What Is the Best Degree Path to Becoming a Nurse?

Image of a nurse for our FAQ on What Is the Best Degree Path to Becoming a Nurse
degree to become a nurse

Aspiring nurses have a multitude of options to choose from, ranging from what medical specialty they want to work in to what level of education to pursue. If your future vocational plans include a career in nursing, a main question to consider is whether you want to be a:

  • licensed practical nurse
  • a registered nurse
  • nurse practitioner

Your degree path will depend on your goals.

LPN vs. RN vs. APRN

The type of nurse which requires the least amount of formal instruction is the licensed practical nurse (LPN) or licensed vocational nurse (LVN). LPNs and LVNs provide basic nursing care to patients under the supervision of registered nurses and physicians. Academic preparation for this career often consists of one year of schooling culminating in a certificate, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports. LPNs and LVNs must then pass an examination to earn their licenses.

Registered nurses (RNs) provide a wider range of care to patients, including more advanced care than LPNs are qualified to provide. Preparation for this career takes from two to four years, depending on which degree path the candidate chooses.

Nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and nurse anesthesiologists are all types of advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). These professionals are registered nurses who have pursued an advanced education and earned a master’s degree in a medical specialty. While some nurse practitioners work with physicians, others work independently. Nurse practitioners are qualified to write prescriptions and diagnose medical conditions in a number of states, according to the BLS.

Nursing Education Options and Curriculum

Any nursing education program will cover certain course material, regardless of the level of study. Common in nursing program are:

  • biology
  • chemistry
  • anatomy and physiology
  • nursing

Aspiring LPNs may study pharmacology, while aspiring RNs may study:

  • microbiology
  • nutrition
  • psychology

APRNs complete advanced study in a specialty of their choosing. All nursing education programs require clinical experience, either during the education or as a prerequisite.

For LPNs, a one-year certificate program at a community college or technical school is a common choice. Aspiring RNs have several options, according to the BLS. Some choose to earn a diploma or an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN), which takes two to three years of study.

Others pursue a bachelor’s of science degree in nursing (BSN) right off the bat, which takes four years of study but could translate into more advancement opportunities in the future.

Some RNs earn a diploma or ADN to prepare for an entry-level nursing job and then enroll in an RN-to-BSN program. APRNs are already registered nurses, but they earn a master’s degree through an educational program that allows them to gain advanced knowledge and skills.

An education is essential for all nurses, from LPNs to RNs to APRNs. Knowing your ultimate career goals can help you determine which degree path is right for you and find the professional resources you need to succeed.

Related Resources:

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Carrie Sealey-Morris