When people walk into a hospital, chances are staff nurses will greet them. Acute care nurses fly in helicopters to respond to serious car accidents. Nursing scientists and researchers produce the evidence-based knowledge needed for health care practices and policies. And that’s just the beginning.
Nursing careers are often labeled “recession-proof,” giving those who enter it job security, respect, and high salaries, but most of all, the chance to truly make a difference in the lives of others. However, despite all the benefits, the United States is currently in the middle of one of the most severe nursing shortages it has ever seen. Regardless of the economic crisis that started in 2008, analysts project 587,000 nursing positions will be available in the next six or seven years.
The field of nursing is currently the largest health profession in the country, placing nursing graduates in high demand, and students have a wide range of educational programs and career specialties to think about.
Associate in Nursing degree
This two-year program usually takes place at the community college level. After completion, students can take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), allowing them to start practicing as nurses. With an associate degree and a nursing license, students can begin their career as a staff nurse in a variety of hospital settings.
Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree
Bachelor of Science in Nursing (B.S.N.) programs typically last four years, but if students have already earned an associate degree, the program can be completed in two or three years. Students can also take the NCLEX. Earning a bachelor’s degree and a nursing license typically provides more opportunities for students than an associate degree. B.S.N. students can obtain careers in areas such as nursing research, pediatrics, and geriatrics, while specializing in specific areas such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
The future will bring an even greater demand for nurses with a bachelor’s degree and higher levels of qualification. According to Marty Witrack, Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N., Dean of the School of Nursing at The College of St. Scholastica, family nurse practitioners and nurse informaticists will be in high demand in the coming years. Gerontological nurses will also see growth as the global population ages.
Master of Science in Nursing degree
For students looking for more experience and higher-level nursing jobs, there’s the master’s program. This is typically a two-year program available to students who have already earned a bachelor’s degree. Once students complete this program, they can take the NCLEX and be on their way to specializing in numerous areas such as clinical practice, leadership/management, home care, education, certified nurse midwife, and certified nurse anesthetist.
Doctor of Nursing Practice or Ph.D.
Lastly, the most advanced educational program available is the doctorate program, generally leading to the Doctor of Nursing Practice degree. This program is designed for students who have earned a master’s degree and have passed the NCLEX. The program typically takes more than two years to complete, but once students finish, the highest levels of nursing careers are available to them, including nursing administration director, chief nurse anesthetist, and nursing home administrator.
With the opportunities available to students, it’s easy to see why nursing is an excellent career path. “There are so many specialties and places to work around not only the country, but the world,” says Cathy Brownell, chair of the nursing department at Utica College. “These opportunities make choosing a career in nursing an outstanding choice.”
To nursing students, Brownell offers these tips: “Study for the NCLEX, get a mentor, think about where you want to practice, and make sure the area you want to specialize in fits you.”
Through high-quality health care programs with a strong clinical focus, students who enroll and complete the various nursing degrees will be well equipped to handle a fulfilling future career in the wide variety of nursing occupations.