There are several reasons you might be interested in a career in health care. For example, health care jobs offer job growth and stability. Health care roles are also available for a variety of education and experience levels. The field is fast-paced and exciting and offers you the chance to make a difference in people’s lives.
In a world of uncertainty, health care professionals are needed now more than ever. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in health care occupations is projected to grow 15% from 2019 to 2029, estimating that 2.4 million new jobs will be added over this period time.*
If you’re just beginning to explore a career in nursing, here’s what you need to know about earning a nursing degree and the career paths available to you.
An Associate’s Degree in Nursing: Path to Becoming a Registered Nurse
The Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) is one route toward becoming a registered nurse (RN). Earning your ASN usually takes 2 years and degrees are offered at many universities, community colleges, and career-focused schools.
The Application Process for the ASN
Each nursing program is unique and has different admission requirements. Carefully review program guidelines before applying. Common requirements include a high school GPA of 2.5 (or GED equivalent) and a certain ACT or SAT subscore (18 for the former, 25 for the latter).
Some programs also require applicants to submit a HESI exam or TEAS test score. The Health Education Systems, Inc. (HESI) Admission Assessment Exam is a timed, computerized test. It is used as a baseline entrance criterion by some nursing schools. Likewise, the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS), distributed by Assessment Technologies Institute, is a multiple choice exam that measures entry-level skills and abilities of nursing program applicants. Both of these assessments help to determine your readiness before applying to the ASN program.
Additionally, some programs require applicants to pass a criminal background check and drug screening before admittance.
ASN Classrooms, Clinicals, and Career Paths
In general, first-year nursing students take classes to learn the fundamentals of nursing. This could include introductory courses in human anatomy and physiology, microbiology, sociology, developmental psychology, and pharmacology. Additionally, a first-year nursing student’s coursework usually includes general education courses and at least one humanities elective.
While the first year is meant to create a base of nursing knowledge, the second year is meant to technically prepare and train students to become RNs. As a second-year nursing student, your coursework could include classes on psychiatric nursing, surgical nursing, and maternity and infant nursing.
Throughout your education, you’ll be required to rotate through and complete a series of clinical practice experiences that grant you first-hand, real-life experience in various areas of nursing. Designed to augment what you learn in the classroom, these clinical practice experiences include learning from and working alongside RNs in hospitals, clinics, and long-term care facilities. This onsite training prepares you to become an RN in a variety of settings, depending on your job choice.†
“Earning an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) degree is an important milestone that marks the start of your nursing career,” says Tonya Holian, academic chair of Purdue Global’s prelicensure nursing programs. Programs such as the ASN offered by Purdue Global to students in Iowa and Maine will provide you with a strong foundation as you prepare to sit for the national licensure exam (NCLEX-RN®) and begin work as a licensed RN.‡
>> Read More: 10 NCLEX Tips and Tricks to Pass the First Time You Take It
As an RN, you could work in:
- Emergency nursing
- Peri-, intra-, and post-operative nursing
- Family practice
- Geriatric nursing
- Adult health nursing
- Maternal infant nursing
- Pediatric nursing
- Mental health nursing
- Medical surgical nursing
The RN-to-BSN: Bachelor of Science in Nursing
A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) may be the next step for RNs who are seeking to enhance their skills and pursue more advanced roles. Many people choose to earn their ASN first and then return for their BSN after working for a few years as a licensed RN.
An RN-to-BSN program generally takes 2 years of full-time study and can be completed online or on campus. Accelerated programs, such as Purdue Global’s ExcelTrack® RN-to-BSN online nursing degree, enable you to move quickly past what you already know so that you can focus on what you still need to learn in a personalized, competency-based educational environment.
While you may enjoy bedside nursing in the patient care environment as an RN, you might also have other career aspirations. If teaching or advancing into nursing leadership and administration interests you, obtaining your BSN is the next pathway for your career. Nurses with a BSN often explore opportunities in areas such as:
- Community education and public health
- Nursing case management
- Nursing leadership and administration
- Patient care coordination
The Benefits of Earning a BSN
Completing a BSN can help nurses grow their skill sets. Research from the American Association of the Colleges of Nursing shows that nurses with a BSN or higher-level degree have stronger communication and problem-solving skills and are more likely to make an accurate diagnosis based on evaluation. Furthermore, the AACN reports that nurses with a BSN are more likely to have lower patient mortality rates and lower failure-to-rescue rates. According to Susan Kieffer, academic chair for Purdue Global’s RN-to-BSN program, “The RN-to-BSN program is about opening doors. A registered nurse with a BSN degree will see doors opening to greater opportunities.”
>> Read More: Top 4 Reasons to Earn Your RN-to-BSN Degree
The Outside Motivation for BSN-Prepared Nurses
Many government, nonprofit, and other professional organizations are advocating for an increase in the number of BSN-prepared nurses across clinical settings. For example:
- Magnet hospitals are recognized by the American Nurses Credentialing Center as entities that meet high quality standards of nursing excellence. To achieve and keep Magnet status, hospitals must employ only those who meet certain educational eligibility criteria. As such, all nurse managers and nurse leaders at Magnet hospitals must hold a BSN or graduate degree in nursing.
- In 2008, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Institute of Medicine, now known as the National Academy of Medicine (NAM), launched a two-year initiative to assess and transform the nursing profession. In its 2011 report, “The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health,” the committee recommended that the number of the nation’s nurses with baccalaureate degrees be increased to 80% by 2020. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing’s Fact Sheet: The Impact of Education on Nursing Practice, 56% of RNs in 2019 held a BSN or higher.
- New York passed its “BSN in 10” law in 2017, which requires all nurses to obtain a BSN within 10 years of receiving their RN license. Rhode Island and New Jersey have proposed “BSN-in-10” mandates as well, but they have not passed yet.
- The U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, and U.S Space Force all require active duty nurses to hold at least a baccalaureate degree in nursing.
- To be hired by the Veteran’s Administration, the nation’s largest employer of registered nurses, applicants must hold a BSN or graduate degree in nursing.
A BSN also enables students to move on to a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree, which is required for advanced nursing roles such as nurse practitioners.
Master’s Degree in Nursing: Preparing to Be a Nurse Educator or Manager, and for Advanced Practice Roles
Building on a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree in nursing enables students to develop expertise in a specialized area. While some nurses pursue an MSN from the outset of their education, this pathway can also be for nurses who, after a few years of experience, have identified career goals that match their skills and interest. Nurses who pursue an MSN will often focus on one of these advanced practice areas§:
- Nurse Practitioner (NP): Diagnose and treat common illnesses and injuries, administer immunizations, order X-rays, offer primary care, etc.
- Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA): Administer anesthesia in operating rooms, dental offices, outpatient surgical centers, etc.
- Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM): Provide pre- and postnatal care, deliver babies, and offer general gynecological services.
- Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS): Provide specialty care in a range of areas from pediatric to psychiatric nursing.
- Nurse Executive: Blend business skills with health care expertise; manage a team of nurses while also handling a budget, managing overall finances, etc.
- Nurse Educator: In classroom and clinical settings, nurse educators lead lectures, develop nursing school curriculums, and teach aspiring nurses how to provide patient care.
MSN Program Requirements and Curriculum
Each MSN program will differ, but most require students to be a licensed RN, have a BSN degree, reach a minimum GPA and/or GRE score, and have a certain amount of clinical experience. Full-time programs generally take 18 to 24 months to complete.
Master’s-level nursing education includes courses in nursing theory, ethics and policy, human resources, information technology, specialized practice, research management, and advanced practice nursing.
The MSN program at Purdue Global offers three nurse practitioner population focus areas:
- Adult-gerontology acute care
- Adult-gerontology primary care
- Family nurse practitioner, primary care
These focus areas prepare advanced practice nurses for careers in a variety of settings. “As an advanced practice provider, you will assess, diagnose, and manage patients with a multitude of health conditions and help to fulfill the needs of the health care crisis in the United States today,” says Michelle McMahon, associate dean of graduate programs.
Purdue Global also offers a nurse educator concentration and an executive leader concentration. The nurse educator concentration will prepare you to lead the way in providing evidence-based education to nurses and aspiring nurses. “As a nurse educator, you are poised to transform health care through knowledge and innovation,” says Angela Owens, MSN nurse educator. The executive leader concentration prepares future nurse executives through the cultivation of business acumen in the health care setting. “Nurse executive leaders are poised to influence health care policies and provide visionary leadership,” Owens says.
As with undergraduate degrees, much of your coursework will be split between classroom and clinical settings.
Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP): The Door to Clinical and Leadership Positions
There are two types of doctoral nursing programs: research-focused programs and practice-focused programs. While the former has a heavy focus on generating new nursing research, the latter emphasizes translation and application of evidence-based protocols and interventions that have been tested through nursing research. Both are designed to produce nursing experts who will be leaders in their areas of expertise.
In many DNP programs, candidates engage in practice experiences with the help of a practice mentor. For example, while taking a course in DNP leadership, this could include working alongside a chief financial officer (CFO) to understand their role in managing workplace finances.
Additionally, some programs require an original, practice-based scholarly project, which includes a presentation of your project and project findings. In these cases, you will earn practice hours when you complete practice experiences that relate to your specialization.
“The Doctor of Nursing Practice program prepares nurses to practice at the highest level of the profession. This terminal degree focuses on continuous quality improvement through evidence-based practice at the systems level,” says Owens.
With a DNP, you’ll be better equipped to bridge the theory-practice gap—an ongoing issue of matching textbook learning with clinical competency. Ultimately, the purpose of a DNP program is to teach nurses how to translate their research into practice, with the end goal of improving patient outcomes.
Graduation requirements vary per specialized program and can depend on the amount of practice hours you have completed when you enroll. Full-time MSN-to-DNP programs typically take 1 to 2 years to complete and are available in both online and on-campus settings. Because DNP candidates generally work and study simultaneously, many earn an online DNP degree for maximum flexibility. In some cases, independent study options are available for those who need additional coursework to achieve the required number of postbaccalaureate clinical practice hours.
With a DNP degree, nurses can expect to advance in leadership roles as nurse practitioners, nurse executives, expert clinicians, and nursing instructors. Due to an aging population and an increased focus on preventive care, these professions—which include those working as nurse anesthetists and nurse midwives—are projected to grow 45% from 2019 to 2029, according to the BLS.
A Pioneer in the Profession
The DNP is fairly new with relatively few graduates in the workforce. According to a report from the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action, as of 2019, 40,271 of the nation’s more than 3 million nurses have a DNP in nursing. An additional 6,994 have a PhD in nursing.
Earning the degree can not only set you apart as an expert in your field, but it makes you a pioneer in the nursing profession. DNP-prepared nurses have the potential to revolutionize the current health care system and contribute in a positive way to the evolution of their occupation.
Ready to Launch a Career in Nursing?
Nurses are thought leaders. They’re skilled at leading change through data-driven decision making. They’re patient advocates. They see people in their most vulnerable moments and experience the human condition at its worst—and at its best.
If you’re interested in joining the ranks and becoming a nurse, the Purdue Global School of Nursing encourages you to talk to people in the profession to learn more. Discuss the program requirements with an advisor at your local community college or a university of your choice. Residents of Iowa and Maine may inquire about earning an associate’s degree in nursing at Purdue Global.
To learn more about the online nursing degree programs at Purdue Global, request more information today.