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How long to earn a degree in nursing

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One of the great things about preparing for a career in nursing is that you have options. There are multiple paths into the nursing field as well as different paths to career advancement. You can become qualified for basic nursing roles in as little as a year, or spend four years earning a degree that will prepare you for leadership roles right from the get-go. No matter what degree level you start with, you can always choose to continue your education when it’s right for you, often through accelerated or online nursing degree programs.

The Time to Earn Practical and Vocational Nursing Diplomas

If your primary goal is to start your nursing career as soon as possible, then you should know that a licensed practical nursing or licensed vocational nursing program could be the perfect place to start. You only need basic nursing knowledge to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or licensed vocational nurse (LVN). You can complete your practical nursing studies in as little as one year, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

That isn’t to say that practical nursing programs are stress-free, or that LPNs and LVNs have it easy. Aspiring LPNs and LVNs still have to take science classes, including biology, anatomy, physiology and pharmacology. They have to complete coursework in the basic fundamentals of nursing as well as practical experience working with patients. While basic nursing requires less educational preparation than more advanced nursing roles, it also pays less and offers fewer opportunities for job advancement. LPNs and LVNs earn a median annual wage of s $45,030 per year, according to the BLS, and if they want to move into higher level roles, they will need a more advanced degree and an additional license.

Community colleges, technical schools, hospitals and even high schools may offer practical nursing programs for aspiring LPNs and LVNs.

How Long to Become a Registered Nurse

In terms of education, scope of job responsibilities and salary, professional nursing is a step above practical nursing. If you want to become a registered nurse (RN), you will need to spend two to four years in nursing school and go beyond the basics.

The shorter path to a career as an RN is through earning an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) or a nursing diploma. You can complete your ADN in two to three years, the BLS reported. In the classroom, you can expect to study subjects like microbiology, chemistry, and anatomy and physiology as well as courses that emphasize the scope of nursing practice for registered nurses. Outside the classroom, be prepared to gain plenty of clinical experience, much of it at hospitals.

Once you complete your associate’s degree program, you can apply for your RN license and get started in entry-level professional nursing positions. However, you should know that the shorter duration of your degree program can be limiting. You might have fewer employment opportunities than other RNs who spent more time in school, since some employers, including many hospitals, require a bachelor’s degree. Advancement won’t be easy unless you go back to school. The push for RNs to attain a bachelor’s degree is gaining strength across America, and some states are even enacting laws requiring RNs to earn BSN degrees in a set amount of time if they want to keep their licenses.

All of these factors are reasons to consider the other path to professional nursing. The Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree is a four-year degree that includes all of the core classes and clinical requirements of an ADN as well as more in-depth nursing classes. BSN degree programs offer students the opportunity to develop valuable critical thinking and leadership skills through courses such as nursing research, nursing informatics, public health and nursing leadership. With a BSN, you can move into management and supervisory roles.

Diploma programs in professional nursing, usually found at hospitals and medical centers, are less prevalent than bachelor’s and associate’s degree programs, the BLS reported.

The Timeline to a Master’s Degree in Nursing

If you’re eager to advance your career beyond your RN license, a graduate or doctoral degree could be the way to go. The Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree is currently the most common education for advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), including nurse practitioners, the BLS reported.

Most MSN degrees require students to complete 35 to 50 credits of graduate-level nursing education, according to U.S. News & World Report. If you already have a BSN and study full-time, then you should be able to earn your MSN in 18 to 24 months, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. However, many working nurses choose to study part-time and so take longer to earn their degrees.

The MSN degree can significantly raise your earning potential. APRNs earn a median wage of $110,930, compared to $70,000 for RNs. 

If you can’t wait to get started in your nursing career but still want to keep your advancement options open, don’t worry. Practical nurses can expand their education by enrolling in LPN to RN education programs. Registered nurses with an ADN can move on to RN to BSN degree options or skip straight to MSN programs intended for associate’s degree holders. Graduates of BSN degree programs can wait to return to school for their graduate degree until they have more experience. You can start out your nursing career in as little as one to four years and keep expanding your nursing knowledge at your own pace.