That is an excellent question. Those who are interested in becoming a registered nurse must first participate in the registered nurse (RN) program and obtain their license before they can be hired to work in a registered nursing position.
The RN program offers two and four year programs that allow students to earn different nursing degrees depending on how quickly they want to enter the field and far they want to advance in their career.
Those who have earned their bachelors degree in nursing may also apply for postgraduate degrees after obtained sufficient experience in the field, which we’ll talk about later.
While a student may earn their nursing degree in as little as two years (once they begin the nursing program) it is important to understand that hospitals and health care facilities are continually looking to hire educated registered nurses that have obtained a bachelors degree, therefore completing a two year associates degree program may limit your opportunities for being hired and/or obtaining a non entry position.
An associates degree may allow you to gain entry into an entry level position, but it may be extremely difficult (if not impossible) to advance in your career without at least obtaining a bachelors degree.
Before being able to participate in the RN program there are a number of prerequisites that must be completed first.
Depending on where your education is at the time you decide to apply for the RN program the number of prerequisite courses and the amount of time it takes to complete them can take anywhere from one to three years.
You can find a list of potential prerequisites here: Nursing prerequisites
For most full time students the perquisites can be completed in about two years while those who have already taken some of these courses in high school may be able to complete the prerequisites even sooner.
If you are still in high school or junior high and are interested in getting into the nursing program you may be able to consult a guidance counselor who can help you take some of the prerequisite courses while you’re still in school in order to speed up the process before you apply to a college or university with an accredited nursing program.
Taking RN classes while completing prerequisites
In order to speed up the process of earning an associates or bachelors degree some students may choose to take several courses that are required in the nursing program while they are still taking their prerequisite courses to help them achieve their graduate goals sooner.
Assuming you are required to take two years of prerequisites and you are looking to obtain an associates degree in nursing it could take you four years to obtain your degree.
If you’re performance is good some colleges and/or universities may offer an accelerated nursing program that can speed the process of earning a degree by as much as year.
In fact some students were able to obtain their associates in two and a half to three years, even with prerequisite courses assuming they’ve taken enough of the proper education courses while in high school and are taking the nursing program full time.
Some students may choose to attend a part time nursing program, which can significantly increase the amount of time it takes to obtain their nursing degree and begin practicing as a registered nurse.
Post graduate education
Those who are looking to further their nursing career and advance beyond their bachelors degree may spend several years working as a registered nurse in their field of interest before participating in an MSN or DNP program.
A nurse may choose to work in a field such as pediatrics, acute care, rehabilitation, holistic care or gastroenterology among many other specialized fields.
The MSN and DNP programs offer specialized training and education that allows nurses to fully engage in a specialized area of care that requires more training and experience than a general nursing education can provide.
Those who seek out the DNP degree may seek out a position in teaching, independent primary care, legal counsel and practitioner care among other specialized fields.
With over 75 different career fields available to those in the nursing profession there are a lot of opportunities to find a suitable career path that fits the personality of the nurse, however it also takes a lot of training, education and experience to specialize in the nursing field and reach the highest levels of health care in nursing.
As a quick reference the education programs and estimated lengths for nursing programs are as follows:
- Associates degree (ASN) – Two years
- Bachelors degree (BSN) – four years
- Masters degree – (MSN) – 18 – 24 months “after obtaining a BSN and gaining RN experience”
- Doctorates degree (DNP) – three to four years “may vary depending on their specialized field, education and experience”