All Nursing Programs

What are the Different Types of
Nursing Degrees and Nursing Programs?

Overview of Nursing Degrees

If you are a beginner starting to look into nursing studies, you probably found out already there are many possible nursing degrees, each degree coming with its own requirements, advantages and disadvantages, and initials. Were you able to make some sense of all these different possibilities? I would like to try and make things a bit clearer.

There are 2 groups of nursing degrees: One is the group of nursing academic degrees, meaning the degrees which indicate the level of your academic studies. In the second group are the nursing certifications, where the certification level indicates the level and type of nursing you are licensed to do. Though the exact tasks you may fulfill in your nursing job depend also on your academic studies level and not only on your nursing certification.

Let’s start with the academic degrees. I will start from the lowest degree, requiring the least studying, till the furthest:

ASN or ADN Degree
ASN is initials for Associate of Nursing, or Associate of Science in Nursing. In some schools this degree is call ADN, initials for Associate Degree in Nursing. ASN or ADN programs are offered in Junior and Community Colleges, which make them more affordable, and will typically take 2 full years of studies. You get all the actual nursing courses as in a BSN, but very little nursing theory and no research. If you don’t plan on furthering your education, or moving into a management job, this can be a good choice for you, as it can will usually be much less expensive than a full BSN degree. You may also choose to start off with an ASN so that you finish this first stage as quickly as possible, and complete your education only later when you are more experienced.
Nursing Diploma
This 2-3 years course was more common before the 1970s, but is still offered by some nursing schools, usually hospital-based nursing schools. The level of the academic studies for this degree will be somewhere between the ASN degree and the BSN, and it prepares the student to work in a hospital or some other inpatient facility.
This means a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. A BSN programs will typically take 4 years to complete. You get here higher level of studies than the ASN or Nursing Diploma, and hence more career opportunities. It is also a requirement if you want to move forward to a higher education level, or to a NP certification, but you may find programs which will let you start from an ASN and move to a BSN and then an MSN within the same curriculum.

An MSN is a Master of Science in nursing degree, and is sought out by nurses going for a more advanced career. Completing an MSN degree will typically take between 18 to 24 months. Classes for this level will usually be scheduled in Fridays and evenings to accommodate students who are working already part time.
Ph.D. Nursing
Not many nurses get to this level of academic learning, and therefore nurses with doctoral degrees are expected to have tremendous job demand over the next ten years. These programs prepare nurses for careers in health administration (a PhD is the preferred degree for nursing executives), clinical research, and advanced clinical practice. A Nursing Ph.D. program may take from four to six years to complete, during which you will focus on a specific research area of your choice. The program will also include training in research methods and in some leadership skills, and courses in history and philosophy of nursing science.

As I said before, parallel to the academic nursing degrees, there is also a system of practical nursing certifications, which indicates the level of practical tasks you are allowed to perform. For each of these degrees you have to pass a state certification exam. Again, I will list these degrees from the first (minimal tasks) to the most advanced:

LPN or LVN Degree
The initials stand for Licensed Practical Nurse or Licensed Vocational Nurse – two different initials for the same type of license. This is the entry level into the nursing world, and may be chosen as a starting point to check out if this world suits you and your needs. Then you may, if you chose to get to a more advanced level, follow an ASN programs, than get a RN license etc. There are shorter waiting lists to get into LPN programs, and the only requirement is a GED or high school diploma. You also have to pass the entrance exam which requires college level algebra and English test. A Licensed practical or vocational nurse will provide the basic bedside care for the sick or injured, and will work directly with the patients: giving injections, taking vital signs, performing basic diagnostic tests etc. In order to earn your LPN degree you will have to pass the NCLEX-PN state board exam.
RN Degree
The majority of workers in the health care industry are registered nurses (RNs). An RN position is senior to that of a LPN, and may include also management tasks and many other career options. In order to become a registered nurse you should have first a nursing academic career – an ASN, BSN or a nursing diploma. Then you can pass the national licensing examination, the NCLEX-RN.
NP Degree
NP stands for Nurse Practitioner. A nurse practitioner is an advanced nursing degree, given to registered nurses who completed an advanced academic degree program (MSN or Ph.D. program) and specialized in some specific area, such as family health, geriatric care, women’s health, etc. Then the candidate should pass the state board licensing exam.
APN degree
A nurse practitioner is actually only one of the APN (Advanced Practice Nurse) possibilities. An APN will have an advanced nursing degree, and will have a specific training and license for advanced work in some nursing field. The other APN possibilities are:
Certified Nurse Anesthetist, administering anesthesia for all types of surgery.
Clinical Nurse Specialist, providing specialist care in a number of areas, such as cardiology, oncology and more.
Certifies Nurse Midwife, providing prenatal care, delivering babies, and postpartum care to normal healthy women.

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