EDUCATION
August 11, 2022

What Degree Do You Need to Be a Nurse?

What Degree Do You Need to Be a Nurse?

So you want to become a nurse? Amazing! What degree do you need to be a nurse? Well, that depends. The nursing profession runs wide and deep in terms of titles, as well as in the levels of responsibility, and educational requirements that each type of nurse carries. 
 
One of the most remarkable and rewarding things about the nursing profession is that no matter what entry point you choose, you can always make the decision to move forward, learn more, earn more, and do more.

Nursing is a profession that by its very nature involves continuous learning, and the type of nurse that you want to be will determine the degree that you’ll need to attain. 
 

Nursing Degrees

Type of Nurse

Degree Requirements 

Additional Requirements

LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse) High school diploma or GED 
 
Graduation from an accredited LPN program (approximately one year) 
Pass the NCLEX-PN
ADN (Registered Nurse)  Graduation from an accredited Associate’s Degree in Nursing program (approximately 18-24 months). Includes clinical hours  Pass the NCLEX-RN 
BSN (Registered Nurse)  Four-year baccalaureate degree encompassing two years of general education courses and two years of nursing classes and clinical rotations.  Pass the NCLEX-RN  
MSN 
(Advanced Practice Nurse) 
Following completion of an Associate’s Degree in Nursing or Bachelor of Science in Nursing, complete an accredited Master’s degree program (generally takes18 months to three years)  Certification in areas of specialization may be required. 
DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice) Following completion of a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree or a Master’s of Science in Nursing degree, complete an accredited Doctor of Nursing Practice program. (Minimum of one year)  Certification in areas of specialization may be required.
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing)  Following completion of a Bachelor of Science in Nursing or a Master’s of Science in Nursing degree, complete an accredited PhD in Nursing program. (Minimum of three years)  N/A

Factors to Consider When Deciding on a Nursing Degree

Each type of nurse and corresponding nursing degree has different areas of expertise and requires a different investment of time and effort, but even if you have chosen a specific degree based on the work setting or responsibilities it entails, you also need to be aware that there may be additional factors at play. 
 

1. Consider The Location You Want to Work In
 

While an Associate’s Degree in Nursing may qualify you for a Registered Nurse position in some states, that is not the case for all.
 
For example, the state of New York requires Registered Nurses to complete their BSN degree within ten years of having earned their Associate’s Degree in Nursing, and other states are considering enacting similar laws in order to improve patient outcomes.
 

2. Consider the Type of Facility You Want to Work In

Employers around the country are putting their own requirements in place for specific positions within their facility. 
 
An increasing number of hospitals, especially Magnet hospitals, are specifying that the nurses they hire must have a minimum of a BSN degree, and others are going beyond this requirement and indicating that BSN-degreed nurses have a minimum amount of time to pursue an Advanced Practice Nursing degree – either an MSN or a DNP degree. 
 
Though this advanced level of education requires an investment of time and effort, they also command higher salaries, provide a significant boost to knowledge, responsibility, and the ability to work more independently. Education also comes at substantial cost, but most hospitals and health systems offer tuition reimbursement for nurses who are taking courses that will add to their value as employees.


 Different Nursing Degree Types 
 

LPN 


Definition: An LPN or Licensed Practical Nurse, provides basic care to patients. 
 
Duties: Considered an entry-level nursing position, LPNs perform essential tasks including,

  • Administering medication
  • Restocking inventory
  • Taking and recording vital signs such as blood pressure, pulse, or temperature
  • Assisting patients with eating, dressing, and hygiene

LPNs also help other staff members, including Registered Nurses and Physicians, by entering information into patient records and relaying information between patients and their families and the medical team. 
 
How to Become: To become an LPN, you need to complete an accredited LPN certificate program. These are generally offered at community colleges and take approximately one year to complete.

ADN 


Definitition:  An Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) is a two-year nursing degree and the most direct path to becoming a Registered Nurse. 
 
Duties: Nurses who have completed an accredited ADN program and then passed the NCLEX-RN are qualified to work directly with patients at an entry-level, monitoring and recording vital signs, administering medications, and educating patients about their condition and self-care. 
 
They are able to examine patients and record their symptoms and personal medical histories, as well as operate medical equipment and perform diagnostic tests.  
 
How to Become: To become an ADN, you need to complete an accredited Associate’s Degree in Nursing. These programs are generally offered at local community colleges or online and can be completed in two years.

BSN

Definition: BSN stands for Bachelor of Science in Nursing. A four-year degree, a BSN prepares you to provide hands-on care as well as to conduct research. 
 
Duties: BSN-degreed nurses have a greater depth of knowledge and have been trained in the use of critical thinking skills. They are eligible to take on greater responsibility for patient care and earn higher salaries. 
 
How to Become: A traditional Bachelor of Science in Nursing program takes four years to complete. Programs are generally found at colleges and universities that have departments dedicated to nursing or the health sciences. 
 
Nurses who have earned their Associate’s Degree in Nursing are eligible to enroll in RN-to-BSN programs that offer credit for the classes and training they’ve already completed, allowing them to earn their degree in an abbreviated period of time. 
 
Similarly, individuals who have earned a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field of study are able to enroll in accelerated BSN programs that provide them with nursing-specific classes and clinical training at an accelerated pace. 
 
Show Me RN-to-BSN Programs

MSN 


Definition: MSN stands for Master’s of Science in Nursing, an advanced level degree that, once completed, qualifies a nurse to pursue a variety of specialty practice areas. 
 
Duties: MSN degrees may prepare nurses for advanced level clinical care in specialty areas including,


MSN-degreed nurses can also become,

MSN-degreed nurses have significantly greater knowledge in their specialty areas and are often qualified to work independently or with far less supervision, and to earn higher salaries. MSN-degreed nurses are able to order, perform and interpret diagnostic tests, diagnose and treat conditions and injuries, prescribe medications, and manage patient care.  
 
How to Become: An MSN degree is most often pursued after completion of a BSN degree, but there are alternate paths available for candidates who earned bachelor’s degrees in non-nursing areas of study, as well as for Registered Nurses who have earned their Associate’s Degree in Nursing and who wish to pursue a Master’s degree without first earning a bachelor’s degree. 
 
Programs are generally found at colleges and universities that have departments dedicated to nursing or the health sciences. 
 
Show Me All Specialized MSN Programs

DNP 


Definition: The DNP degree, or Doctor of Nursing Practice, is one of two terminal degrees in nursing. Where a PhD in nursing is a research-focused degree, a DNP degree is oriented towards clinical practice. It is generally pursued by nurses who have already earned an MSN to become an Advanced Practice Nurse. The higher-level degree confers additional knowledge in their area of specialization, as well as training leadership. 
 
Duties: Like MSN-degreed nurses, DNPs are able to order, perform and interpret diagnostic tests, diagnose and treat conditions and injuries, prescribe medications, and manage patient care. They are generally found in leadership roles where they are able to impact policies and procedures. 
 
How to Become: A DNP degree can be earned in as little as one year of full-time study and can often be pursued online. Programs are generally found at colleges and universities that have departments dedicated to nursing or the health sciences. 
 
Show Me DNP Programs

PhD

 
Definition: PhD in nursing, also known as a Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing, is a research-focused degree that is generally pursued by those who are interested in working as nurse researchers, nurse educators, or policymakers. 
 
How to Become: Candidates for a PhD in nursing can expect to invest a minimum of three years in their study and to earn significantly less than a DNP, though sometimes equivalent to what an advanced practice MSN-degreed nurse can earn. 
 
Programs are generally found at colleges and universities that have departments dedicated to nursing or the health sciences. 


How to Choose the Right Nursing Degree for You

If you’re first considering a career as a nurse, you have a big decision to make: 

  • Should you test the waters with an LPN degree that you can earn quickly, which will put you face-to-face with patients but provide you with little in the way of responsibility or autonomy?
  • Or should you dive in and commit to a four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing program?
  • Or split the difference and pursue a two-year Associate’s Degree in Nursing?

With so many great options available to you, it can be hard to make a decision unless you have a solid understanding of your own priorities and expectations of your career.  

Think About Your Long-Term Goals 

To help you choose, sit down and think about why you want to be a nurse and what you hope to get out of a nursing degree.

  • If your primary consideration is to qualify for a job that pays a solid salary as quickly as possible, then becoming an LPN is probably your best bet.
  • But if you have time to spare and are interested in a career that provides you with autonomy, a higher salary, and greater career opportunities, then earning a BSN degree is probably worth your time.
  • If you’re somewhere in the middle, or uncertain as to whether nursing is right for you then pursuing an Associate’s Degree in Nursing is a great choice – if you find that you love the profession you can easily expand on your already-earned education to quickly earn a BSN.

Should You Earn an Advanced Nursing Degree?

Once you’re a nurse, the decision about whether to pursue an advanced degree, and which one is right for you, will largely be determined by what has inspired you in your nursing practice.

  • If you’ve found a passion for teaching and mentoring then pursuing an MSN in Nurse Education may be the right course for you.
  • Likewise, nurses who have found a passion in a particular specialty area or who wish to move on to run their own clinic may want to pursue Advanced Practice Nursing degrees in a clinical area like Family Practice or Pediatrics.

 Whichever path you choose you will find a wealth of educational options available to you, with programs offered in flexible formats that allow you to choose between in-person, online, or hybrid classes to suit your work schedule and other responsibilities.  Good luck to you in your nursing journey!
 

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