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Job Profile: Registered Nurse

Job Profile: Registered Nurse

January 29, 2012

Training, Other Qualifications and Advancement

In all states and the District of Columbia, students must graduate from an approved nursing program and pass a national licensing examination, known as the NCLEX-RN, in order to obtain a nursing license. Nurses may be licensed in more than one state, either by examination or by the endorsement of a license issued by another state. Currently 18 states participate in the Nurse Licensure Compact Agreement, which allows nurses to practice in member states without recertifying. All states require periodic renewal of licenses, which may involve continuing education.

There are three major educational paths to registered nursing: A bachelor’s of science degree in nursing (BSN), an associate degree in nursing (ADN) and a diploma. BSN programs, offered by colleges and universities, take about four years to complete. In 2004, 674 nursing programs offered degrees at the bachelor’s level. ADN programs, offered by community and junior colleges, take about two to three years to complete. About 846 RN programs in 2004 granted associate degrees. Diploma programs, administered in hospitals, last about three years. Only 69 programs offered diplomas in 2004. Generally, licensed graduates of any of the three types of educational programs qualify for entry-level positions as staff nurses.

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Many RNs with an ADN or diploma later enter bachelor’s programs to prepare for a broader scope of nursing practice. Often, they can find a staff nurse position and then take advantage of tuition reimbursement benefits to work toward a BSN by completing an RN-to-BSN program. In 2004, there were 600 RN-to-BSN programs in the United States. Accelerated master’s degree programs in nursing also are available. These programs combine one year of an accelerated BSN program with 2 years of graduate study. In 2004, there were 137 RN-to-MSN programs.

Accelerated BSN programs also are available for individuals who have a bachelor’s or higher degree in another field and who are interested in moving into nursing. In 2004, more than 165 of these programs were available. Accelerated BSN programs last 12 to 18 months and provide the fastest route to a BSN for individuals who already hold a degree.

Individuals considering nursing should carefully weigh the advantages and disadvantages of enrolling in a BSN program, because, if they do, their advancement opportunities usually are broader. In fact, some career paths are open only to nurses with a bachelor’s or master’s degree.

A bachelor’s degree often is necessary for administrative positions and is a prerequisite for admission to graduate nursing programs in research, consulting and teaching, and all four advanced practice nursing specialties – clinical nurse specialists, nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives and nurse practitioners. Individuals who complete a bachelor’s receive more training in areas such as communication, leadership and critical thinking, all of which are becoming more important as nursing care becomes more complex.

Additionally, bachelor’s degree programs offer more clinical experience in nonhospital settings. In 2004, 417 nursing schools offered master’s degrees, 93 offered doctoral degrees and 46 offered accelerated BSN-to-doctoral programs.

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