Careers in health care are booming right now, and nursing is one of the careers that is both lucrative and flexible in terms of hours, location, duties and opportunities. Along with wondering how to become a nurse, many people wonder how long it will take to become a nurse as well. The answer is that it depends on what kind of nurse one would like to be and how one goes about obtaining a nursing degree. There are a number of different avenues to becoming a nurse.
The first level is LVN or LPN also known as Licensed Vocational Nurse or Licensed Practical Nurse. This requires the least amount of education and thus the least amount of time for becoming a nurse. Nursing programs of just one year prepare an individual to become and LVN or LPN. After finishing their coursework, LVNs and LPNs must pass an exam in order to be licensed and certified by the state. Career options are not as plentiful or flexible at this level, but it can be a good introduction to the field, and individuals who start out as LPNs or LVNs can return to school for further education if they want to advance.
Becoming a RN is the next level. RNs have three paths to becoming a nurse that take different amounts of time. An associate’s degree or a diploma program in a nursing school both take two years. Nursing school diplomas used to be the usual way of moving into a career as an RN. However, the increasingly common path for people seeking to work as RNs is the four-year bachelor’s degree. A two-year program is generally limited to a narrower technical scope while a four-year program has greater professional scope. An associate’s degree will prepare a nurse to work effectively in most settings. With a bachelor’s of science in nursing, however, a nurse will have the opportunity to study nursing theory as well as develop a method of practicing with a background in psychology and other fields that overlap with nursing practice. A bachelor’s degree also prepares the RN for further advancement and study if so desired and gives the nurse a better-rounded education in the field. After obtaining a degree, an RN also must pass a state licensing exam.
The advanced practical registered nurse or APRN encompasses several different types of nurses including nurse practitioners, registered nurse anesthetists, certified nurse midwives and clinical nurse specialists. This is generally training obtained at the master’s level. This adds two additional years to the course of study for a total of six years, but work as an APRN is often preceded by several years of work experience. Nurses at this level tend to specialize in a single area such as geriatrics or oncology. Depending on the state and type of practice, some types of APRNs may work quite independently. In some states, for example, a nurse practitioner can write prescriptions and a certified nurse midwife can run a private practice without being paired with an obstetrician. A master’s degree also prepares nurses to move into administration.
There are also advanced degree courses in nursing at the doctoral level. This prepares nurses for teaching and research among other things. A doctorate can take three or four years or considerably longer. The doctor of philosophy programs that award a PhD focus on research while a DNP or doctor of nursing practice has a more clinical focus.
Becoming a nurse, therefore, can take anywhere from one to four years for a licensed vocational or practical nurse or a RN, but nurses who want to continue their education, work in a specialized field or even set up their own practices as nurse midwives can do in many states will want to spend more time on their education. At advanced levels, higher education is most successfully paired with experience, so it could take nurses a number of years to establish themselves as experts in a particular field. However, nursing salaries at the RN level nearly everywhere and at the LPN/LVN level in some states are good enough and schedules are flexible enough that it is sometimes possible for nurses to attend further classes part-time while working reduced hours.