Ultimate Guide To Nursing

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in others.” -Gandhi
There is no quote that better describes the heart of a nurse than this profound quip by the world leader and champion of peace, Mahatma Gandhi. Nursing is not just a career, but a calling and nurses must possess determination, persistence, dedication, and yes, education. That is where we come in. This Ultimate Guide to Nursing will help you answer important questions as you embark on your nursing career and earn the necessary degree to enter into this noble profession.

A nurse is not just someone who comes in and takes your temperature. Nurses need specialized training and skills and a commitment to well-being. The demands placed on a nurse are intense, but job satisfaction is high. In today’s age, it is one of the most in-demand careers. It has been said that a nurse is “strong enough to withstand anything, but soft enough to understand everything.” Whatever the patient needs, from being in pain, medicine, or assistance, the nurse who comes through the door is a savior. They relieve suffering, offer comfort and care, and offer a listening ear bringing life to the body and soul. 

What are the different nursing certifications?

  • CNA – Certified Nursing Assistant – A certified nursing assistant, works under the direct supervision of an RN or LPN, and assists patients with the activities of daily living. CNA’s are also referred to as a Nursing Assistant, Nurses Aid, or Patient Care Assistant (PCA).
  • RN – Registered Nurse – A registered nurse has completed the necessary education and earned a license to practice nursing in their state. There are two levels of training to become an RN. You can be an RN with a two-year Associates degree, or through a four-year Bachelors of Science in Nursing degree program. RN’s administer direct patient care in a variety of settings including medical offices, hospitals, nursing homes, and many other facilities. They work alongside physicians and other members of the health care team to provide treatment to their patients.
  • BSN – Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing – You can apply for jobs and work as an RN with only an associate degree, but a BSN takes you to the next level. Nurses with a BSN are given more responsibility, hold supervisory roles, and make more money. A BSN program takes approximately four years and includes general education courses and courses specific to nursing.
  • LPN – Licensed Practical Nurse – The duties of an LPN are similar to those of a CNA. They work alongside RN’s to provide patients with essential care, including helping them to eat, bathe, dress, etc. They help to keep detailed records and logs and maintain communication between the care team and the patient. They communicate with families to teach them how to care for sick relatives. To become an LPN, you must complete an accredited nursing certificate program. These programs usually take a year to complete and are offered at community colleges.
  • MSN – Master’s of Science in Nursing –  A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree is a post-graduate master’s degree that provides current nurses with the skills and training to become leaders in their profession. This degree must be earned in order to move on to higher education, whether it be a certified nurse-midwife, nurse practitioner, or another higher-level nursing career.
  • DNP – Doctor of Nursing Practice – A Doctor of Nursing Practice is the highest clinical training for nurses to excel in the world of healthcare. It is an advanced doctoral degree that is focused on practice. A newer degree option, the DNP was introduced in 2015 and is designed to build on the previous higher-education such as the MSN. 

What is the difference between a CNA vs. LPN vs. RN?

With all of these different acronyms, it is difficult to determine the difference between these roles. They are all nurses, right? Yes, to some extent, but essentially the titles differentiate between the ranking or status of a nurse. RNs oversee and develop the care plans for both LPNs and CNAs to follow. Many states require an RN to administer IV medications and certain types of wound care. Also, depending on the state, RNs are required to perform triage whereas LPN’s and CNAs are not. LPNs have less responsibility than an RN, but more than a CNA. LPNs and CNAs perform basic duties and are overseen by the RN. 

What does a CNA do?

CNAs are the hands of the unit and ensure that things run smoothly. Duties include:

  • Answering patient calls
  • Repositioning patients
  • Obtaining vital signs 
  • Gathering supplies for the doctor
  • Helping with medical procedures
  • Dressing wounds
  • Bathing patients
  • Documenting information 
  • Cleaning rooms and bed linens
  • Feeding patients
  • Personally caring for patients including combing hair, clipping nails, showering, and helping in the bathroom
  • Stocking supplies
  • Prepare rooms for admissions 

CNAs are found in most medical establishments. They can work in hospital settings, rehabilitation centers, long-term residential facilities, and adult day care centers. All of these settings require nursing assistants to act as a liaison between the medical staff and the patient. 

What is the job outlook for a CNA?

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, there were 1,579,100 nursing assistant jobs available in 2019. The job outlook over the next ten years shows an 8% growth rate, which is faster than average. Additionally, it should be noted that as the baby-boom generation ages, CNA’s will be needed to help care for a growing number of older patients in nursing homes and residential care facilities. In short, CNA’s are in demand, and now is a great time to earn your online nursing degree.

How much money does a CNA make?

healthcare, profession, people and medicine concept – doctor or nurse at hospital corridor

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the median average annual salary for CNAs in 2019 was $29,640. This number can vary depending on the location and setting. CNAs employed by the government earned the highest median pay at $35,500 annually, while those in assisted living facilities earned the lowest median pay at $28,590 per year. 

Because care is needed around the clock, CNAs work on many different schedules which vary greatly based on the facility. Some CNAs work a variety of shifts throughout the week and are paid on an hourly basis, while others have a set schedule and salary. There is also the option for overtime and holiday pay that influences how much a CNA can make. 

As of May 2019, the following states have the highest annual mean wage for CNAs according to the BLS

State Employment per thousand jobs Hourly Mean Wage Annual Mean Wage
California 5.76 $17.61 $36,630
Florida 9.99 $13.36 $27,790
New York 8.93 $18.66 $38,810
Texas 6.44 $13.43 $27,930
Pennsylvania 12.72 $15.19 $31,590

How do I get my CNA license?

Smiling doctor and nurse portraiture. Medical Concept

There are many outlets where you can earn your CNA license, such as from the American Red Cross, community college, high schools, local hospitals, or vocational schools. In order to be certified, you must complete a state-approved training program. Training requirements vary from state to state, so it is important to make sure that you complete a program that meets the specific requirements in the state where you want to work. If you know where you want to work – a hospital, adult foster care center, rehab center, etc. – check with the institution to see what training and certification program they recommend. 

Programs have similar requirements that are required for acceptance. These generally include attending an information session, a high school diploma or GED, a valid criminal background check, and completion of a Red Cross physical form and TB test.

Are there online CNA programs?

The answer is a tentative yes. Because nursing is a hands-on profession, it is impossible to find a program where there is no face to face interaction and training required. There are online CNA programs available through many community colleges, but this is only referring to the coursework. These programs will require clinical practicals at local facilities.

Enrolling in an online CNA program can have its advantages. Courses can be completed at your own pace on your own schedule. Often, students are able to finish the online coursework faster than their on-campus counterparts. There is no harm in taking the required classes online and then moving into your clinical studies at your site location. Most programs average from four to twelve weeks for completion, depending on how fast you can complete the classes as well as the course offerings at any given time. States vary in the number of clinical hours that are required to apply for certification.

After completing the state-approved program, you will be required to take a competency exam that consists of two parts: a multiple-choice/written exam and a practical skills exam. Once you have passed these exams, you will be added to the state registry as a CNA and can begin your job search.

What is an LPN?

Working under the direct supervision of a doctor or RN, licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and/or licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) provide medical care in a variety of medical settings, from hospitals to rehabilitation centers. The work they can perform is limited by state regulations, but essentially, they perform a lot of hands-on care with patients. They are also referred to as practical nurses or vocational nurses and have completed an LPN certification program, which takes an average of a year to complete.

What does an LPN do?

Very similar to the job duties of a CNA, licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses typically perform the following tasks:

  • Administer basic patient care
  • Change bandages, check blood pressure, and insert catheters
  • Monitor patients’ health
  • Help patients bathe or dress
  • Provide basic comfort for their patients
  • Work with the RN and doctors and follow the established care plan
  • Keep patient’s health records 

The actual duties that LPNs and LVNs can complete are highly dependant on their work setting and their state. Some states have strict regulations on what an LPN or LVN can do, while others are very lenient. In some states, LPNs can administer medication or start IV drips, but in other states, they can’t. Regulations also dictate the extent to which they must be supervised and whether they must have direct instruction from a registered nurse.

What is the job outlook for an LPN?

According to the BLS, the employment of LPNs and LVNs is projected to grow 9% over the next ten years, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. This growing number is a direct result of the aging baby-boomer population. These professionals will be needed for in-home care, residential care facilities, and nursing homes to care for older patients. Additionally, there a number of chronic conditions that have increased over the last ten years, such as diabetes and obesity that will require LPNs to assist and care for patients with these conditions. Lastly, outpatient care facilities are becoming more popular, which adds to the demand for LPN’s. As of 2019, there were 721,700 LPNs, and that number is expected to increase to 787,400 by 2029.

How much money does an LPN make?

In May of 2019, the median annual wage for an LPN $47,480. The range is from the lowest ten percent earned less than $34,560, and the highest ten percent earned over $63,360. Being an LPN is a full-time job, and often comes along with irregular hours. LPNs work weekends, holiday, and night shifts, and they often exceed the normative eight hour day. These salary figures represent a full-time job, however, the figures do not represent potential overtime pay. The median annual wages in the top industries were as follows:

  • Nursing and residential care facilities – $48,840
  • Government – $48,400
  • Home healthcare services – $48,130
  • Hospitals – $45,550
  • Physicians Offices – $43,620

How do I get my LPN license?

Similar to earning a CNA license, prospective LPNs must have a high school diploma or the equivalent, and then complete about a year of full-time nursing education. These programs include both knowledge and clinical practice in medical, pediatric, surgical, emergency, and obstetric nursing. Once you have completed the required training, you will need to pass the NCLEX-PN. While most training programs help walk you through registering and preparing for the test, others do not. Passing the NCLEX-PN is required to get your LPN license. In short, to be granted an LPN, you must complete the required training, pass the NCLEX-PN, apply for, and be granted an LPN license. For more information on gaining an LPN license, and for the state to state guidelines, visit this page.

What does an RN do?

There are few jobs with as great of variation as that of a registered nurse (RN). They are the central hub for all patient care, and the job description completely depends on where you are working. Overall, they coordinate and provide patient care, educate patients, educate the public about various health concerns and conditions, offer advice, and provide emotional support to patients and their families. RNs typically do the following:

  • Record patients medical histories
  • Record and assess patients symptoms and conditions
  • Observe and patients and keep records
  • Administer medication 
  • Consult with doctors about patient’s conditions
  • Operate medical equipment
  • Administer IV treatments and do blood draws
  • Set up plans for patients care 
  • Teach patients how to manage their condition
  • Help perform diagnostic testing
  • Help explain home treatment
  • Keep accurate records and logs

Every job is unique depending on where you’re working, and what type of setting you’re in. For example, hospice nurses focus on the end of life care, pediatric nurses work with children and their families, and ER nurses will have the fast-paced environment of the emergency room. There is no doubt about it, being an RN is physically and emotionally demanding, and the burn out rate is high. In fact, a recent study suggests that one-third of nurses experience some sort of burn-out symptoms. But the pay-off is high as well. Nurses are known as the liaison between the doctor and patient. Nurses earn love and respect, and a good nurse can be an angel sent from above during emotionally charged medical appointments and procedures. It is a noble calling, and for those with the heart, the rest of us thank you for your service.

What is the job outlook for an RN?

Not only do registered nurses spend their careers caring for others, but there is also excellent job security. In 2018, there were over three million registered nurses employed in the U.S. That number is expected to grow 7%, to 3.43 million by 2029, according to BLS projections. This growth rate is faster than average in comparison with most occupations.

The growth rate of nursing careers is rising for a number of reasons. As the baby boomer generations continue to age, demand for their healthcare services will increase, as older people generally have more medical needs than the younger generation. There is also an increasing financial pressure on hospitals to shorten hospital stays, which results in an increased need for long-term care facilities, home health care, and outpatient care centers. Nurses are needed in all of these facilities and venues. Nurses are needed at medical centers to provide same-day rehabilitation, chemotherapy, and elective procedures and surgery.

Here are the top five states with the most registered nurses:

State Employment Employment per thousand jobs Annual Mean Wage
California 302,770 17.42 $113,240
Texas 218,090 17.54 $74,540
Florida 181,670 20.66 $67,610
New York 178,320 18.73 $87,840
Pennsylvania 148,040 25.08 $71,410

How much money does an RN make?

With competitive starting salaries, registered nurses make a living wage from day one. Glassdoor reports the median annual wage for registered nurses as $65,870. The annual salary ranges from $43,000 up to $113,240 annually.

Salary depends on a number of factors from areas of specialization to the facility and location to a nurses’ level of expertise and education. For example, an RN working in a big city research hospital will earn more than a pediatric RN in a small town. Setting, location, expertise, and education are all factors that play into salary.

Here are the jobs with the highest levels of employment in the nursing field. Information from BLS.

Job Title Employment  Percent of industry employment Annual mean wage
General Medical and Surgical Hospitals 1,713,120 30.69 $79,460
Offices of Physicians 197,890 7.47 $69,570
Home Health Care Services 177,790 11.86 $73,660
Skilled Nursing Care Facilities 151,300 9.43 $69,740
Outpatient Care Centers 147,550 15.47 $84,720

What is a DNP?

A Doctor of Nursing Practice is the highest clinical nursing degree. The DNP is focused on clinical practice as opposed to the Ph.D. and DNS (Doctor of Nursing Science) which is focused more on research. The DNP builds on the MSN by fostering higher-level evidence-based practice, systems leadership, and all the relevant knowledge to excel in the field, especially in relation to all the changes in the last decade. The DNP was introduced in 2015. Two organizations are at the forefront of the DNP: the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties (NONPF) and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). The NONPF seeks to have the DNP replace the MSN as the mandatory minimum by 2025. Here are some statistics and a graph from the AACN:

  • [As of 2018] there are 348 DNP programs are currently enrolling students at schools of nursing nationwide, and an additional 98 new DNP programs are in the planning stages (50 post-baccalaureate and 48 post-masters programs).
  • DNP programs are now available in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. States with the most programs (10 or more programs) include California, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas.
  • From 2017 to 2018, the number of students enrolled in DNP programs increased from 29,093 to 32,678. During that same period, the number of DNP graduates increased from 6,090 to 7,039.

What does a DNP graduate do?

A DNP is a leader in the field and does many of the jobs of the ARPN (Advanced Practice Registered Nurse). The difference is training. A DNP is a doctoral degree and an ARPN is a master’s/post-masters certificate program. DNPs are prepared and trained to deliver the highest quality care across many settings. For example, they serve in hospitals, community, and home settings, in acute care, on the phone, as specialist referrals, and in ambulatory care to name just some. 

Their titles and roles can be a variety of things as well:  As an expert nurse, the DNP can be (like an ARPN) a nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, clinical nurse specialist, nurse anesthetist. As an expert in patient care, the DNP can work in women’s health, neonatal care, and mental health just to name three. Lastly, since the DNP is the highest practical nursing degree, there is a management role. DNP’s are systems managers in public health, nurse education, informatics, healthcare leadership and can take on roles such as Chief Nursing Officer (CNO), Director of Evidence-based Practice, or Chief Information Officer (CIO).

What are the job outlook and some average salaries for a DNP?

The National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties (NONPF) and American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) were, and are, the prime movers of this degree. The reason is the incredible changes that have occurred in the last decade to the practice of nursing. Here are a few:

  • The increased complexity of patient care
  • National concerns about the quality of care and patient safety
  • A shortage of doctoral-prepared nursing faculty

These needs of our society are fueling demand, and hence, the job outlook looks good. The average salaries for someone with a DNP are also very encouraging. Overall, the DNP holder makes $6000 more than an MSN and $42,000 more than a BSN. The BLS reports the following regarding roles that a DNP can fulfill:

  • Nurse Practitioner/Midwife: Job growth outlook from 2018-2028- is 26% and the average salary is $115,800 annually.
  • Medical and Health Services Managers, such as a CNO: Job growth outlook 2018-28 is 18% and the average yearly salary is $100,980.
  • Nursing Informatics (sourced here): The average salary for the doctoral-level is over $100,000 up to $151,000 annually. 
  • As for CNOs, salaries are often over $150,000 per year, according to the American Association of Nursing Leadership (AONL). 

How do I get my DNP license?

The DNP is a degree program, not a license. It is a doctoral program suited for those with a BSN or MSN seeking career-advancement or additional training. Though there are direct, non-licensure DNP programs, they aren’t the norm. The program is to address the needed additional training in our increasingly complex medical world. That is truly what’s fueling the growth of the DNP and why over 400 colleges offer the degree. 

What are some DNP programs available?

There are essentially three types of DNP programs, all with online options: 

  1. BSN to DNP
  2. MSN to DNP
  3. Direct-Entry 

The BSN to DNP sometimes called a post-bachelors DNP, is for those that have earned their BSN and have an unencumbered RN license. Other admission requirements include a current CV and minimum GPA, usually 3.0. The BSN to DNP programs come with specializations such as Clinical Nurse Practitioner (CNP), Pediatrics (Acute care/primary care), or various administrative roles. There are online tracks and programs available. These programs take three to four years to complete and require considerable commitment.

The MSN to DNP is for those that have earned their MSN, such as RNs and APRNs, that have a valid license, and are seeking advancement, promotion, or a different role within the field. The MSN to DNP program (or post-master’s DNP) comes into two basic focuses with further specialization within advanced practice nursing direct care and aggregate/systems/organizational. A couple of examples of specializations within the direct-care area include Health/physical assessment and Pharmacology while a couple within administration include Healthcare Policy and Informatics. Like the BSN to DNP there are online options, and more every year. The MSN to DNP requires a one- to a two-year commitment. 

The Direct-Entry DNP (sometimes called pre-licensure DNP) is for those without a nursing degree or license. These programs are four-year intensive programs for those who hold a bachelor’s in a non-nursing field and do not have a license. 

What do DNP programs look like?

The programs typically take you through the curriculum to earn an MSN and get your RN licensure through NCLEX. Next, you go into the APRN courses and clinical work, and then, if desired, into the leadership, systems management part of the DNP. It’s important to know there are some prerequisites and admission requirements to be aware of. For admission, you need a minimum GPA, a CV, and your GRE scores. As for prerequisites, they vary, but may include:

  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Microbiology
  • Nutrition
  • Statistics

What are the typical DNP program requirements in terms of curriculum and clinical hours?

DNP programs require a huge commitment. First, there is foundational knowledge and skills. This includes:

  • Scientific Underpinnings for Practice 
  • Organizational and Systems Leadership for Quality Improvement and Systems Thinking
  • Clinical Scholarship and Analytical Methods for Evidence-Based Practice 
  • Information Systems/Technology and Patient Care Technology for the Improvement and Transformation of Healthcare 
  • Healthcare Policy for Advocacy in Healthcare 
  • Interprofessional Collaboration for Improving Patient and Population Health Outcomes
  • Clinical Prevention and Population Health for Improving the Nation’s Health 
  • Advanced Nursing Practice 

Next comes specialization and knowledge and skills geared toward a specific end. These include either a direct patient care route, like an APRN, or an administrative route like Informatics. The direct-care route is guided by the same standards for earning an APRN licensure and includes three content areas: 

  1. Advanced physiology/pathophysiology
  2. Health/physical assessment
  3. Advanced pharmacology

The administrative focus covers the following areas:

  1. Populations
  2. Systems (including information systems)
  3. Organizations
  4. State and national policies

The DNP concludes with the clinical component and final project. The clinical or practical experience component is a minimum of 1000 practice hours. Whether your program is on-campus, online, or hybrid, these are usually done through the clinic you are working at. The final project can be many things, it depends on the school. Examples include a research project, a portfolio, a specific problem-solving project, and more.

What are some nurse specialties I should consider?

The field of nursing is extensive and it isn’t hyperbole to say that the sky is the limit. Let’s examine some of the categories of nursing careers:

Community and family nursing

If you are an extroverted person and want to work with your patients on a day-to-day basis, you may be best suited to go into the community and family nursing field. These nurses work with everyone from infants to new mothers, women, families, and the elderly. Here is some specific career paths where you may fit, each one requiring differing levels of education:

  • Rural Nurse
  • School Nurse
  • Parish Nurse
  • Home Health Nurse
  • Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Community Health Nurse
  • Nurse Case Manager

Corporate or administrative nursing

Nurses who love the practice, but may not want the day to day care of patients, there are jobs for you. There are all sorts of options from nursing administrators to corporate nurses who work for large corporations, or those who specialize in crime scenes and work alongside police. Here are some specific career paths for you:

  • Forensic Nurse
  • Legal Nurse Consultant
  • Occupational Health Nurse
  • Infectious Disease Nurse Practitioner
  • Adult Nurse Practitioner

Specialized Nursing

Some nurses enter the field and know exactly what they want to do. This is for nurses who know that they want to work in the operating room, emergency room, labor and delivery, and others. There are specific degree programs that allow you to study your particular area of interest, and there are always jobs available for those with specific training:

  • Labor and Delivery Nurse
  • Neonatal Nurse
  • Operating Room Nurse
  • Geriatric Nurse
  • Pediatric Nurse
  • Psychiatric Nurse
  • Parent-Child Nurse
  • Rehabilitation Nurse
  • Women’s Health Nurse
  • Oncology Nurse
  • Acute Care Nurse
  • Emergency Room Nurse
  • Trauma Nurse

What steps do I need to take to become a nurse?

You don’t just walk into a hospital, apply for a job, and become a nurse. There is education involved. Whether you hope to be an LPN, CNA, RN, or administrator, nursing positions require applicants to have a license showing they have completed an accredited nursing program.

Step 1: Choose your path

What exactly do you want to do? There are many directions you can take in the nursing field, from a certified nursing assistant (CNA), Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), Registered Nurse (RN), or a nurse administrator.

Each person needs to think about the type of work environment and the level of responsibility they are willing to take on. There is such a broad variety of jobs and job settings to consider, it is important to identify your specific goals. Where is your passion? Because healthcare is such a broad field, nurses often choose to specialize in certain areas, such as pediatrics or intensive care. If you know where you want to focus, pursue the type of schooling you need to get there.

Step 2: Earn your degree

Identifying your desired career path will help dictate the type of nursing degree you need. But even if you don’t know what area you would want to go in, no worries! You will most likely discover your particular passion during your training. There is nothing wrong with earning a nursing degree and then discovering what jobs open up to you on the other side. Nursing programs are two-fold: Classroom instruction and clinical experience. Classroom instruction includes basic college courses as well as the knowledge you will need in your career. Clinical experience allows you to practice, gain hands-on knowledge, experience real-life scenarios, and learn from experienced nurses. 

Before enrolling in a program, decide how nursing school fits into your life. Will you be attending part-time or full time? What other responsibilities do you have? Do you have a family or a job? Decide what level of commitment you are willing to give your program. There are many nursing degrees that can be earned online while completing the clinical requirements in your local community.

Should you choose to earn an associate degree, it will take less time to complete, which will allow you to enter the workforce sooner. There are many paths into the nursing field, and taking into account your particular life situation as well as examining your goals will help narrow the field.

Here are the basic nursing certifications the paths needed to get there:

  • Nursing certificates – community colleges and vocational schools
  • Associate degree in nursing (ADN) – community colleges
  • Bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) – colleges and universities.
  • Master’s degree in nursing (MSN) –  colleges and universities.
  • Doctoral degrees (DNP, ND, Ph.D., DNSc) – colleges and universities.

Step 3: Get your license

Once you complete your training and education you will still need to become certified. This requires an exam to demonstrate your knowledge and skills. Nurses must be licensed in order to practice. The National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX, is the standardized test is used by state regulatory boards to determine if a candidate should be licensed as a nurse. There are two kinds of NCLEX exams and which one you take depends on your desired certification. The NCLEX-PN is for practical or vocational nurses (LPNs/LVNs), which is for entry-level licensed nursing positions. The NCLEX-RN is for registered nurses (RNs), who are seeking additional education and responsibility.

Step 4: Additional licensure

It doesn’t end with the degree and licensure! Nurses are must complete continuing education courses, usually at a rate of every two years. Each state has different requirements. Be sure to check with your state nursing board for continuing education requirements. If you decide to go on to specialize in a particular area of nursing, you may need to consider earning professional certification. For those who are ambitious and want to move up the ladders, you may need to earn an advanced degree. Going on to earning a master’s degree could propel you into leadership positions or even lead to a career as a nurse practitioner, certified nurse-midwife, clinical nurse specialist, or certified nurse anesthetist.

What is an online RN to BSN?

An online RN to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program is specifically designed for a registered nurse to earn their bachelor’s degree. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, only 56 percent of nurses hold degrees at the baccalaureate level and above. With a desire for increased education and professionalism in the industry, the National Academy of Medicine and other national organizations have encouraged the nursing force in America to pursue higher education. These reputable institutions recognize that holding a BSN provides nurses with the increased ability to focus on critical thinking, leadership, case management, and advanced technological skills.

Colleges have designed their RN to BSN programs to build on the RN’s training at the associate degree level as well as their current experience. Colleges award credit for RNs by accepting any prior coursework as well as work experience. The number of accepted credits and work vary considerably from school to school. On average, most RNs have 60 credits earned during their ADN, leaving 60 or less to complete their 120-credit BSN degree. Most programs accept transfer and prerequisites credits of up to 90, which leaves only 30 credits of an advanced online nursing core to complete. Because these programs are set up for RNs, they are flexible, acknowledging that most of their students are currently working. They are excellent at working with students to make their RN to BSN path simple and attainable. 

What does a typical online RN to BSN curriculum look like?

An online RN to BSN program is designed to fit working professionals. Every institution has structured the curriculum and delivery with RNs in mind. The programs are very accessible. Admission requirements usually include an unencumbered license and a minimum GPA. There are usually multiple start times throughout the year, so students can begin when they are ready and it works out in their particular life situation. Online programs are very flexible. Because students already hold an RN or ADN (and many are currently practicing) they have already completed clinical work. This means credits easily transfer into 120-credit RN to BSN programs. Most often, the coursework is completed asynchronically, which means on your time and at your pace. Courses will most likely include Caring Practices within the Leadership Role, Nursing Theory, Ethical Issues, Pathophysiology, Health Care Informatics, Evidence-Based Practice, and others. These programs can be completed in as little as one year, but on average, they take two years to complete.

Why should I earn my BSN if I already have my ADN?

This depends on your life situation and goals. An RN who holds an Associate in Nursing (ADN) is fully trained with the technical skills to do their job. An ADN is considered a “technical nurse” while those with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) – a “professional nurse.” There are two primary reasons to consider advancing from an RN to BSN. First is that you’ll increase in both knowledge and skill. This will make you a more professional nurse and open the doors to more jobs within the field. Second, you will gain more earning potential with your increased professionalism.

According to Payscale, the average salary of an ADN is $69,000, compared to the average BSN is $84,000. Obviously, the pay is better, but it should also be noted that holding a BSN opens the door to more advanced nursing roles involving leadership and case management that is not available for those with only an ADN. Examples of potential specializations are neonatology nurse, genetics nurse, nephrology nurse, or a public health nurse. Also, if you desire to pursue a career such as a certified nurse-midwife, nurse practitioner, or clinical nurse leader, you will need to hold a BSN to move on to an MSN. 

What is a BSN to MSN?

There is no doubt, earning a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) propels you to the forefront of the nursing profession. Once you have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree in hand, you can continue on to pursue an MSN degree in a variety of clinical and non-clinical areas of specialization. This degree is for nurses who desire to take their career to the next level. You may want to get into leadership or become a specialist or administrator in a particular area. This is also the degree for those who are on the path to becoming a certified nurse-midwife, nurse practitioner, clinical practitioner, or other careers that require more education. The benefits of earning an MSN degree include increased income and career opportunities, but it’s also a laudable accomplishment showing the significant time, effort, and dedication.

As a nurse with a BSN, you have the clinical skills and knowledge to practice in almost any healthcare setting. Earning an MSN degree allows you to take the next step in expanding your expertise with the option to specialize your education. 

Within the field of BSN to MSN programs, there is the option to enroll in accelerated programs, direct entry programs, and specialized programs. The options really are limitless, and for those who are willing to put in the time and effort, earning an MSN sets you above the rest and puts you in a position for some of the best jobs and salaries available in the nursing world.

What financial aid is available for my nursing degree?

Just like any other college degree, nursing students are eligible for financial aid through their school of choice, the government, and private scholarships. Studentaid.gov states, “Financial aid is money to help pay for college or career school. Grants, work-study, loans, and scholarships help make college or career school affordable.” Financial aid comes in the form of loans, grants, scholarships, and work programs. The most important step is to apply for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Again, this is the most important thing you can do to receive financial aid – fill out your FAFSA! According to NerdWallet, nearly $2.3 billion of free federal grant money was not handed out due to students not filling out the FAFSA.

Once you have completed your FAFSA, look for your award letter from your college of choice. Talk to the financial aid officer, about scholarships, loans, or student work opportunities. Talk to the nursing department. Sometimes, departments will sponsor students who are pursuing a degree in their field. Maybe you will be chosen! Don’t underestimate yourself, there is no harm in asking!

Lastly, spend some time looking for private scholarships. There are hundreds of scholarship opportunities for those who are willing to work. Look for ones that are local to your town, county, state, work, or high school. There are scholarships that are unique to individuals, for example, minorities, first-generation graduates, and students who have lost a parent. Opportunities abound for those who are willing to put in the time searching.

What are the eligibility requirements for financial aid?

Eligibility requirements for the FAFSA include:

  • Be a citizen or eligible non-citizen of the United States
  • Have a valid social security number
  • Have a high school diploma or GED
  • Enrollment in an eligible nursing program
  • Maintain satisfactory academic progress
  • No outstanding convictions for illegal activity
  • If you are a male, be registered with the Selective Service System and not currently on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces

What scholarships are available for nursing students?

  • Nurse I Am – Offered by Cherokee Uniforms, the A Nurse I Am scholarship supports students who are enrolled in nursing programs by providing $2000 for their schooling needs.
  • Geraldine “Polly” Bednash Scholarship – Provides $5,000 to outstanding nursing students in AACN member institutions. Applicants must be admitted or enrolled in a nursing school affiliated with CastleBranch or have applied through nursing’s application service, NursingCAS.
  • Army Nurse Corps Association -With a desire to support nursing education through scholarship, the association offers $3,000 to students in an accredited baccalaureate or graduate nursing or anesthesia program. Students also must be serving or have previously served in the US Army. 
  • Barbara Forfar Nursing Scholarship – Students at Ocean Medical Center who are enrolled in an RN program, are eligible for this $1500 scholarship offered in memory of beloved nurse, Barbara Forfar.
  • Church of the Brethren – Each year, the Church of the Brethren offers scholarships to individuals enrolled in a nursing program. Candidates must be members of the Church of the Brethren. Scholarships of $2,000 are awarded for RN and graduate nurse applicants, and $1,000 for LPN applicants. 
  • Genesis Healthcare System – This foundation awards scholarships to students who reside in particular Ohio counties and are pursuing a degree in health care. There is an extensive list of scholarships that can be found here
  • Emergency Nurses Association – With the goal of increasing the number of emergency nurses, the ENA Foundation offers various scholarships each year. They include academic scholarships and conference scholarships for members.
  • The Public Education Foundation – They offer an extensive list of scholarships for students in a variety of situations and who are pursuing various academic interests.
  • The Daughters of the American Revolution – The DAR offers a list of numerous academic scholarships for students in medical, nursing, or occupational therapy school. Visit their site for more information and to see what scholarships you may qualify for.
  • Landau – There are several scholarships as well as prize packages for nurses available from Landau. Amounts awarded vary from $1,000 – $2500, and the prize packages include nursing materials such as scrubs, lab coats, and accessories. Nursing students should definitely visit their page and apply!

The list goes on and on. For those who are willing to put in time and effort, there are scholarships available. Nursing students won’t be disappointed, especially at this time following a global pandemic, the world is looking to support our healthcare workers. Visit this page at nurse.org for more scholarship opportunities.

Does it matter that an online nursing program is accredited?

Don’t be fooled – accreditation matters. Accreditation is a validation that the program meets national standards and has been evaluated by a reputable organization. Accredited programs have a better reputation and guarantee of a graduate’s knowledge and skill, something that employers are sure to notice. In fact, some employers will only hire nurses with certification from an accredited program.  Enrolling in an accredited program increases your confidence that the program is worth the investment. For nursing programs, the main accrediting agency is the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Guided by the highest principles of integrity and excellence, the CCNE is recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education.

While the CCNE is the national accrediting institution, it is also important to note that regional accreditation is also important. Without attending a regionally accredited program, you may not be eligible for financial aid. There may also be problems transferring credits. If you ever want to go on to pursue a higher degree, such as a BSN or MSN, some schools require an accredited degree to meet requirements. Before pursuing certification and a degree, it is essential that you check out what accreditation your schools of choice holds. For more information, check out our resource on accreditation.

I have my nursing degree, now what?

Not everyone is fortunate enough to go through school with a job waiting for them on the other side. Looking for a job can be stressful, but here are some tips to get you through.

1. Rely on your support network 

You already have a support network from going through a nursing program. After graduation, keep in touch with your peers, professors, and mentors. Stay in touch with the people who helped train you during your clinical hours. It is important to maintain those relationships and connections. Your support network will be a source of advice, guidance, and hopefully, job leads. Also, create a Linkedin profile if you haven’t already done so!

2. Evaluate what you want and where you want to work

Hopefully, by the end of your degree or certification program, you have a good idea of what you want to do. But, it’s not uncommon for nursing graduates to finish without knowing where they want to go. Because you know yourself, apply for jobs that excite you and that will mesh well with your personality, goals, and lifestyle. If you don’t know where you want to go, consider becoming a part of the “float pool” where you can get the chance to experience different specialties. But, if you do know where you want to go, pursue it! Yes, new grads do get hired!

3. Specify your resume and cover letter for each individual job

Don’t submit the same resume and cover letter with every application. Each one should be targeted for that specific position you are applying for. Take the time to personalize your application and make yourself stand out. Here is a great resource from Glassdoor on this topic. 

4. Be prepared for your interviews

Who isn’t nervous for an interview? Interviews are nerve-wracking but preparing for them will help with your nervousness. Research the place where you may be working. Find out the specifics of the location, and what makes them unique. Spend some time evaluating how you could fit into their setting and how your philosophy of care aligns with their mission. Think of some questions that you have for them. Interviewers want to see that you are interested, dedicated, and know something about their particular institution. Also, make sure you dress appropriately! First impressions matter – a lot!

5. Once you have your first job, be patient with yourself

Even though you have just completed a lot of education, you still have a lot to learn. You are a newbie. Be patient with yourself and give yourself grace when you make mistakes. Practice humility and learn from those around you. Don’t be too proud to ask questions and take advice.

6. You don’t have to work here forever

Life happens. People come and go. This is just your first job, you don’t have to sign your life away. As we have already seen from this article, there is always the opportunity for more education and certification, opening up more and more doors. There are tons of specialties in the field of nursing. Time flies, and before you know it, you will have several years under your belt and you may find that you love your new position, or that it isn’t for you. Either way, you will have gained valuable experience. Focus on each day, and do your best, learning as you go. New doors will open up, and you will be ready when they do.

7. Take care of yourself

We know that being a nurse is one of the most demanding jobs there is. Nurses have to deal with suffering, and yes, at times, death. It is difficult, and if you are a nurse, you already have a big heart. Take care of yourself so you can continue to give back to others. Treat yourself, go out, get massages, spend time with friends. You need it! 

What professional associations should I consider as a nurse?

As with any profession, it is important that you maintain a sense of professionalism and growth in your job. Staying up on the latest news and trends is essential for those who desire excellence. Here are a few professional associations and journals to look into:

For a comprehensive list of nursing associations, check out this link.

Some final thoughts on nursing:

Those who are considering a nursing program, working on a nursing program, and most importantly, those who are serving as nurses, we thank you. Nursing is a noble profession. Anyone who has spent time dealing with medical issues knows the power of a good nurse. YOU are the light, the angel who walks into the room and offers comfort and support. We can’t say it enough, thank you.