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Higher Education

“When I grow up I want to be a nurse.”

This statement might have defined your career goals when you were younger but now it is time to start planning for your future. You may think that as a middle school student, or even as a 10th or 11th grader, it is too early to think about the future. Actually now is the perfect time to start making plans.

A career in nursing can take you in many different directions. Just think – for every medical specialty that exists there is a nursing career to match. Now is a good time to start talking to your parents and school counselor to find out if they know a nurse who could talk to you about what they do. Research the various nursing specialties (emergency nursing, pediatric nursing, etc.) and narrow your list of choices. You don’t have to make a final decision now, just get an idea of a few areas you are interested in.

It is important to remember that, regardless of the nursing specialty you choose, math, science and communication skills will be required. It is also important to keep in close contact with your school counselor to make sure that you are taking the right classes and doing the right things. Nursing education programs have specific requirements and you need to make sure you meet them in order to get accepted.

Each nursing specialty has different education requirements and some are required before you can gain admission to other nursing programs.

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

  • Program completed in 1 year
  • Offered by vocational-technical schools, community colleges, and some hospital-based nursing education programs
  • LPNs wishing to become Registered Nurses (RN) can usually obtain advanced placement in hospital-based education programs or in Associate Degree in Nursing programs, allowing them to complete the RN requirements in a shorter amount of time.

Once students have completed the necessary courses they must pass a licensing exam to practice as a practical nurse and use the title Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN).

Registered Nurse (RN)

Registered nurses have four different paths to choose from:

Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)

  • Offered by junior and community colleges and some universities
  • Completed within 2-3 years
  • College credits earned in an associate degree program are generally accepted at many colleges and universities that provide a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing. In some cases all credits received at this level will be transferable depending on arrangements made between two-year and four-year schools.

Diploma in Nursing (DN)

  • Courses of study are completed at a hospital-based program
  • Completed within 2-3 years
  • Generally require completion of college level science and art courses either as a requirement for entry into the program or taken with the nursing courses

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

  • Offered by four-year colleges and universities
  • Four-year program
  • Often entered by nurses with ADN or diplomas to prepare for a broader scope of nursing
  • Necessary for administrative positions
  • Required for admission to graduate nursing programs in research, clinical practice, education or administration
  • Nurses with ADN or diplomas can often find positions within a health care organization which offer student aid for a BSN

Accelerated Nursing Programs (BSN & MSN)

  • These programs build on previous learning experience and transition individuals with undergraduate degrees in other disciplines into nursing.
  • Twelve-eighteen month program
  • Designed for degree-holding, career-changers
  • Offered at 12 Pennsylvania colleges and universities

Graduates of these four programs are eligible to take the registered nurse licensure examination; passing this exam allows them to practice as a registered nurse and allows them to use the title of Registered Nurse (RN).

Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN)

  • Can be completed in 3 semesters of full-time study (a minimum of 4 semesters is required for entrance into a Certified Nurse Practitioner (CNP) program)
  • This degree is used to become a Systems Manager or Certified Nurse Practitioner

Certified Nurse Practitioner (CNP)

  • Requires completion of a Master’s Degree or a certification program involving up to 12 months of additional training (in many states certification programs no longer exist)
  • Clinical experience required

The national certification exam is individualized by specialty and successful completion confers the title of Certified Nurse Practitioner (CNP) in that particular area of specialty.


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