Nurses are on the front lines of health care in the United States. From doctor offices to emergency rooms, they are standing by to triage patients, administer care and offer support. Depending on their level of training, nurses may be called upon to do the following:
- Measure vital signs such as blood pressure and pulse.
- Evaluate a patient's condition and report results to a physician.
- Provide care such as changing dressings, bandages and catheters.
- Assist with diagnostic tests.
- Educate patients and their families on proper management of health conditions.
Medical services are diverse, and nurses often choose to specialize in a specific type of care. There are numerous options available, but here's a look at some common specializations.
- Oncology nurses care for cancer patients. Some nurses specialize even further to focus on pediatric oncology which is the care of children diagnosed with cancer.
- Critical care nurses work in intensive care units and assist patients who have complex and potentially life-threatening illnesses and injuries.
- Geriatric nurses work exclusively with senior and elderly patients who may have different needs than the general population.
- Public health nurses may be employed by nonprofits and community organizations to educate people and families on health issues. They may also participate in community outreach programs such as health screening clinics and blood drives.
Some nursing specialties can be pursued by any graduate of a vocational nursing school while others are limited to only those with a specific education. For instance, nurse midwives who provide gynecological care to women and deliver babies, must have a master's degree to practice in most states.
How to Become a Nurse
All nurses must have some postsecondary education. To prepare for a vocational nursing program, it helps if high school students have taken classes in biology and anatomy. These will provide a good foundation for the topics covered by nursing trade schools. Keep the following steps in mind for becoming a nurse:
- Finish secondary school with a high school diploma or GED or equivalent.
- Complete postsecondary training, whether at the certificate, associate, bachelor's, or even master's and doctorate level.
- Take necessary licensure exams and stay up-to-date on nursing certifications in your chosen specialization.
An LVN program for licensed vocational or licensed practical nurses may include the following courses:
- Fundamentals of Nursing
- General Human Anatomy and Physiology
- General Psychology
- Practical Nursing Concepts
Nursing degree programs
There are a number of ways to become a nurse. Nursing trade schools, community colleges and universities offer the following awards in this field of study.
- Certificate/Diploma: LVN schools offer short-term programs which can often be completed in a year or less. They may result in either a diploma or a certificate and can be a good option for those who want to quickly enter the profession. Explore LVN or LPN degree programs for more insights.
- Associate Degree in Nursing: An associate degree typically takes two years to complete. It is often pursued by those who want to become registered nurses. Some LVN schools have specialty programs, known as an LPN+LVN to RN bridge, that make it easier for current licensed practical or vocational nurses to become registered nurses.
- Bachelor's/Graduate Degree: Although not required to work in the field, some registered nurses earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, known as a BSN. Just as there are LVN to RN programs, there are also LPN+LVN to BSN programs. These allow students to start their career quickly through a vocational nursing school and then advance their skills later. As for graduate degrees, those are only necessary for advanced practice registered nurses such as nurse midwives and nurse practitioners.
Vocational Nursing programs
LVN programs are generally available through nursing trade schools and community colleges. Associate degrees may also be offered by a nursing vocational school or other two-year institution. Bachelor's degrees in nursing are often limited to four-year colleges and universities.
If you're interested in online nursing schools, there may be some options once you've become a licensed vocational nurse. Complete a one-year vocational nursing program and then you may be eligible to enroll in a fully online bridge program. These programs build upon your experience as an LPN or LVN to become a registered nurse or earn a BSN.
Licensing and certification for nurses
All nurses are required by states to be licensed. Generally, licensure is available to those who graduate from a state-approved educational program and pass the National Council Licensure Examination.
Some nurses also choose to pursue voluntary certification through professional organizations such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Certification helps demonstrate a nurse's expertise in a specific area such as case management, gerontology or pediatrics.
Career advancement for nurses
There are different levels of nursing that make it easy to advance to one's career. LVN programs can be a good place to start. They can quickly prepare students for in-demand jobs that command above-average pay.
If you later decide to become a registered nurse, you can work during the day and study at night, thanks to online nursing schools. Those who want to reach the highest levels of nursing can earn a master's degree to become an advanced practice registered nurse. These professionals can perform physical exams, diagnose conditions and write prescriptions in many states.
Skills and Qualities for Nurses
It takes a special person to work as a nurse. Before you enroll in a vocational nursing program, consider whether you have the following skills and abilities.
- Service orientation: Good nurses do more than the bare minimum. Instead, they are actively looking for ways to help patients and their families.
- Active listening: Medical visits can be stressful for patients. Nurses need to be able to listen to a person's concerns, read between the lines if needed and ask the appropriate follow-up questions.
- Active learning: Nurses also need to quickly adjust their care of a patient as new information about their condition and concerns becomes available.
- Static and trunk strength: Nursing is a hands-on profession that requires physical strength. Nurses may be lifting patients, pushing wheelchairs and squatting to adjust medical equipment and monitors.
- Speech clarity: Nurses often serve as a go-between for patients and busy physicians. They need to be able to clearly articulate concerns and doctor orders.
Nurse Salary and Career Outlook
Nurses generally earn above average incomes although their actual salaries can depend upon a number of factors, such as their practice area and specialization. Plus, those with more education typically earn more than graduates of LVN programs. Here's a look at the range of incomes as well as job growth figures found nationwide, according to government data:
Projected Job Growth
|Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses||697,510||$48,500||10.7%|
Professional Resources for Nurses
In addition to exploring nursing trade schools, you may also want to learn about the following organizations that serve nurses and nursing students
- National Association of Licensed Practical Nurses - Known as NALPN, this group advocates for quality and professional standards within the field of vocational nursing. It also administers certification programs for gerontology and IV therapy.
- American Nurses Association - With a history dating back to 1896, ANA represents 4 million registered nurses nationwide. The American Nurses Credentialing Center, which offers certification programs, is a subsidiary of the ANA.
- National Black Nurses Association - Founded in 1971, NBNA advocates for the needs of African-American nurses and represents 150,000 members who include LPNs, LVNs, RNs and APRNs. The organization also runs a scholarship program for nursing students.