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Career Pathways to Becoming a Nurse
If you dream of becoming a nurse, there are several ways to achieve that ultimate goal. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), about 3 million registered nursing jobs are available in...

If you dream of becoming a nurse, there are several ways to achieve that ultimate goal. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), about 3 million registered nursing jobs are available in the United States. That number is projected to increase by about 9% over the next eight years, creating approximately 275,000 new employment opportunities in nursing care.

Nursing is a lucrative career that typically pays a good salary. Whether you want to work with patients in their homes or assist surgeons during advanced procedures in a hospital, nursing careers are available at nearly every educational level with different salaries, locations, and responsibilities.

But nursing is one of the most demanding professions in healthcare – both physically and mentally. Some nursing positions – like working in the emergency room at a busy hospital – can be more stressful than others. These nurses regularly work long shifts with lots of overtime, spending most of their time on their feet, moving and working diligently. There are nursing positions available that have considerably less stress, like being a school nurse. Like those in a medical office, some nurses work more structured business hours.

What It Takes to Become a Nurse

Nursing is the most prominent profession in healthcare. The field has more than 100 different specialties that fall into one of three categories based on the level of education achieved: non-degree, degree, and advanced degree. The difference is that non-degree nurses have completed a nursing education program that did not culminate in a degree. Degree and advanced degree nurses have obtained a degree or advanced degree.

Non-degree nurses represent a variety of positions, most notably certified nursing assistants (CNAs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs). If you aspire to be a registered nurse (RN), you will first need to obtain an Associate degree in nursing or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree.

So many options can leave new and seasoned nurses wondering which specialty is right for them. One of the most common pathways to nursing is to become a registered nurse (RN). Registered nurses work primarily in hospitals, nursing care facilities, and ambulatory care services. Their primary duties are to assess patients' needs, administer medications and treatments, help with diagnostic testing, and provide health education and emotional support to patients and their families.

The steps to becoming an RN are straightforward. Here are the steps:

  1. Choose the program that is the best fit for your career aspirations and personality.
  2. Apply to and graduate from an accredited nursing program.
  3. Take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX)
  4. Apply for your state license.

Becoming a Registered Nurse

A study conducted by South New Hampshire University shows that registered nurses earn approximately $77,600 per year in salary. (Keep in mind that this figure can significantly vary based on location, job responsibilities, and employee experience.)

Unfortunately, there is no direct program to go from a Medical Assistant to a registered nurse. The main reason is that the curriculum and clinicals are very different between the two studies. To become an RN, you must first earn one of the degrees, then proceed into an RN program. Registered nurses are expected to complete college-level general education courses and nursing courses to earn their degrees. Medical Assistant programs don't always include college-level education, but some do.

There are a few different ways you can become a registered nurse. The most common paths you can take are:

Medical Assistant (MA) to Associates Degree in Nursing (ADN)

The fastest way to become a registered nurse (RN) is by first becoming a Medical Assistant and utilizing that to earn your Associate's degree in nursing (ADN). Becoming a Medical Assistant can take one to two years, depending on whether your goal is to obtain your certification or combine your certificate with an Associate degree. From there, you can proceed to get your RN certification. An associate degree in nursing is usually offered through programs based in a hospital or a community college.

On the upside, the ADN program can be completed in about two or three years, but you can expedite the process if some of your previous credits can transfer over toward your RN degree. Applying previous coursework shortens the program, but it also saves you money.

On the downside, you can get an Associate degree rapidly, but it doesn't provide as many job opportunities as earning a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing (BSN).

Medical Assistant (MA) to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

Becoming a Medical Assistant and then earning your Bachelor of Science in nursing takes longer. Still, this pathway opens the door to an array of career possibilities. The BS degree allows you to continue your education in graduate school, so this is an ideal path if you want to eventually earn an Advanced Practice degree/Master's degree in nursing.

Getting your BSN will take about three to four years at a college or university. Some Medical Assistant credits may transfer if the courses were completed recently. Suppose you have no credits or prior training. In that case, it will probably take closer to four years to earn your BSN. (Schools have differing criteria about transfer credits, so it's best to check with the specific college or university if you have questions.)

Medical Assistant (MA) to Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) to Registered Nurse (RN)

To become a registered nurse, you must first graduate from an LPN (licensed practitioner nurse) program, which takes one to two years. The most common route is to become a Medical Assistant before attending LPN training. After graduating from the program, you can find an LPN-to-RN bridge program that can be completed in two to four years at an accredited community college, trade school, college, or university.

You do not have to attend an accredited school to receive financial aid, however for future employment it makes your education more reputable. It can also be beneficial to enroll in a program that will accept your transfer credits from your previous studies. Doing this will save you time and money because you won't have to retake any coursework you've already completed.

It's up to you to decide which program is best for you. It can be helpful to speak with a school counselor or the human resources department at your place of employment. There may be tuition reimbursement, discounts, or other assistance available through your current school or job. It never hurts to ask!