If you’re reading this, chances are you’re considering a career in nursing. But you’re probably wondering to yourself, how do I become a nurse? Maybe you’re still in high school and you’re thinking about what you want to do with the rest of your life. Or maybe you’re a little older and thinking about changing career paths. You may even already have a career in nursing but you’re wondering how to advance to the next level. This guide will provide you with nursing career guidance for all the above scenarios.
If you are new to the world of nursing, you may be surprised to learn that there are several types of nursing careers, each requiring varying education and licensure requirements. The four most common types of nurses are certified nursing assistants (CNA), licensed practical nurses (LPN), registered nurses (RN) and nurse practitioners (NP), and each has graduating levels of education and licensure requirements. One truly wonderful thing about a career in nursing is that you can work in your chosen profession as you continue your education and other requirements to move to the next level of nursing, if that is your ultimate goal.
Finally, most nurses work in a preferred specialty, such as critical care, labor and delivery, pediatrics or mental health. If you aren’t sure what specialty would suit you, just focus on completing your educational requirements first. The path you were meant to take in your career will likely reveal itself along the way. One thing all truly successful nurses have in common, however, is that they have a lifelong desire to help others. Many nurses say it is “a calling,” and they are extremely passionate about caring for those who cannot care for themselves. It is a job that can be at equal levels demanding and rewarding, but it is certainly never boring. Let’s take a look at the four main types of nurses and the steps you’ll need to take to become each one.
How to Become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)
A certified nursing assistant, or CNA, is considered an entry-level nursing job. CNAs can work in many different clinical settings, including hospitals, nursing homes and home care settings. Your job as a CNA will likely include helping patients or residents with a variety of basic needs including eating, bathing, grooming, mobility and more.
Typically, the only education that is required is a high school diploma or GED. However, you must pass some basic nurse training, for which you will receive a non-degree certificate or diploma. The training and skills required varies by state and programs typically take about 4-12 weeks to complete. Before you enroll in a program, make sure you ensure it is approved by the state nursing board in which you want to work as well as the National League for Nursing Accredited Commission (NLNAC).
After you complete your CNA training, you will be required to take and pass certification examination. The exam will consist of two sections: a written test and a clinical skills exam. The written portion is typically comprised of multiple-choice style questions which you will have 90 minutes to answer. The clinical skills assessment will be conducted one-on-one with a proctor, who will test skills that may include correct hand washing, taking vital signs, transferring a patient from a bed to a stretcher, providing catheter care and more, depending on which state you are in. After you pass both parts of the exam, you will be given a certification to practice as a certified nursing assistant and will be added to your state-wide registry.
Now that you’ve earned your license, it’s time to find your first job as a certified nursing assistant. Working as a CNA can often allow you to create a flexible schedule, as part-time and full-time CNA jobs are typically available on day, night or even overnight shifts. This is perfect for those who want to continue down the nursing career path, as you will already be in a clinical setting and oftentimes working closely with licensed practical nurses, registered nurses, and sometimes nurse practitioners and will learn more about each role on the job.
What Kind of Job Outlook and Salary Can I Expect as a Certified Nursing Assistant?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for CNAs in 2021 was $30,310. The projected job growth outlook for CNAs through 2031 is five percent, which is considered about average, but essentially means you probably won’t have a problem finding a job. When you decide you’re ready to take the next step in your nursing career, however, consider becoming a licensed practical nurse.
How to Become a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
A licensed practical nurse typically has more responsibilities than a CNA, but not the same level as a registered nurse. Like CNAs, LPNs work in a variety of clinical settings, including hospitals, psychiatric facilities, surgical centers, maternity wards and emergency rooms. On the job, LPNs perform a range of duties which may include monitoring patient health and vital signs, changing bandages, inserting catheters, or giving medication prescribed by a physician.
The education required to become a licensed practical nurse includes a high school diploma or GED and then graduation from an accredited LPN program. LPN programs typically consist of approximately one year of coursework and practical skills application in a combination of both educational and clinical settings. If you are already working as a CNA when you decide to become an LPN, there is usually a fast-track option for you to complete the education requirements.
After you graduate from an accredited LPN program, you will become eligible to sit for the National Council Licensing Examination for Practical Nurses exam (NCLEX-PN). The exam is comprised of a combination of multiple-choice, text-based and four-option questions that may include charts, tables or graphic images. Topics include physiological adaption, coordinated care, safety and infection control, pharmacological and parenteral therapies, health promotion and maintenance, psychosocial integrity, basic care and comfort, and reduction of risk potential. You will need to answer between 60-145 computer-adaptive test (CAT) questions within five hours. If this sounds complicated, considered that up to 20 percent of candidates do not pass the NCLEX-PN exam on their first try. When you pass the test, you will be eligible to get your license and free to search for a job as a licensed practical nurse.
What Kind of Job Outlook and Salary Can I Expect as a Licensed Practical Nurse?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, licensed practical nurses earned a median salary of $48,070 per year in 2021. The job outlook through 2031 is average with a growth rate of 6 percent. LPNs, like CNAs, are often able to enjoy some flexibility in their work schedule with both night and day shifts available seven days a week. However, if you decide you want to challenge yourself even more professionally, you may want to consider becoming a registered nurse.
How to Become a Registered Nurse (RN)
Just as an LPN has more responsibilities than a CNA, an RN has a higher level of responsibility than an LPN. Working as an RN, you will assess and identify patient needs, and then implement and monitor a medical and treatment plan. You may also perform wound care, administer medications, draw blood and urine samples and educate patients and their families about their health conditions.
If you decide to become a registered nurse, your first step will be finding an accredited nursing education program. You can obtain your licensure through an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN). If you are already working as a CNA or LPN, many schools will offer a fast-track program that will take into consideration your current skillset. Additionally, accelerated programs are available to those with bachelor’s degrees in non-nursing fields, as well. To obtain your RN degree, you will need to take classes in anatomy, physiology, biology, psychology, as well as completing a number of liberal arts, math and science prerequisites. It typically takes two to four years to complete your registered nurse education.
After graduating from an accredited RN program, you will need to register to take the National Council Licensing Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). The NCLEX-RN is a computerized test consisting of a minimum of 75 questions that you will need to complete within six hours. When you pass the test, you will be able to search current job opportunities for registered nurses.
What Kind of Job Outlook and Salary Can I Expect as a Registered Nurse?
Because of ongoing high demand for their skills, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that registered nurses earned a much higher than average median salary of $77,600 in 2021. The growth rate through 2031 stands at six percent. Registered nurses can find employment nationwide in hospitals, physician’s offices, home health facilities, and nursing homes. If you desire to take your professional goals to an even higher level, you could always aim for a career as a nurse practitioner.
How to Become a Nurse Practitioner (NP)
Nurse practitioner opportunities have increased dramatically in recent years, which reflects numerous changes in the healthcare industry including an ongoing physician shortage and surging patient demand in many areas throughout the United States. NPs, also called advanced practice RNs (APRN), perform many of the same duties as physicians, including treating injuries and illness, ordering and interpreting diagnostic and laboratory tests, and prescribing medications and treatment plans. If you are interested in becoming an NP, you must first be a registered nurse, hold a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) and complete a nurse-practitioner-focused master’s or doctoral nursing program and finally, successfully pass a national NP board certification exam. While attending graduate school, NPs obtain the advanced clinical skills and knowledge required to diagnose and treat patients and prescribe medications. Once you have completed the program, pass the certification exam and obtain your licensure, you can search nurse practitioner job opportunities nationwide.
What Kind of Job Outlook and Salary Can I Expect as a Nurse Practitioner?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurse practitioners earned a median salary of $123,780 in 2021, and the growth rate for jobs is much higher than average at 40 percent. No matter where you are in your journey as a healthcare professional, whether you are still a student, studying to advance your career or just want to search new healthcare opportunities in every specialty, Cross Country Search is here to help guide you.