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Nursing Careers Guide

Different types of nursing careers

Nursing is an incredibly diverse, incredibly vast field. It’s one of the largest professions in the country and covers a variety of specialties and career paths. There are very few other occupations that offer as many choices in places to work, areas to specialize in, and degrees to use. There is no single educational path to employment, and you can choose from multiple degree options when pursuing many of the careers.

Tuition can vary widely depending on the state and locality, ranging from $3,500 for a community college to over $30,000 for tuition at a private or out-of-state university. In addition to tuition, you will have various other costs including books and clinical fees.

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

Main Article: CNA

If you choose to become a CNA, you can expect to work full time at this physically demanding job. Nursing jobs of all types are considered to be emotionally and financially rewarding. Learn more about what it takes to begin your career as a certified nursing assistant.

The Difference Between an NA and a CNA

The only difference between the nursing assistant and certified nursing assistant position is the fact that the CNA passed the certification exam. CNAs can make higher salaries and may find employment a bit easier. However, some places will hire you as an NA and train you to pass the exam. Depending on your state, however, you may need to be certified.

What You’ll Do

As a certified nursing assistant, you will provide essential care for patients who reside in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes. Your typical focus will be on:

  • Patient hygiene
  • Movement of bedridden patients
  • Recording patient information for the LPNs and RNs to review
  • Measuring the vital signs
  • Serving food to the patients who cannot feed themselves

Depending on your level of training and the state you are employed in, you may be able to give medication to patients. However, you cannot draw blood (unless you’re also a phlebotomist) or perform any type of diagnostic tests.

If you find work in a nursing home, you will be considered the primary caregiver to the patients in your charge. You’re in regular contact with the patients, so you should expect to develop close relationships with them even though you’re part of a healthcare team.

If you are patient, empathetic, and compassionate—and you have good physical stamina—then you have qualities perfect for the position and nature of the job.

The Education

A career as a nursing assistant is a good choice. You could stay in this role until retirement, or you can start out as a NA and further your education to become another kind of nurse.

To begin training as a CNA, you must follow these steps:

  • Have either a high school diploma or GED.
  • Go through a CNA program through either a medical facility, community college, or a trade school. Programs last 6-12 weeks.
  • Learn the basics of nursing and participate in supervised clinical work.
  • Become certified by passing the state-issued exam, which has a combination of multiple choice questions and hands-on skill demonstration.
  • Keep your license active. You will need to take 48 hours of continuing education every two years.

If you have an associate or bachelor’s degree, finding a job may prove to be easier for you than for those with a certificate of completion.

Find a certified nursing assistant program.

The Salary and Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for CNAs was $33,250, with the top 10 percent earning $44,240 in 2021. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also states that the employment for CNAs is expected to increase 8 percent by 2030, which is as fast as average nationwide.

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

Main Article: LPN

Becoming an LPN is another way for you to get your feet wet in the healthcare field without having to be in school for years. It’s also a starting point for furthered education and employment opportunities within the nursing field.

The Difference Between an LPN and LVN

There’s absolutely zero difference between the two types of nurses aside from the title. In Texas and California, a licensed practical nurse is called a licensed vocational nurse. That’s where their differences end. As they say: A rose is a rose, and an LPN is an LVN—and vice versa.

What They Do

Your state laws determine the extent of your duties at work. Most commonly, your job will have you:

  • Measure and record the blood pressure, weight, height, pulse, temperature, and rate of respiration of patients. All of the information will be documented and reviewed by the medical team in order to make an accurate diagnosis.
  • Give enemas to patients
  • Keep track of everything they put in their mouths as well as what leaves their bodies
  • Collect fluid samples, such as blood and urine
  • Fill out patient paperwork
  • Start IVs and give meds to your patients, in some instances

Your job is a little bit of everything, from nurse to home health aide, and therapist to family member.

You need to be physically and mentally fit to get the job done. Your communication, both verbal and written, has to be exceptional. You will need compassion, empathy, and patience, all of which will be called upon when you’re dealing with patients and their families.

How to Become

Community colleges and technical/trade schools usually offer LPN programs. Students generally start working within two years of beginning their schooling.

Here’s what you’ll need to do if you’re thinking about becoming an LPN:

  • Get your high school diploma or GED.
  • Complete a state-approved program, either through a vocational/trade school or community college. Some hospitals offer LPN training programs, as well.
  • Receive your certificate or diploma, which will take anywhere between one and two years.
  • Complete your clinicals, which will teach you proper bedside manner and other soft skills necessary to the position.
  • Get your license. You’ll have to pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN).
  • Maybe you will consider professional certification. You can specialize and become certified in gerontology, pharmacology, IV therapy, immunizations, and more.
  • Find a job. But also, consider going back to school to become a registered nurse.

Your career advancement opportunities are wide open when you choose to go into nursing.

This could include becoming an RN or completing your bachelor’s degree in nursing. There’s a bridge program available to you for either of those. If you want a higher salary, then you may want to consider advanced degrees. You can also move from patient care to an administrative role.

Find an LPN program now.

Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN)

The Difference Between a LVN and LPN

There is absolutely no difference between a licensed vocational nurse and a licensed practical nurse. The title of LVN is specific to Texas and California; the rest of the country calls the position a LPN. Both hold the same schooling requirements, provide the same duties, and need the same licensing.

Find an LPN/LVN program now.

See licensed practical nurse above (LPN) for more information.

Job Outlook and Salary LPN and LVN

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for LPNs and LVNs was $51,850, with the top 10 percent earning $63,790 in 2021. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also states that the employment for LPNs and LVNs is expected to increase 9 percent by 2030, which is as fast as average nationwide.

Registered Nurse (RN)

Main Article: Registered Nurse

Expert Interview: Career Talk with RN Nicole

Between the rapidly advancing healthcare industry and the aging of the baby boomer generation, registered nurses are in high demand. If you’re seriously considering a job in the medical field and don’t want to complete years of education, then becoming a registered nurse could be the perfect career for you.

What They Do

Once you’re a full-fledged registered nurse, you’ll play a vital role on a team of medical professionals. Your duties will really depend on where you work and who you work for. Also, your shifts will look different if you’re specialized in, say, oncology versus addiction. However, the basic daily tasks are fairly similar across the board.

You will:

  • Evaluate your patient’s condition
  • Document your patient’s medical history/symptoms
  • Give patients their treatments and medications
  • Create a patient care plan
  • Work with your medical team
  • Consult with the patient and his or her family on how to manage the condition
  • Go over patient discharge papers detailing at-home care

Becoming an RN

Essentially, there are three ways you can go about becoming a registered nurse: Choose among a nursing diploma earned at a hospital, an associate degree, or a bachelor’s of science in nursing.

  1. There are a few diploma programs that you can find through medical facilities. These are becoming harder to find but remain a viable option. Expect to finish in about 16-22 months.
  2. The associate degree path takes 2-3 years to complete and makes you eligible for entry-level nursing positions.
  3. A bachelor’s of science will take 4 years to complete.
  4. All three options will include supervised clinical experience as part of the curriculum.
  5. Many RNs who begin with an associate degree proceed to get their bachelor’s degree through a special RN to BSN program.
  6. All states require registered nurses to be licensed.
  7. Once you graduate from an accredited nursing program, you must pass the National Council Licensure Exam for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN).
  8. From that point, you can choose to specialize in particular areas of nursing such as neonatal, pediatrics, and gerontology.
  9. Contact your state’s nursing board to find out more information since the requirements vary by state.

Find an RN program now.

See an overview of some of the courses you’ll take in a registered nursing program.

RN Pay and Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for registered nurses was $82,750, with the top 10 percent earning $120,250 in 2021. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also states that the employment for registered nurses is expected to increase 9 percent by 2030, which is as fast as average nationwide.

Nurse Practitioner (NP)

Nurse practitioners (NP) are considered to be among the ranks of primary care providers. Because there seems to be a shortage of doctors (medical school is expensive and competitive, yo), nurse practitioners have stepped in to pick up the slack. You, a NP, will be more than qualified because of the amount of schooling and experience you’ll have in addition to your compassion, empathy, and patience you possess. If nursing is your passion, then you’ll want to know more about becoming an nurse practitioner.

What You’ll Do

Nurse practitioners, aka advanced practice registered nurses, have different duties depending on which state they work in. You are kind of a registered nurse-physician hybrid, capable of doing things normally delegated to only one profession or the other.

  • Take your patient’s medical history
  • Perform a physical exam
  • Order diagnostic exams and, most likely, perform them
  • Diagnose your patient’s problem
  • Create a medical plan and treatment
  • Check in on how your patient is responding to said medical plan and treatment
  • Stay in touch with your patient’s medical team
  • Do research-based tasks

How to Become

To become a NP, first graduate from high school. Then, you can embark on this exciting journey.

The steps you’ll need to take are:

  1. Become a registered nurse. You can go through an associate degree at a community college or a four-year school where you’ll receive a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing. Consider the following before deciding which degree to get: You have to have your bachelor’s degree before you can become an NP.
  2. Make sure the program you’re planning on graduating from is accredited, otherwise you won’t be able to sit for the NCLEX-RN, which you need to move onto the next step.
  3. After you pass the NCLEX-RN, you’ll work for 1-2 years as an RN before heading to graduate school.
  4. You need to decide if you want to just do the minimum to become a NP, which is a Master of Science in Nursing. This takes 18-24 months. If you want to get your Doctor of Nursing Practice degree, then that takes 2-3 years of full-time schooling. Although, you could completely do both, if you decide to.
  5. Per every state in the country, you have to have a license to practice. However, each state has its own requirements, so you’ll need to check in with your state to find out what will be expected from you. Common among all states: a master’s degree in nursing, a valid RN license, and pass a national certification exam.
  6. Decide if you want to specialize. You can focus on acute care pediatrics, adult gerontology, family NP, women’s health, and pretty much any other area of medicine.

Find a nurse practitioner program now.

Salary and Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for nurse practitioners was $118,040, with the top 10 percent earning $163,350 in 2021. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also states that the employment for nurse practitioners is expected to increase 45 percent by 2030, which is significantly faster than the national average of all occupations.

Nursing Degree Online

Online nursing programs are a great way to work and still get career advancement education simultaneously. Just don’t think that online classes will be any less demanding than your traditional path, because they aren’t. The benefit of doing online training while working is that it’s more convenient, not less challenging.

When you enroll in online nursing school, expect a hybrid program combining classroom hours with your online classes. The clinical part of your program must be taken in person due to the hands-on aspect. Your online school will have an agreement with a medical facility where you’ll go to do the clinicals. Note: Make sure you’re working with an accredited program, otherwise you won’t be able to take the licensing exam!

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