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Becoming a Nurse

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that nursing is the nation's largest health care occupation, with over two million jobs.  The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) reports that through the year 2008, employment for Registered Nurses (RNs) will grow faster than the average for all occupations. 

How do I become a nurse?
In order to become an RN in the United States, you must graduate from an accredited nursing program as well as pass a national licensing examination.  There are three educational pathways a student may take to become an RN, and all three prepare you to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).  Entry into these programs requires a high school diploma. Grade point averages and other requirements may vary, but usually include college preparatory courses in math and sciences. These pathways include the following:

Diploma program
This nursing program is hospital-based, with clinical training done mostly in the program's hospital.  The duration of these programs varies from two to four years and typically requires full-time study.  The supporting science courses may or may not be offered as college credit. General education courses like English and history are not typically included. Some certifications require only an RN licensure and experience.

Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) program
These programs are typically offered by community or junior colleges.  The duration of these programs varies from two to four years of full-time study.  Clinical education often is in more than one health care agency.   The programs include limited or no humanities, social studies, nursing theory, public health-community nursing, and nursing research. Some certifications require only an RN licensure and experience.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program
These programs are usually offered by four-year colleges or universities. The typical BSN program encompasses four to five years of full-time study. Some accelerated programs for a second degree take one to two years. The BSN program of study provides a broader spectrum that includes humanities and social studies, as well as courses that focus on nursing research, theory, and community health nursing.  A BSN degree is necessary to take some specialty certification exams in nursing.  It is also necessary as the foundation for programs in advanced practice nursing.  The BSN program prepares the new nurse for the widest range of work options.

What nursing program is right for me?
Our region is blessed with many high-quality programs for those starting their nursing careers. All the programs are nationally accredited and have many types of financial aid.

What career opportunities are available in nursing?
As in any occupation, the more education you have, the wider variety of career opportunities that become available.  Today's nurses must meet complex demands in health care in a wide range of settings, including hospitals, offices, nursing homes, public health agencies, industry (occupational health), management, and education.  While there are many roles for the beginning nurse, the AACN  reports that a federal advisory panel has recommended that at least two-thirds of the nursing workforce hold BSN or higher degrees in nursing by the year 2010. Those choosing a diploma or ADN to start their careers can attend one of several regional RN-BSN completion programs after they become registered nurses.

How can I "make a difference" as a nurse?
Although the road to becoming a nurse may seem arduous at times, the rewards can be inspirational.  Nurses can see how their work makes a difference.  In addition, the variety of work is great and growing. Nurses provide care for all ages in many settings. Care includes prevention, treatment, education, and support to families.  According to the AACN, registered nurses are the primary providers of hospital patient care and deliver most of the nation's long-term care.  Presently, a nursing shortage exists, and employment is expected to grow even faster in the next decade. Today is a great time to consider nursing as a career for which you will be well compensated, both financially and by a sense of personal fulfillment.

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