Nursing isn’t known as an easy career path. Working as a nurse can be stressful and emotionally draining, though it can also be equally rewarding. One thing about a nursing career that doesn’t have to be difficult is figuring out an education option that works for you. There are a number of different paths into a nursing career, including undergraduate programs, that can help you quickly learn what you need to know to get started as a nurse. Some of these degree options are easier than others. Nursing diploma programs, associate’s degree programs, bachelor’s degree completion programs and hybrid and online programs are some of the easiest options available for aspiring nurses.
How Do I Become a Nurse?
Without nurses, the healthcare industry as we know it would crumble. Nurses work in virtually all healthcare environments – hospitals, outpatient treatment facilities, generalist and specialist doctor’s offices, urgent care facilities, and clinics – and in every medical specialty. Nurses need to develop a foundation of knowledge that includes everything from sciences such as anatomy and physiology to technical skills like inserting intravenous lines, giving injections and correctly administering medications in multiple formats and doses.
Although nurses need to have a temperament that’s at once compassionate and emotionally stable and the physical stamina to withstand long shifts of demanding work, it takes more than the right personality to become a nurse. Qualifying for a nursing career requires you to take formal studies, pass licensing exams and satisfy other licensing requirements that apply in your state.
Is It Hard to Become a Nurse?
Becoming a nurse is a challenging endeavor. Just like the work you will actually do in this career, nursing education – which includes plenty of practical clinical experience – is not for the faint of heart.
Your courses will be challenging, and your clinical experiences will be demanding. That said, nursing school at the diploma through bachelor’s levels is nowhere near as difficult as medical school, which awards a doctoral degree, or even physician assistant school, which confers a master’s degree. These nursing degrees are undergraduate degrees, so they don’t require the highly advanced graduate-level coursework you would need to take while pursuing a master’s or doctoral degree.
Nursing school is difficult but doable, especially if you have average or above-average proficiency in science studies. While nurses use some math in their careers, you don’t need to take a lot of math-intensive courses to earn this degree. A statistics course and potentially a basic college-level math course should be sufficient to fulfill your general education classes at most schools, and it’s entirely possible that your major coursework won’t add any extra mathematics classes to your workload. On the other hand, several of your courses in a nursing program are likely to be heavily based on science. If you find that you struggle in studying natural and physical sciences, you might have a harder time becoming a nurse.
What Are the Steps to Becoming a Nurse?
If you think you’re ready to move forward with your preparation for a nursing career, take these steps to get started. to get started.
- Check your state’s licensing requirements. Different states have different requirements, so you need to understand the minimum level of education required for licensure in your state, as well as any experience requirements, life support certifications and any exceptional licensing exam requirements. You need to make sure that you are eligible for licensing in your state, which may mean being able to pass a criminal background check.
- Get your nursing education. Start applying to schools and programs that offer the nursing degree you want. Depending on the level of education you’re seeking, you might apply to technical schools, hospital nursing programs, community colleges or four-year schools. Expect to spend two to four years of full-time study earning your nursing degree, including coursework in the classroom, hands-on work in laboratory settings and clinical fieldwork.
- Pass your licensing exam. To get your nursing license, you need to pass a licensing exam. The sooner you take this exam, the sooner you can begin working in your field. However, recent nursing graduates may have to wait to be eligible to take the test. In most states, you will have to wait 45 days to take the exam that leads to licensure as a registered nurse. To give yourself the best chance of passing this exam, start studying early and take some practice exams.
- Start looking for nursing jobs. After you’ve passed your licensing exam, you can complete the process of getting licensed and begin searching for your first nursing role. You may be able to get a job at a facility where you completed clinical experiences or find opportunities through networking with professional connections you made while doing your fieldwork.
- Keep up with continuing education requirements. To keep your nursing license in good standing and be eligible to renew your nursing license as required by your state, you will likely need to meet continuing education requirements. The life of a nurse is busy, but don’t neglect to set aside this time for professional development, which can help you become a better nurse in addition to maintaining your credentials.
- Seek certification in your specialty area. If you’re passionate about working in a certain specialty, you might consider pursuing voluntary certification in that specialty from one of the many professional associations that offer certification, such as the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses or the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board.
If you start your nursing career with a lower level of nursing degree, another step to consider as you advance your career may be earning your bachelor’s degree. Aspiring advanced practice registered nurses will need to go back to school to earn a master’s or doctoral degree.
What Is the Hardest Class in Nursing School?
Depending on who you ask, the hardest classes in nursing school are probably either your science courses or your courses in specific areas of nursing practice. The science classes in nursing school that have a reputation for being tough include pathophysiology, pharmacology, chemistry, anatomy and physiology and statistics. Among the nursing specialty courses, which include clinical fieldwork, students often find classes most difficult when they have little interest in that specialty area. Different nursing students may view the same specialty course as difficult or easy depending on their level of interest in performing the work that the specialty entails.
There are multiple levels of nursing careers, and the more advanced the level of nursing career you’re interested in, the harder it will be to attain this career.
The Easiest Paths to a Nursing Career
For the easiest nursing degrees, your best options include shorter programs like licensed practical nurse and licensed vocational nurse programs, associate’s degree programs, bridge programs for registered nurses seeking bachelor’s degrees and hybrid nursing programs.
Practical Nursing Programs Through Nurse Technical School
The easiest role you can have as a nurse is that of a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or licensed vocational nurse (LVN). LPNs and LVNs work under registered nurses (RNs), providing basic nursing care. LPNs and LVNs generally work in settings such as nursing homes, hospitals, doctors’ offices and home healthcare services.
To get started in the field of nursing, practical and vocational nurses need a diploma or certificate from an educational program approved by their state’s board of nursing. These programs can be found at community colleges, technical schools, hospitals and even some high schools. An LPN or LVN program usually takes around a year to complete, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
What makes an LPN or LVN preparation program the easiest type of nursing education you can pursue is its focus on training for basic nursing services only and its quick completion time. However, aspiring LPNs and LVNs still need to take coursework in studies such as biology, pharmacology and nursing. They also need to meet clinical experience requirements through supervised hands-on work providing patient care.
Associate’s Degrees in Nursing (ADNs) Through Hospital Nursing Programs and Community Colleges
As registered nursing degree programs go, the easiest one out there is the ADN. An associate’s degree program can prepare you for a career as a registered nurse, but you should know that this degree meets only the bare minimum requirement for qualification as an RN. In fact, more than 50 years ago, the American Nurses Association recommended that all registered nurses attain a bachelor’s degree. Though hospitals employ more than 60 percent of RNs and are among the highest paying employers of registered nurses, they are also more likely than other employers to require job applicants to have a BSN degree.
Associate’s degrees are still common among new RNs. In fact, as many as 60 percent of registered nurses start out with an ADN degree, the journal Global Qualitative Nursing Research reported in 2015. Yet there’s no denying that the ADN degree is the easy option due to its shorter time to complete and less extensive and in-depth coursework requirements. A traditional ADN degree takes two years of study, though accelerated programs can allow students to finish their degrees faster. In an ADN degree program, you will take the same basic core nursing classes as a BSN student, including courses in microbiology, physiology, anatomy and chemistry. You must also complete clinical requirements. However, you will miss out on taking valuable courses like health management and leadership, public health and nursing research that are offered in BSN programs but not ADN programs.
RN-to-BSN Degree Programs
If you chose to start your nursing career with an ADN but decided that you do want to continue your education, you are in luck. Many nursing schools offer RN-to-BSN degree options to make it easier for busy, working registered nurses to attain their bachelor’s degree in nursing.
RN-to-BSN programs are only open to licensed registered nurses. They build on the knowledge you already have from your ADN or diploma program. As a result, they take far less time than it would take if you had to start over as a college freshman. Some RN-to-BSN programs take two years of study – when combined with the time spent earning your associate’s degree, the equivalent of one four-year program. Other RN-to-BSN programs are offered in accelerated formats or are more generous with awarding transfer credit and can be completed in as little as 12 months or less.
Why should you consider going back to school for your bachelor’s degree? BSN programs include some courses that aren’t in ADN programs. They round out their programs with an emphasis on public health, management and leadership, nursing research and physical and social sciences. The additional courses are meant to provide students with more professional development and a heightened understanding of the issues affecting patient care and healthcare delivery. Having a BSN, as opposed to an ADN, may expand your job opportunities, increase your earning potential, and put you further along on the path to working in an advanced practice role such as nurse practitioner.
Online and Hybrid Nursing Programs
Online RN-to-BSN degree programs are an option, though applicants should know that practical experience is still required even for programs that offer fully online coursework. As a result, many nursing programs that incorporate a distance learning model are actually hybrid programs. Some coursework takes place online, but clinical fieldwork and potentially some coursework is done in person. Online and hybrid nursing programs are easy in the sense that you don’t have to commute to campus. For certain parts of your education, like asynchronous online courses, you can study in your pajamas, from your living room, after work or early in the morning. However, students sometimes find the online learning environment difficult because it can feel isolating. Success in studying online requires a great deal of self-discipline and time management. If you’re not a self-motivated person, explore strategies for holding yourself accountable or consider an in-person learning option.
Every nursing degree has its own challenges. Choosing an “easy” nursing degree may allow you to complete your education sooner or to avoid having to take extra courses. However, you should still be prepared for selective admissions requirements, a rigorous curriculum and a licensing process that includes passing a national credentialing exam.