With exceptional pay and exciting opportunities, nursing is one of today’s most rewarding careers. If you’d like to pursue a career in nursing, getting started takes just a few steps.
Whether you’d like to start earning pay and gaining experience quickly by becoming a licensed practical nurse or if you ultimately dream of running your own practice as a licensed nurse practitioner, nursing has something for everyone.
Licensed Practical Nurse
Licensed practical nurse (LPN) is referred to as licensed vocational nurse, or LVN, in a few states. Either way, if you’d like to break into the field of nursing as quickly as possible, training to become an LPN is probably your best bet. These entry-level professionals provide basic nursing care, and they most commonly work in nursing homes and as home health aides.
LPNs provide basic medical and nursing care to patients. Their duties typically include the following:
- inserting catheters
- taking blood pressure
- bathing and dressing patients
- reporting patients’ statuses to RNs and doctors
- discussing health-related issues with patients
To become an LPN, you must first complete a state-approved and accredited LPN training program, which usually takes about 12 months. These programs consist of coursework as well as clinical training experiences at local health care facilities.
From there, you’ll have to take and pass the NCLEX-PN, the licensing exam for practical nurses. You will then receive your LPN license and will be able to apply for jobs.
Salary and Job Outlook
Given that training only takes about a year, you will enjoy pretty good bang for your buck by becoming an LPN. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS, the median salary for LPNs in 2016 was $44,090, which is equal to $21.20 per hour. The field is expected to grow by 12 percent between 2016 and 2026, with 88,900 more positions opening up.
Registered nurse (RN) is the next step up from LPN.
Training to become an RN takes anywhere from two to four years, but the return on that increased investment can be considerable. RNs enjoy more autonomy, more competitive pay and benefits, and more opportunities for advancement. They most commonly work in hospital and surgical settings as well as in nursing homes and in-home health care.
Registered nurses’ duties vary depending on where they are employed. However, their most common duties include the following:
- ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests
- monitoring patients’ health
- creating and maintaining patient records
- assisting physicians with exams and treatments
- working with patients and their families to create care plans and to provide health-related education
The first step in becoming an RN is earning a college degree. You can either earn an associate degree in nursing, or ADN, which takes around two years, or you can earn a Bachelor of Science in nursing, or BSN, which takes around four.
If you’d like more advancement opportunities or want to be employed by hospitals, a BSN is the best option. After earning either degree, you must take and pass the NCLEX-RN, the licensing examination for RNs, to obtain your license.
Salary and Job Outlook
According to the BLS, RNs earned a median salary of $68,450 in 2016, which is equal to $32.91 per hour. The field is projected to grow by 15 percent over the next 10 years, with roughly 438,100 new positions opening up.
Nurse practitioner (NP) is a type of advanced practice registered nurse, or APRN. These professionals have advanced and specialized education and training, so they enjoy more flexibility and better pay than RNs. NPs often run their own private practices, but they’re also employed by research hospitals, community clinics, and universities.
Due to their advanced training and skill sets, NPs enjoy much more autonomy than RNs. Their duties vary, but the most common ones include the following:
- prescribing medication, which RNs and LPNs can’t do
- obtaining and assessing patients’ health histories
- diagnosing and treating acute illnesses
- monitoring and managing chronic illnesses
- creating individualized treatment plans for patients
You must earn a Master of Science in nursing, or MSN, to become a nurse practitioner. First, though, you will need a BSN to be admitted to most graduate programs. Your grad program options will vary depending on the specialization that you’d like to pursue. Some options include the following: neonatal NP, family NP, adult-gerontology NP and pediatric NP. You will then have to pass a certification exam to become fully licensed in your state.
Salary and Job Outlook
In 2016, the median pay for NPs was $107,460, or $51.67 per hour. According to the BLS, the field is expected to grow by a whopping 31 percent over the next decade, with around 64,000 new positions opening up.
Now that you know the basics, it should be easier for you to come up with a suitable plan for breaking into the field of nursing. Whether you become an LPN and stay there or ultimately earn your MSN to become an NP, you can rest assured of always having plenty of options in this exciting field.