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Career Changers Can Take Varied Educational Paths into Nursing

Career Changers Can Take Varied Educational Paths into Nursing

A profession needing to hire more than 581,000 new workers and replace hundreds of thousands of additional workers leaving the field by 2018 can get creative about helping career changers break into the field. That's exactly why diverse educational options are available to mid-career workers who want to switch gears and pursue a new career in nursing.

"The variety is needed to avoid duplicative education efforts on the part of second-career students and to feed the nursing pipeline," says Susan Odegaard Turner, a healthcare consultant and nurse with 30 years of wide-ranging experience in healthcare.

If you're looking to transition into nursing, check out the varied educational paths you can explore.

The LPN/LVN Path

With at least a high school diploma, you can obtain one year of training at a hospital, vocational-technical school or community college and become a licensed practical nurse (LPN), known as a licensed vocational nurse (LVN) in some states.

But know in advance, Turner says, that as an LPN/LVN you'll be limited in the on-the-job activities you can perform. Equally important, she says, is the fact that you'll likely earn $10 to $15 an hour less than registered nurses (RNs), whose practice scope is wider. "An LVN is a great stepping-stone to RN, but the roles are not interchangeable," she says.

Once you finish your training, you'll need to pass your state-administered National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN) to obtain your LPN/LVN license.

The RN Path

If you'd rather go straight for your RN, you can get there via several paths:

  • Diploma in Nursing: Heavy on clinical experience and light on theory, diploma programs are usually hospital-based, although these days some hospitals run programs in collaboration with local community colleges, Turner says. You'll need a high school diploma or GED to enroll, but whatever your educational background, you'll need two to three years to get your diploma and become eligible for RN status.
     
  • Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN): Offered through community and technical colleges, an ADN can be completed in as little as two years if you took all the science prerequisites (typically microbiology, chemistry, anatomy, physiology, algebra and psychology) in high school. It will take you three or even three-and-a-half years if you need the science prerequisites, which are part of every nursing program, to complete your ADN.

    Once you've finished your ADN, which is also known as an associate of science (AS) or associate of applied science (AAS), depending on the school, you'll be eligible to become an RN.

     

  • Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing (BSN): Because of its educational depth, the BSN has become the degree employers prefer. As Turner points out, it often takes about the same amount of time to complete, practically speaking, as it would for you to fulfill all of your science prerequisites and get an ADN. So in the end, she says, the BSN gives you "more cluck for your buck."

    If you don't already have a bachelor's in another field, you'll need four years to complete a BSN. But if you do have a bachelor's, look into:

    • Accelerated Programs: If you have a bachelor's in a non-science-oriented field like English and want your BSN as quickly as possible, you can enter one of the country's more than 200 accelerated BSN programs and earn your degree in two to two-and-a-half years. If your first bachelor's is in a science-oriented field like biology, you'll probably be able to complete an accelerated BSN program in 12 to 18 months, since you already will have taken some or all of the BSN program's science prerequisites.
       
    • Regularly Paced Programs: These programs cover the same ground as the accelerated BSN programs at a normal pace. If your first bachelor's is not in a science-oriented field, you're looking at three years to completion. With a science-oriented bachelor's, you can finish in two years.

Of course, you'll also need to pass your state's National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) to get your state RN license.

Whatever your current situation, you can find an educational path into nursing that makes sense given your background and time frame. The industry definitely needs you.

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