work under the supervision of other registered nurses in a healthcare facility. You will earn a monthly wage – which will be lower than the wage of a nurse, but still a steady income – and will also take classes and work towards becoming a registered nurse.
This path could be the most cost-effective way of becoming a nurse, but the process can be lengthy. You will have to pass various screening tests and exams, and the actual length of the program will depend on your educational and practical evolution.
It is hard to estimate how much you will earn, but you can expect to take home at least the minimum national wage.
Licensed Practical Nurse / Licensed Vocational Nurse Programs
If you don’t mind working under the direction of registered nurses and doctors, but want a quick way of becoming a nurse, you can consider becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) or Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN).
To become a licensed nurse, you must complete an approved educational program which typically lasts about 1 year to complete. You must also earn your certificate or diploma; the good thing is that you can usually attend such a course in community colleges, some high schools, and even some hospitals.
These programs combine classroom learning with supervised clinical experience, and many are not available for distance learning.
Upon graduation, you must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN). Once you earned your license, you can choose to pursue further certifications through professional associations, or can continue your studies and become a registered nurse.
As a licensed nurse, you can expect an annual salary of about $46,000 on average.
Registered Nurse Programs
Those deciding to become registered nurses can opt for one of three educational paths: a diploma from an approved nursing program, an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN), or a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing (BSN).
The first two paths are the shortest, with programs usually taking 2 to 3 years to complete. Bachelor’s degree programs are usually completed in 4 years.
All nursing programs include courses in anatomy, physiology, chemistry, psychology, nutrition, social and behavioral sciences, microbiology, as well as liberal arts. In addition to these, the Bachelor’s degrees program also include classes of communication, leadership, and critical thinking.
Regardless of the program, you will also have to attend supervised clinical experience classes. If you decide to follow a distance learning route, you will have to ensure that you can build supervised clinical experience in your local community.
While a BSN will open you the path to pursuing a leadership career in an administrative, research, or consulting positions, these programs have the highest tuition fees.
If you don’t have such ambitions, ADN programs are offered by many accredited institutions, whereas diploma programs are typically offered by medical centers or hospitals.
Regardless of which program you graduate, you will qualify for entry-level positions as a staff nurse; however, some employers may require a BSN.
Before practicing, you will also have to pass the NCLEX-RN examination. As a registered nurse, your annual wage will go up to about $70,000 on average.
Advanced Practice Registered Nurse Programs
If you want to become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), such as a nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist, or nurse midwife, you must earn at least a Master’s degree in a specialty role. To pursue this career path, you must be a licensed registered nurse.
How long it will actually take to become an APRN will depend on what path you pursued to become a registered nurse in the first place.
If you already have a BSN, you must only enroll in a Master’s program, which usually lasts for 2 years.
If you have an ADN certification or diploma, you must first follow one of the bridging paths to obtain a BSN, then enroll in an MSN program. Most bridging programs have a duration of 2 years.
Some graduate-level programs also enroll individuals who don’t have a BSN, but a Bachelor’s degree in a related health science field; in this case, you will still have to pass the RN licensure examination before attending the examination for becoming an ARPN.
Before enrolling, you must also meet certain prerequisites for admission, such as a certain amount of time of clinical practice. Upon course completion, you must also pass a national certification exam.
Once you achieved your APRN license, you can also choose to earn a Ph.D. in your field.
As an ARPN, you can expect to earn over $100,000 per year on average.
It can take anywhere between 1 and 4 years to become a nurse. If you want to become a registered nurse, you will have to enroll in an educational program of 2 to 4 years. Once you have passed your exam, you can also choose to continue your education and become a specialist in your field.
Although some nursing courses are available online, remember that all programs require supervised clinical practice alongside classroom education.
If you are concerned about tuition fees, know that some healthcare facilities may cover them or offer help in accessing advantageous student loans.