Of all the health care occupations, nursing may represent the largest single group of providers. Yet the United States finds itself battling a shortage that is expected to worsen. Pursuing a degree in nursing, therefore, is a timely investment and one likely to yield some degree of job security. Before hitting the books, it's wise to have your educational expectations mapped out.
Time in School
Based on whether your career choice is to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN), a registered nurse (RN) or a more advanced nursing option, the duration of the educational program will vary. For instance, requirements to become an LPN are nearly half of what is mandatory to become an RN. As a result, LPN programs last about a year, while RN programs typically last two years. These traditional one- and two-year programs may eventually be phased out, however, as there is a movement to require nurses to hold a bachelor of science degree in nursing, which would translate to a four-year program. Beyond that, many schools offer accelerated bachelor's or master's degree programs.
No matter the educational route chosen, once committed, nursing school requires considerable amounts of time, concentration and dedication. It usually is difficult to maintain a full-time job while attending nursing school, especially as you advance through the program. Classes typically cover anatomy, microbiology, nutrition, pathology, pharmacology, physiology and psychology. Other classes cover surgical nursing, math and patient assessments. Such broader subjects as disaster preparedness or grieving, also may be covered.
Outside the classroom
Beyond the academic training, a significant portion of the nursing school experience is the externship, whereby students work in a doctor's office, hospital, ambulatory clinic, public health department or nursing care facility to experience a hands-on flavor of nursing. Through the externship, students hone their skills in working with patients, doctors and nurses. Practical experience gained through an externship may land students in any number of specialties, including maternity, surgery, mental health, pediatrics or geriatric units.
For those planning to become an RN, you may learn, among other tasks, to conduct diagnostic tests, administer medication, educate patients on various conditions and assist in rehabilitation. RNs have the opportunity to specialize in an area of their choice, such as pediatrics, obstetrics or critical care. At the end of schooling to become an RN, you must be licensed.
The LPN career path involves working under a physician's watch at medical clinics. Some of the tasks handled by LPNs include administering medications, sterile dressing changes, taking vitals of patients, and feeding. LPNs practice nursing via supervision of an RN or physician.