Guide to College Majors in Nursing

Humanity is composed but of two categories, the invalids and the nurses.
--Richard Brinsley Sheridan

What Is Nursing?

A college degree in nursing provides the opportunity for personal growth and professional development in this vital and exciting field. The tools of the nursing profession consist of a special combination of human compassion and advanced medical technology.

Nursing schools are found throughout the U.S. and even online. In the past several years, online nursing degrees have become extraordinarily popular. Designed primarily for practical and registered nurses who have completed their clinical training, online BSN, MSN and continuing education programs teach students advanced theory and management skills without forcing them to quit their jobs or scale back their shifts.

Students with college degrees in nursing (as opposed to basic practical training) will be prepared for a wide variety of professional opportunities in the field. Nurses are highly in demand in many different sectors of the health services industry. As you earn more advanced degrees in nursing, you will get increasingly specialized training and may be eligible for higher-paying jobs.

Many different kinds of nursing degrees are available, online and on-campus. The most common programs are:

  • Registered nursing
  • Licensed practical nursing (LPN), also known as vocational nursing
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (commonly offered as an RN-to-BSN or LPN-to-BSN program)
  • Master of Science in Nursing

All nurses need to take the National Certification Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX) in order to become registered nurses (RNs). Some nurses complete one year of training to become licensed practical nurses (LPNs). Licensed practical nurses hold a nursing license but cannot perform many of the tasks and procedures that a registered nurse can perform.

What Does It Take to Be a Good Nurse?

Nurses must be compassionate, responsible, and detail-oriented. They must be willing to take control of stressful situations and to ask for assistance when necessary. They must possess an emotional stability that will enable them to handle emergency situations and to be engaged with emotional and physical suffering, illness, and injury. Nurses must also be able to use faculties of sound judgment, enabling them to assess and evaluate the conditions of patients. Nurses who advance must be good leaders and be able to negotiate with and manage teams of other nurses.

Career Education in Nursing

Nursing school programs vary in length and intensity depending on the desired degree or certification. Students who wish to join the workforce as soon as possible often choose one-year LPN training, which prepares them for basic medical work, and may later attend school part-time or online to boost their career prospects. At the other end of the spectrum, aspiring nurse practitioners may choose to spend several years in school; when they graduate, they will be licensed to perform many medical duties and eligible for higher salaries.

Fundamental clinical training, of course, must be completed in person, but some online programs are combining distance instruction with hands-on practice arranged locally.

Associate Degree Programs in Nursing

An associate degree in nursing (ADN) is the fastest route to becoming a registered nurse (RN), typically taking two years to complete. Nursing associate degrees are offered both through online education programs as well as traditional campus-based colleges and universities. Although opportunities for advancement can be limited for nurses with only an associate degree, RN-to-BSN programs are a popular way for registered nurses to earn a bachelor's degree and advance in their careers. Online education programs offer flexible schedules that are convenient for working nurses.

Bachelor's Degree Programs in Nursing

The bachelor's degree in nursing (BSN) is the recommended professional degree for registered nurses. Most students who major in nursing at the baccalaureate level will be required to complete coursework in basic science and liberal arts. This foundational study will usually be followed by intensive internships or other such arrangements, in which the student enters the workplace and experiences working as a nurse on a first-hand basis. Online RN-to-BSN completion programs are very popular among working nurses who don't want to give up income or seniority to go back to school.

BSN students who don't already have RN licensure must gain considerable clinical experience before treating patients on their own. Under supervision, they will treat patients, administer medicine, administer medical procedures and tests, and analyze patient reports, among other tasks. Most BSN degrees will require students to successfully complete courses such as:

  • Biology
  • Microbiology
  • Nutrition
  • Sociology
  • Human anatomy
  • Chemistry
  • Statistics
  • Clinical rotations
  • Nursing care of children
  • Nursing care of the elderly
  • Mental health nursing

BSN graduates may go on to have successful careers in specialized fields such as:

  • Emergency room dare
  • Home healthcare
  • Mental health care
  • Critical care
  • Oncology
  • Geriatrics
  • Pediatrics
  • Pulmonary care
  • Obstetrics

What can you do with a College Degree in Nursing?

Registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) are vital to our society because they work to help prevent disease and to provide necessary care for those who are suffering from illness and injury. RNs and LPNs must be able to perform a variety of important tasks such as observing, analyzing, recording and often treating a patient's symptoms. Nurses help patients develop rehabilitation plans and to develop plans to maintain their health after a recovery. Registered nurses are also called upon to assist physicians during surgeries.

Nursing Career Options

Though state laws determine the specific tasks that registered nurses and licensed practical nurses may perform in the workplace, the nature of the jobs vary by sector and employer.

  • Hospital Nurses
    Hospital nurses are the largest population of registered nurses. Most hospital nurses are commonly assigned to one area of the hospital such as maternity, surgery, pediatrics, emergency room, intensive care, or others. The duties of a hospital nurse usually include bedside care and the execution of medical regimens. They also may be required to supervise nursing aides or licensed practical nurses.
  • Office Nurses
    Office nurses usually work in physicians' offices, surgical centers, emergency medical centers, and other specialized health services facilities. The duties of an office nurse primarily consist of outpatient care, such as preparing patients for examinations, assisting with examinations, administering medications, giving injections, dressing wounds, and managing patients' records. Office nurses may also be required to do paperwork.
  • Nursing Facility Nurses
    Nursing facility nurses may spend lots of time on administrative tasks, but they also attend to the health and needs of resident patients. Registered nurses working in a nursing facility may develop plans for treatments, supervise nursing aides and licensed practical nurses, and administer medications or invasive procedures. These nurses may also work in specialized nursing facilities designed for patients with specific needs.
  • Home Health Nurses
    Home health nurses work in patients' homes, providing appropriate nursing services. Home health nurses assess the effects of the patients' home environments on their health, and develop health maintenance and rehabilitation plans to be administered in the home environment. Home health nurses may provide care for patients in many different situations, including patients suffering from illness or injury, or recovering from childbirth.
  • Public Health Nurses
    Public health nurses focus on the health of individuals, families, and groups, in an effort to improve general community well-being. Public health nurses work in private or government agencies like clinics, retirement communities, and schools. They are often responsible for developing and implementing community health programs. They dispense instruction about subjects such as nutrition and childcare to families and communities, while also designing programs to make immunizations, testing, and health screening available to community members.
  • Occupational Health Nurses
    Occupational nurses give nursing care at worksites to employees, patrons of the worksite, and others. The duties of an occupational nurse may include providing emergency care, filling out accident reports, and making arrangements for the patient to receive any necessary further care. Occupational nurses may also be required to give counseling about health-related issues, administer examinations, and evaluate working environments for health hazards.
  • Head Nurses/Nurse Supervisors
    Head nurses usually work in hospitals, making schedules for and directing the duties of nurses and nursing aides. Head nurses are also usually required to monitor the care that patients are receiving and to maintain records and supply orders.
  • Nurse Practitioners
    Nurse practitioners work at the highest levels of the profession, providing health care for patients, diagnosing and arranging treatments for some illnesses and injuries, and prescribing medications. Licensing requirements for nurse practitioners vary from state to state. Nurse practitioners (like clinical nurse specialists, certified nurse midwives, and certified nurse anesthetists) must have a specialized educational background that exceeds basic nurse education and training.
  • Nurse midwives
    In the nineteenth century, doctors pushed nurse midwives and the practice of midwifery out of the medical field. Midwifery, however, is a centuries-old practice that is now present again in hospitals, birthing centers, and the home. Nurse midwives deliver babies, care for and monitor the health of pregnant women, and educate and guide new mothers. Many pregnant women and women giving birth prefer to receive care from a nurse midwife than from an obstetrician.

Career Outlook

The career outlook for nurses is very positive. Registered nurses are expected to enjoy a rapid increase in employment levels in the coming years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). More new jobs are expected to be generated in the nursing field than in any other occupation.

Three major factors are expected to contribute to job growth: advances in medical technology, the retirement of baby boomer nurses, and the advent of baby boomer patients. Technological advancements will emphasize preventative medicine and health services, and will also make it possible for those in the health services profession to treat illnesses and injuries once thought to be untreatable. Technology will also extend the life expectancy for elderly people, thereby increasing the need for medical care in the older population.

Working Conditions

Most health services facilities in the United States are clean, well lighted, and well- maintained. Home health nurses, public health nurses, occupational health nurses, and some other specific types of nurses do not work within a regular health services facility. Nurses of all kinds should be in good physical shape because the duties of the job require much walking, standing, and lifting. Nurses should also expect to keep some irregular hours, particularly if they are working in a health services facility that provides 24-hour care for the patients. Nurses may have to work nights, weekends, and holidays. Many nurses must spend some time each week or each month being on-call.

Nurses must be extremely careful when in the workplace to follow strict rules and guidelines that will protect them from infectious diseases. There are other hazards involved with nursing, such as chemical usage, needle usage, radiation usage, usage of compressed gases, usage of electrical equipment, and others. Because of the many hazards of the workplace, nurses must be consistently conscientious and cautious while on the job.

Certification, Licensure and Associations

In the United States, nurses must graduate from an approved nursing school and pass a national licensing examination. Nurses can obtain licensure in more than one state through examination, endorsement, or a licensing agreement between states. All states require that nurses renew their licenses periodically. License renewal procedures vary from state to state but may require that the nurse attend continuing education courses.

Nursing Associations
The following organizations and associations are designed to provide support for nurses. They also make relevant and helpful information accessible to those working in, or interested in working in, the nursing profession.

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