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One of the most fascinating aspects about the nursing field is that two individuals can begin their careers at the same time and in the same place and end up on two completely different paths. With a broad range of options, aspiring nurses can select a degree program that aligns with their interests and strengths and carve out a niche within the field that allows them to practice nursing in a way that they genuinely enjoy.

Before you select a nursing degree program, you should take time to evaluate the different options available and reflect on what type of nursing career you want. By being informed and intentional, you will be able to begin a rewarding and invigorating journey.

The Need for Nurses

The nursing shortage is at crisis levels, and there is demand for qualified and experienced nurses at every level in the healthcare field. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the need for nurses will increase exponentially as older nurses begin to retire at the same time that healthcare needs across the country are expected to grow.

At this time, the number of students enrolled in nursing programs will not off-set the expected number of retirees anticipated in the field over the next several years. Anyone considering a career in nursing is encouraged to explore the degree options and training programs available to them, as there are opportunities to launch a rewarding and lucrative career in almost any type of clinical setting.

The world is in need of nurses who are not only skilled and qualified but also compassionate, empathetic, and culturally aware. By enrolling in a nursing degree program at an established and respected university, you can receive the patient-centered education that is needed in order to launch a dynamic career in nursing.

Types of Nursing Degrees Available

Those interested in the nursing field may feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of degree programs available. However, this degree of variability allows you to select a program that accommodates your availability, resources, and interests while allowing you to take the next step toward your career goals.

These are the types of nursing degrees available:

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) Certificate

A certified nursing assistant certificate program is available to those who would like to pursue work as a nursing assistant. Requirements for this type of program will vary by state, with each offering its own licensing exam upon completion of the certificate program. However, most certificate programs require students to complete coursework and participate in training and clinical hours before taking the exam. Most CNA certificates are valid for a period of two years, and then they must be renewed.

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) Certificate or Diploma

Those who would prefer to begin practicing in the field as quickly as possible may be interested in a licensed practical nurse certificate or diploma, which can be completed within one to two years. In addition to completing coursework that is relevant to the nursing field,  you also will be able to earn hands-on training by logging clinical hours.

Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)

An Associate Degree in Nursing, or ADN, is an undergraduate degree program that provides students with the foundational knowledge and skills required to begin a career in nursing. An ADN is typically a two-year degree program that includes coursework as well as clinical training. It is an ideal option for students looking to begin their career as quickly as possible, and it is an excellent foundation for those who may want to pursue an advanced degree program in the future.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing Degree (BSN)

A Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree, or BSN, is an undergraduate degree program that will prepare you to become a registered nurse, or RN. By completing the coursework for the degree program, as well as undergoing clinical training in a variety of healthcare settings, you may be eligible to take the NCLEX-RN exam in the state you wish to practice. A BSN degree program prepares students for a variety of positions within the nursing field, including working as an RN and serving in management roles.

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

Master of Science in Nursing, or MSN, is a graduate degree program that allows you to expand your skill set as a nurse and specialize in a niche area of the industry. Graduates who earn an MSN may find themselves working as a nurse educator or taking on a leadership role in a specialized unit.

At Post University, our MSN program features a patient-centered curriculum, allowing you to keep the patients’ needs and perspectives in mind at every step of their care. The goal of the program is for all students to become proficient in advanced healthcare concepts, and to understand how to create quality patient outcomes while streamlining care within the healthcare system.

You can choose from eight specializations within our MSN degree:

  1. Infection Prevention and Control
  2. Case Management
  3. Nursing Education
  4. Nursing Management and Organizational Leadership
  5. Nursing Informatics
  6. Adult Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner
  7. Family Nurse Practitioner
  8. Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

A MSN degree provides nurses with a way to customize their career path and align their personal passions with their nursing practice.

Doctor of Nursing Practice

The Doctor of Nursing Practice is a terminal degree program because it is the highest degree program available to nurses who still want to practice in a healthcare setting.

Providing experienced nurses with advanced expertise in specific aspects of healthcare, this graduate degree program sets out to create the next generation of leaders within the field. If you are passionate about healthcare policy and improving patient care, then you may find that this is a worthwhile educational endeavor for you.

Post-Graduate Certificate

Post-graduate certificate programs are available to nurses who have already earned an undergraduate or graduate degree in nursing, allowing them to specialize in niche areas of nursing, such as nurse-midwifery or an emergency nurse practitioner. In addition to completing the certificate program coursework, you would be required to complete clinical hours for that area of expertise.

PhD in Nursing

For nurses interested in carving out a career path in academics or research, a PhD in nursing may be the ideal option. With this doctoral degree program, you will complete advanced coursework that focuses heavily on research, this allows you to gain the skills you need to work in the academic and healthcare research sector. This degree program can take anywhere from four to six years to complete, and you will not be required to undergo additional clinical training to graduate.

Nursing Career Paths

Depending on the educational path you pursue and the professional experience you acquire throughout your years in the field, you will find there are many nursing career paths available.

These are a few of the most common nursing career paths:

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

A certified nursing assistant, or CNA, is an entry-level healthcare position ideal for those interested in learning more about what life is like in a clinical setting. You can become a CNA by completing a training program and becoming licensed within the state you intend to practice. Once you are certified, you will likely work under the direction or supervision of an RN, and you may be responsible for:

  • Taking patient vital signs.
  • Dressing wounds.
  • Preparing exam rooms.
  • Providing patients with basic care, such as feeding, dressing, and bathing.
  • Assisting doctors and nurses with medical procedures, as needed.

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

A licensed practical nurse, or LPN, is an entry-level nursing position that is ideal for professionals who want to work closely with patients throughout their career. Similar to RNs, LPNs are able to work in a variety of healthcare settings, including private practices, clinics, hospitals, and long-term care facilities.

Some common responsibilities of LPNs include:

  • Welcoming patients and providing basic nursing care.
  • Taking vital signs and recording symptoms.
  • Supervising nurse aids and medical assistants.

Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN)

A licensed vocational nurse is an entry-level nursing position very similar to an LPN. An LVN provides the same type of care as an LPN, including assessing the patient, providing basic nursing care, and taking vital signs. However, LVNs are licensed to practice in two states: California and Texas.

Registered Nurse (RN)

A registered nurse is a licensed professional responsible for providing patients with direct care. As an RN, you would have the opportunity to work in a variety of healthcare settings, including hospitals, clinics, long-term care facilities, and even patient homes.

To become a registered nurse, you need to complete an ADN or BSN program, as well as successfully pass the licensure exam for the state where you plan to practice.

Some common responsibilities of RNs include:

  • Preparing patients for exams with their physician.
  • Recording symptoms and maintaining patient medical records.
  • Administering medication.
  • Providing patients and families with information about best practices and after-treatment care.
  • Collaborating with the doctor on staff to create a comprehensive care plan for the individual patient.

Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN)

A critical care registered nurse, or CCRN, is a nursing professional who works in a critical care setting, such as intensive care units or emergency rooms. Those who want to work as a CCRN are often able to do so by earning a BSN and logging clinical hours in critical care settings. However, there is also a certification program available for those who are interested in advanced coursework and additional clinical training.

Critical care nurses often provide specialized care to patients who are critically or terminally ill, requiring them to be both precise and exceptionally empathetic.

Emergency Room Registered Nurse

An emergency room registered nurse provides patients with care in emergency units, such as emergency rooms in hospitals and standalone emergency room centers. You can become an emergency room nurse by earning an ADN or BSN, gaining clinical experience in an emergency care setting, and earning an emergency nursing certification.

Common responsibilities of emergency room RNs include:

  • Performing triage on patients who come to the emergency room.
  • Assisting physicians and surgeons working in the emergency room.
  • Administering medication and providing patient care when needed.
  • Communicating with families about the status of patients in the ER.

Cardiac Registered Nurse

Sometimes referred to as a cardiovascular nurse or cardiology nurse, a cardiac registered nurse is a specialized nursing professional with in-depth experience in cardiac care. It takes about four to six years to become a cardiac RN, as you need to complete your ADN or BSN, pursue clinical training in an acute care setting, and earn cardiac nursing certification.

Cardiac RNs often work closely with cardiologists and cardiac surgeons, and their job responsibilities can include:

  • Performing stress tests on cardiac patients.
  • Assisting cardiologists with defibrillation.
  • Administering medication to cardiac patients.
  • Providing specialized bedside care to cardiac patients.

Nurse Practitioner (NP)

A nurse practitioner is an advanced nursing position available to nurses who have completed a graduate degree program with a nurse practitioner specialization, and undergone extensive clinical training in a variety of healthcare settings. According to the Cleveland Clinic, an NP performs many of the same duties as a doctor, including examining patients, creating a treatment plan, and prescribing medication. Nurse practitioners work in a variety of healthcare settings, such as offices, hospitals, nursing homes, and long-term care facilities, and they are best known for the patient-centered care that they provide. Nurse practitioners are considered experts in preventative care and are known for their empathetic and well-rounded approach to nursing.

Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)

A clinical nurse specialist, or CNS, is considered a leader in the healthcare industry. According to the National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists, these nurse professionals have earned a master’s or doctoral degree in nursing and have advanced training in specialized patient care. Through their degree program and practice, they receive training in pharmacology, physiology, and physical assessment, qualifying them to diagnose patients, prescribe treatments, and bill insurance providers.

Nurse Educator

Nurse educators are nursing professionals with clinical care experience as well as in-depth knowledge of the best nursing practices who work directly with practicing nurses to provide them with additional training The primary role of a nurse educator is to bridge the gap between the classroom and the clinical setting, providing nurses of all skill levels with opportunities for advanced training and professional development. Nurse educators typically have a master’s degree, and they are often responsible for:

  • Creating training programs and developing course curriculums.
  • Conducting research to identify burgeoning trends in the nursing field.
  • Evaluating and updating existing educational programs for nurses.

Explore Your Nursing Journey at Post University

At Post University, we offer a variety of nursing degree programs, including a Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing, and our Master of Science in Nursing (MSN degree), an excellent option for nurses looking to expand their skills and specialize in an area of practice, and Doctor of Nursing Practice in four specializations (DNP online programs).

Request more information about our nursing degree programs and contact an admissions advisor today.

Thank you for reading! The views and information provided in this post do not reflect Post University programs and/or outcomes directly. If you are interested in learning more about our programs, you can find a list of our accredited online nursing programs on our website or reach out directly!

Please note jobs and/or career outcomes highlighted in this blog do not reflect jobs or career outcomes expected from any Post program. To learn more about Post’s program and its outcomes, please fill out a form to speak with an admissions advisor.