One big advantage of a nursing career is its many levels and choices. You can work in a hospital, school, doctor's office, clinic or patients' homes. If you like, you can begin as a licensed vocational nurse and later complete more education, moving up to registered nurse or even advanced practice nurse. Nursing programs are available at many different educational levels, ranging from diploma programs to bachelor's degree and graduate programs.
LPN or LVN Programs
Licensed practical nurses, or LPNs, do basic nursing tasks under supervision from registered nurses and physicians. Also called licensed vocational nurses or LVNs, they must complete state-approved accredited training and pass the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX, at the practical nurse level. Although some high schools and hospitals offer LPN or LVN programs, most practical nurses learn in technical schools and community colleges. The training usually takes approximately one year, including classes and clinical work, and culminates in a diploma or certificate. Typical classes include nursing fundamentals, pharmacology, anatomy, nutrition and psychology.
Registered nurses, or RNs, take care of patients, coordinate their care and supervise LPNs and LVNs. RN programs come at three levels: certificate programs, associate degree programs and bachelor's degree in nursing, or BSN, programs. Associate degree and diploma programs usually require between two and three years, while a bachelor's degree usually takes four years. Typical RN classes include physiology, anatomy, chemistry, psychology and nursing, plus liberal arts and social sciences. RNs also complete clinical rotations in areas such as maternity, surgery and pediatrics. After finishing accredited education, nurses must pass the NCLEX exam at the RN level for state licensing.
Compared to diploma or associate degree programs, BSN. programs require more classes in social sciences, physical science, critical thinking and leadership and more clinical rotations outside of hospitals. Although any RN program suffices for entry-level work, supervisory, teaching and research jobs usually require a bachelor's degree. Because of their superior preparation in community nursing, leadership and disease prevention, nurses with a BSN qualify for more jobs, according to the HealthGuidance website. In fact, some employers hire only RNs who have bachelor's degrees, so a BSN may eventually become the standard.
Graduate Nursing Programs
Registered nurses with a bachelor's degree can complete a master's degree to qualify as advanced-practice registered nurses, or APRNs. For example, one type of APRN is a family nurse practitioner, or FNP. Depending on state laws, APRNs provide primary care and prescribe drugs. Specialty training is also available in more than 50 areas, each with its own requirements, including cardiac care, emergency, geriatric care and hematology, according to ExploreHealthCareers.org. Because of the high course load, some APRN programs offer a Doctor of Nursing Practice, or DNP, instead of a master's degree.