Are you looking to become a Registered Nurse (RN)? Or maybe you are already an RN and are looking to advance your career? Well let me tell you, that you are definitely on the right path to a very rewarding future.
The Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) estimates the projected job growth for Registered Nurses is 19% from 2012 to 2022 and the outlook for Advanced Practice Nurses is even higher at 20%.
For many of you who are pondering the idea of becoming a nurse or advancing your career, the path to this rewarding future may not be so clear. There are numerous options out there, all the way from online courses to full blown doctorate degrees in nursing! The opportunities are endless and all of these options can be overwhelming… so let’s start from the beginning.
As of now, it only takes two years of schooling to become a Registered Nurse. Nurses who graduate from a two year program receive an Associates Degree in Nursing (ADN). This degree can be obtained from a community college or vocational school. ADN programs tend to mainly focus on nursing skills such as administering medications, performing assessments, dressing changes, pharmacology, math calculations, and basic nursing concepts rather than theory.
The benefits of going through an ADN program versus a Bachelor’s Degree (BSN) program are that it is shorter (2 years vs 4 years) and can be cheaper if you go to a community college; most vocational schools are for-profit, so they can be just expensive as a four year college. Another benefit is that one year into the program you can apply to take your practical nursing (PN) test and if you pass, you can work as a practical nurse while you finish your ADN. PN’s can do basic nursing skills such as administer medications and dressing changes but they cannot do assessments.
The downside to only having your ADN is that most hospitals these days are only hiring BSN nurses and are requiring the current ADN nurses to get there BSN. It is also important to note that nursing managers and community health nurses are required to have their BSN, so career advancement may be a challenge if you only have an ADN.
If career advancement is something you value, then obtaining a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) may be the better path for you. A BSN takes approximately four years to complete; I say approximately because it took me six years while working full time. BSN programs tend to be a little more comprehensive than ADN programs; there is more classroom and theory on top of your required clinical time. Examples of theory based classes include evidenced based research and nursing leadership. The BSN programs prepare you for not only bedside clinical nursing but for a leadership role as well. BSN nurses tend to be more hirable and have more opportunity for growth.
There is not a significant pay difference among ADN and BSN trained RN’s. According to the Bureau of Labor and statistics Registered Nurses make approximately $65,470 annually. The downside to getting your BSN is that is does take longer and you might end up with more student loans at the end.
If student loans don’t bother you or you are a BSN nurse who is ready to take your career to the next level, then obtaining your Master’s Degree in Nursing (MSN) may be right for you. There are numerous types of (MSN) programs out there all focusing on different specialties. MSN in education and leadership programs prepare nurses to become educators, Clinical Nurse Specialists, nurse managers and even Chief Nursing Officers (CNOs). For those of you who prefer to work five days a week, with no holidays, weekends or nights, the education and leadership focused path may be good for you. These nursing professionals also tend to get paid a little more. The average annual salary according to the Bureau for Labor and Statistics is $88,580.
MSN programs focusing on becoming Advanced Practice Nurses, such as Nurse Practitioners, Midwives and Certified Nurse Anesthetists (CRNA) provide nurses with the education and skills to diagnose and treat patients under a physician’s supervision. These programs allow nurses to be more autonomous and specialized with their practice. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the average annual salary for advance practice nurses is $73,410 with CRNAs making the most money at $158,900 annually. The only disadvantage I can see to obtaining your MSN is time and money spent getting your degree.
If you are still not satisfied with having your MSN or are looking to have an impact on the population as a whole, then a Doctorate in Nursing Practice (DNP) may be right for you. DNP programs provide nurses working in advanced practice roles and leadership with the knowledge to impact health care policy. Many of these nurses become college professors, researchers and political figures. The programs are usually two years in addition to your MSN program and of course cost more money.
If you are considering joining the nursing profession, I suggest taking your pre-requisite courses at a community college and transferring to a four year BSN program to obtain your RN license. This is the cheapest and smartest route. If time is an issue for you than obtain your ADN first with the expectation that you will at some point have to obtain your BSN. If you are looking to further your education as a nurse, there are multiple online programs for those ADN nurses who are looking to get there BSN. Some of these programs even combine the BSN and MSN so that you can go straight through without stopping. I recommend avoiding private universities as these tend to be more expensive.
As with anything else in life, it is important to take this professional journey one step at a time. The opportunity for growth in the nursing profession is endless. Choosing to become an RN or further your education can be a timely and expensive process, but in the end, priceless.
By Crystal Gustafson, RN
Crystal Gustafson is a Critical Care Registered Nurse who spent time as a travel nurse in various states including Arizona, Texas, Florida and California. She has recently accepted a system wide float pool position with Exempla Healthcare System in her hometown of Denver, Colorado and also has blog about prevention and education in healthcare. You can learn more about Crystal on her blog at http://grassrootsprevention.blogspot.com/.