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Pathways to Starting Your Nursing Career

Nursing is more than just a healthcare profession; it’s a calling that requires a particular type of individual, character, and level of skill. Beyond this, nursing is one of the most sought-after professions today in various areas, including hospice care, hospitals, clinics, and schools. And while the journey to becoming a nurse can seem daunting, you can do so faster than you might think. Not sure where to start? Read below and see which pathway best suits your career goals and current level of education.

From high school graduate to Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) 

For those who just finished (or are about to finish) high school, finding a job that pays well and propels you toward achieving your ultimate career goal can be challenging. Luckily, you can start preparing to enter the field of nursing early!

As a high school student, you can take training courses that will teach you the necessary theory, skills, and critical concepts needed to sit for the state certification exam to become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA). Typically completed within a 4-to-8-week period, you can obtain your certification and start working as an assistant or aide alongside licensed nurses. 

CNAs help patients with daily living activities and other healthcare needs including repositioning patients, obtaining vital signs, feeding patients, cleaning, preparing rooms, and helping with pre-approved medical procedures all under the direct supervision of a Registered Nurse (RN) or Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN). 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nursing assistants are projected to grow 5 percent between 2021 and 2031 – nearly 220,200 job openings yearly. On average, CNAs make $30,290 annually. Nursing assistants can use their skills and knowledge to jump into higher-paid positions such as becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) or a Registered Nurse (RN). 

From Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) to Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) 

Maybe you’re already working as a CNA and looking to expand your knowledge further. If this is you, look no further than becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)—commonly known as a Licensed Vocational Nurse. 

As an entry-level position, LPNs are exposed to the world of nursing faster and with more hands-on application than CNAs in various healthcare settings, including nursing homes, residential facilities, hospitals, physicians’ offices, and private homes. As an LPN, you will work alongside CNAs, RNs, and doctors to perform basic patient care tasks like administering some medications, collecting vital signs, and inserting medical devices as requested by the medical professional. 

LPNs are expected to complete rigorous coursework and training to be licensed in their state. This training includes completing an accredited practical nursing certificate consisting of courses in biology, pharmacology, and nursing, and typically takes about a year.

Based on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, LPNs are projected to grow 6 percent between 2021 and 2031 – nearly 58,000 job openings yearly. On average, LPNs make $48,000 annually, slightly more than CNAs. Becoming an LPN is an excellent choice if you are looking to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Nursing in the future. 

From Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) or Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) to Registered Nurse (RN)

With 4.3 million registered nurses working nationwide, the need for qualified and educated nurses is at an all-time high. Issues like the pandemic, high work demands, and an increase in retirees heading toward retirement have led the American Nurses Association to conclude that the nursing profession requires substantial re-building to reach an adequate supply of nurses. As a registered nurse, you will have a broader range of responsibilities and freedoms to work within the field. RNs almost always are expected to take on more managerial responsibilities and are more involved in patient care such as administering medications and narcotics, coordinating care plans, and working more closely with doctors during emergencies, surgeries, and primary care. 

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that RNs are projected to grow 6 percent between 2021 and 2031 – nearly 203,000 job openings yearly. RNs, on average, make $77,000 annually, nearly double that of LPNs. 

With this substantial increase in pay and responsibility, obtaining a career as an RN requires a formal education, typically at a four-year university. Nursing students will take required courses in science, math, and communications in order to sit for the NCLEX exam, the national licensing exam for all nurses in the United States. For those who have obtained their RN license, you can achieve a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree in as little as 28 credit hours through the RN to BSN track.  

From Registered Nurse (RN) to Nurse Practitioner (NP)

Known for being one of the fastest-growing nursing roles, Nurse Practitioners (NP) blend their clinical expertise with the ability to diagnose and treat patients without supervision from a medical doctor. In fact, nurse practitioners often can carry similar responsibilities to medical doctors and serve in numerous settings including primary care, urgent care clinics, and emergency rooms. These responsibilities can range from interpreting diagnostic tests such as lab work and x-rays, prescribing medications to counseling and educating patients on disease prevention. Beyond these duties, nurse practitioners can also specialize in numerous areas of care including acute care, adult and family health, gerontology, neonatal, oncology, pediatrics, and psychiatry, giving them additional expertise and medical knowledge to better serve their patients. 

NPs are considered the highest level within the nursing profession due to their extensive preparation, specialized training and authority. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects NPs (and other similar positions) to grow 40 percent between 2021 and 2031 – nearly 30,200 job openings yearly. Because of the level of care permitted, NPs make an average of $123,000 annually.  

A career as an NP requires a formal education beyond a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, requiring at least a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). For those aiming to specialize in clinical practices, you should consider a MSN degree to gain a more profound understanding of nursing theory and practice, while keeping your skills up-to-date. However, if you plan to take on more leadership and administrative roles, you should consider pursuing a BSN to DNP or DNP degree as most doctoral nursing programs take a deeper look into larger health care perspectives and professional development. 

With more than half a million available jobs, the door to nursing is wide open and the industry is eager to accept individuals who want to make a difference in healthcare, patient care, and policy. The road to achieving your dream career doesn’t need to feel far away. Discover your vocational mission today  – the world needs you, so answer the call. 

Interested in learning more information about our various online nursing programs? Visit our website or call 855-219-7300 today! Download the infographic as a PDF. 

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