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When choosing your career path, think about the type of work environment you prefer. For example, RNs can be found in hospitals, doctors’ offices, and other medical settings, but certified nursing assistants often work in nursing homes. What type of setting will inspire you most?

Because there are so many facets to healthcare, nurses often specialize in certain areas, such as geriatrics or critical care. If you have a passion for a certain type of nursing, consider the type of schooling you’ll need to get there

The career path you’re interested in pursuing will typically dictate the type of nursing degree you need. Nursing programs include classroom instruction as well as clinical experience. The latter will allow you to gain hands-on knowledge, ask questions in real-life scenarios, and connect with nurses. The experience will also give you the chance to observe how a medical facility runs.

Before choosing a program, determine how nursing school will fit into your busy life. Will you have time to get to campus? Many nursing bachelor’s and master’s degrees can be earned online (with clinical requirements completed in your local community).

Once you complete your education, you’ll need to take an exam to demonstrate your knowledge and nursing skills. Nurses need to be licensed in order to practice, and exams are the prerequisite to licensing. The NCLEX exams, other certification exams, and the topics covered, differ based on your chosen career path.


To become a licensed certified nursing assistant (CNA), you’ll need to pass a state competency exam.


Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN).


A diploma in nursing provides students with basic nursing knowledge and hands-on practical nursing experience in a clinical setting. A nursing diploma program typically takes two to three years to complete, depending on a student’s enrollment status. Nursing diploma students enroll in courses covering topics such as lifespan nursing concepts, nursing informatics, basic pharmacology and psychology, and public health. A large portion of the nursing diploma program involves direct patient care, often through hospitals or health providers with ties to the school.


A nursing diploma program prepares students to pass the NCLEX-RN, a basic requirement for nursing professionals throughout the U.S. and Canada. An RN license qualifies holders for several entry-level nursing positions and further studies in the nursing field.


Since diploma programs immerse students in direct patient care, students graduate from the program with practical nursing skills that prove invaluable not only in a hospital setting, but in other clinical environments as well. Additionally, completing a nursing diploma program gives students the chance to enter the workforce sooner. Students who wish to pursue further studies can do so while already working in the field.


A bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) features 120 credits and typically takes four years of full-time enrollment to complete. However, licensed registered nurses with an associate degree in nursing can usually earn a BSN after just two years of full-time study. Many hospitals and other health-based organizations prefer nurses with BSN degrees. In addition to more job options, nurses with a BSN degree are also more likely to be promoted and entrusted with greater responsibilities.


Many colleges and universities now offer online RN-to-BSN programs. Nurses no longer have to stop working while pursuing their BSN degree, since they can more easily fit online classes around their busy schedules. A typical BSN curriculum includes courses on topics such as emergency care; health assessment; nutrition; public and global health; and family, community, and population-based care.


The amount of clinical or practicum hours in an RN-to-BSN program can vary greatly between schools. Most programs require students to follow a rotation-based clinical program. Student nurses train in different departments or clinical specialty areas, such as pediatrics or obstetrics, to gain a broad understanding of the nursing field and their professional duties and responsibilities.

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