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Planning Your Path To Nursing
by Stephanie Thibeault
The nursing profession is diverse and rewarding, offering an unlimited variety of practice options to fit your personal goals, career objectives, and lifestyle. One of the top 10 growth sectors for the coming decade, the career outlook for nursing is excellent and jobs are plentiful. Advanced education and training opportunities have increased the scope of nursing practice and are redefining the field. Qualified nurses are in demand and can look forward to a challenging and uniquely satisfying professional career.

So, how do you get there? What is the best path to becoming a nurse? When researching nursing programs, you will find there are many options to available to suit your circumstances. The first thing to look at is the level of licensure you want to obtain.

There are two licensing designations that enable you to practice as a nurse - LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse) and RN (Registered Nurse). LPN programs are shorter in duration (typically 10 months to a year), while RN programs take 2 to 4 years. The difference between the two designations is in the scope of practice and duties. RN's are able to take on more responsibility and may supervise LPNs. RN's also have increased earnings potential and a higher starting salary. One more thing to keep in mind - there have been attempts to raise the educational requirements for an RN license to a bachelor's degree. If this happens, RN licensure will require a 4-year degree.

Some additional items to factor into your decision include:

  • Time frame - how much time are you able to devote to a program? 1 year? 2 years? 4 years?
  • Finances - there are many ways to finance your education (grants, loans, employer tuition reimbursement, etc.), however you will also need to think about living expenses while in school. Will you need to work while attending school? Are there ways you can cut costs? Keep in mind the length of time you will be in school.
  • Work - are you planning to work while attending school, either part-time, or full-time? LPN and RN programs are very challenging and will require a lot of study time outside the classroom, as well as clinical rotations. Additionally, degree programs typically run 8-5, Monday - Friday - this is something to think about if you need to work during the day.
  • Family - many new nursing students are non-traditional students, meaning they are enrolling later in life to pursue a second career. Full-time nursing programs can present some challenges for balancing school and family, so it is best to go in with your eyes open. Plan ahead for back-up daycare and work on ways to streamline household responsibilities. Get family members involved and encourage their support.
  • Prior Education - most nursing programs have selective admissions policies and are highly competitive. Additionally, almost all of them have prerequisites for admission - certain college-level courses you are required to have successfully completed ahead of time, or entrance exams. Check local programs for their admissions requirements.
  • Prior Experience - while not a requirement, admissions committees like to see that you have had some prior experience or exposure to the medical field. This could be through work or volunteer experience. It also helps you to have this experience ahead of time. Spending some time working as a CNA, for example, is a great way to get insight into the profession - you don't want to invest 4 years in schooling, only to find out you do not enjoy the work.

Once you have narrowed your focus to LPN or RN, and have evaluated your personal circumstances, you can begin to research schools in your area. With an understanding of your career goals and lifestyle flexibility, you will be able to plan a solid path to nursing, making choices that work for you and fit your needs.

Stephanie Thibeault may be contacted at Click here to view more of their articles.
Stephanie Thibeault is the publisher and editor of The Student Nurse Advisor, a monthly e-zine for nursing students. She is also the webmaster of The Student Nurse Forum, an interactive support site for those interested in the nursing profession, offering educational and career planning guidance, study aids and resources, best practice initiatives and medical news, an online community (message boards, chat, nursing instant messenger service), a monthly e-zine, leadership and mentoring opportunities, humor and more. Currently pursuing a BSN, Stephanie plans to specialize in hospice care. You can contact her at

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