Nursing Paths

Which Path into Nursing is Right For You?

Guest Post by Samantha Stauf

The path to become a nurse in the United States is varied. While other countries, like Britain and Canada, require all of their nurses to acquire a BSN, the United States has four different educational and accreditation paths future nurses can take.

To be a nurse in the United States, an individual can follow one of four different paths:

  • Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
  • RN with an Associates Degree in Nursing (ADN)
  • RN with a Diploma in Nursing
  • RN with an Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

And for the case of this article, I’ll mention one other medical career starting point: a certified nursing assistant (CNA).

What path should you take? Which path will fit for you? The rest of this article will look into the pros and cons of the 5 different paths.

Up-Front Money Investment

Education can be expensive. While some potential students might have enough money in their savings account to pay for their education out of pocket, many might have to turn to student loans to receive the education they need to become a nurse.

Here’s what each program at public schools are typically looking at a tuition of:

  • CNA: $500 to $900
  • LPN: $5,000 to $25,000
  • ASN: $6,000 to $40,000
  • Diploma: $18,000 to $40,000
  • BSN: $40,000 to $200,000

With the number of post-grads drowning in student loan debt, students who will need to take a high number of loans to graduate might want to consider starting as a CNA, a LPN, or an ADN. This would allow you to keep the costs to simply entering the profession low and find a job utilizing your degree.

Later if you want, you could enroll in a CNA to LPN, ADN to BSN, or ADN to MDN bridge programs. These programs start from where you left off in your education to streamline the process.

Up-Front Time Investment

Education is a time investment. Depending on where you are in life, you might not be able to afford to dedicate years to your education up-front before beginning your new career.

Here’s the typical length for all of the nursing credentials:

  • CNA: 4 to 12 Weeks
  • LPN: 1 Year to 1 ½ Years
  • ASN: 2 Years
  • Diploma: 3 Years
  • BSN: 3 Years

CNAs, LPNs, and ADNs earn their accreditation far faster. This is particularly useful for individuals who don’t fall into the traditional post-high school college student group. You might not feel like dedicating years of your life to building a new profession or live the traditional college dorm experience. You might want to get the base skills you need to pursue a new job, and then enter the workforce.

What the Job Entails

CNAs, LPNs, and ADNs can enter the job force far faster, but the lower time and money investment also means what they can do in the healthcare field is limited. Legally they are required to have far more supervision, they have tasks they are not authorized to perform, and they have a definite glass ceiling in terms of opportunity to receive promotions.

CNAs often spend much of their time taking care of a patients basic physical needs (showers, grooming, feeding, etc.) They might also be responsible for cleaning patient’s rooms.

From a medical stand point, they are the ones that often the ones that monitor a patients vital signs and record the information. And in some states, with an RN observing, they can use basic medical equipment. It’s not a very mentally stimulating job, but it can be a solid glimpse into what the medical field is like.

LPNs often take a patient’s medical history, enter the information into the computer system, schedule appointments, update medical records of patients, and bill patients. At nursing homes, like CNAs, they might be responsible for seeing to a patients basic needs.

From a medical standpoint, they give medication (injections and pills), manage IVs, and administer basic nursing care (catheters and wound care), and monitor a patient’s health and safety.

From a management standpoint, they might be responsible for supervising CNAs. They must have approval or supervision from an RN or physician.

RNs with ASNs or a Diploma require far less supervision than their LPN counterparts when performing basic medical tasks. ASNs, unlike LPNs, set up and contribute to patient health plans, consult with doctors, use medical equipment, and teach patients how to monitor and deal with their illnesses.

RNs with BSNs perform the same tasks as their ASN and Diploma counterparts, but they also have the option of working in public health or as a higher education nursing teacher. Some hospitals, in fact, require their RNs to have a BSN to work there, so a BSN will allow you to be more competitive with the quality of job you can find.

Earning Potential

Salary matters. It determines your quality of life, how fast you can pay off student loans, and how much you can put aside for retirement.

Here’s the average salary based on degree type:

  • CNA: $24,000
  • LPN: $55,000
  • ASN & Diploma: $56,000
  • BSN: 63,000

According to the stats, there isn’t much of a median difference between a LPN and an ASN job, but the earning potential is a lot higher for a ASNs and BSNs. Since they are RNs and can work independently, there is a higher chance they will be able to move into a management position that has a wage potential of more than $65,000 per year. If you don’t start as a RN and find you aren’t happy with your salary, you might want to consider returning to school for a BSN.

Career Planning

What degree you shoot for off the bat, really depends on how much you wish to be able to tweak the direction of your career. It’s hard, until you have at least some experience in the field, to determine whether or not you have the personality, the iron stomach, and the mental fortitude to survive as a nurse.

A career as a nurse isn’t like a 9 to 5 corporate position that you can spend all day browsing the internet or day dreaming without major damage to the people around you. Not being able to or willing to give, the nursing job your all while on the clock could lead to costly mistakes or a drop in a patients quality of care.

If you’re not sure how you will handle a career in nursing, you might want to start slow as a CNA or a LPN. Likewise, starting with a CNA, LPN, or an ASN will give you more time to explore different medical career paths. Maybe you’ll discover you don’t really enjoy working with patients, but you love conducting medical tests. The fact you didn’t rush to complete a BSN would mean you could instead pursue a Medical Laboratory Science degree instead.

Nursing is a solid career path that could lead to a long, happy, and financially fruitful career. In the United States, the path to become a nurse is a varied one. Each person will need to explore their options and make the best choice based on a variety of factors. Unlike individuals destined to be nurses in other countries, you have the ability to build a customized educational framework. Take some time to discover which path you should go down.

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