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Associate degree programs in nursing offer students training and skills that they can apply either in an entry-level career or in a bachelor's degree program. Degree programs may take two years for full-time students to complete. However, many schools require incoming students to complete certain prerequisites before beginning a program, which can extend the time needed for an associate degree in nursing, or ADN.

Online Associate Degree in Nursing: Coursework and Overview

Students working toward an ADN take several prerequisites, including both nursing-related and general education classes, in addition to nursing electives. Curriculum varies by school, but the following are some courses that students commonly take:

Nursing-Related Courses

  • Fundamentals of Nursing: Courses provide an introduction to the skills and responsibilities involved in nursing practice. Specific topics may include meeting basic human needs and nursing care delivery.
  • Human Anatomy: Individuals study the structure of human body systems, including the skeletal, muscular, digestive, and reproductive systems. Courses often have a lab component through which students can gain hands-on experience.
  • Human Physiology: While anatomy courses explore the structure of human body systems, physiology courses cover their functions. Specific topics examined generally include cells, tissues, and human organ systems. Schools may combine anatomy and physiology into one course.
  • Microbiology: Courses focus on fundamental microbiology concepts such as microbial cell structure and metabolism. Students may also examine the role of microorganisms in genetics, immunity, and disease, among other topics.
  • Mental Health Nursing: Training aims to help students acquire skills in caring for mental health patients. For example, courses usually address communication and therapeutic interventions in mental health nursing.

General Education Courses

  • Sociology: Introductory courses allow students to explore the role that factors such as race, income inequality, and gender play in society.
  • English Composition: Students can strengthen their critical thinking and writing skills by analyzing literary works both in class and in essays. Nursing candidates are likely to make use of this background as they work with medical records.
  • Psychology: In introductory courses, students can gain a fundamental knowledge of various psychology concepts, commonly including cognition, personality, learning, and behavior.

Potential Careers for Individuals with an Associate Degree in Nursing

An associate degree is designed to provide students with skills relevant to the nursing career, and clinical requirements in ADN programs can help students gain hands-on nursing experience. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov) reports that nurses must typically complete an approved educational program and obtain a professional license. After earning a degree, students can explore a number of different career paths in nursing. Below are a few examples:

  • Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) monitor patients' health and carry out basic nursing duties, such as replacing bandages. Specific responsibilities depend on the nurse's work setting. For example, some LPNs and LVNs help deliver and care for infants, while others perform laboratory tests. Although LPN and LVN positions may not require an associate degree, they do require completion of an accredited educational program in nursing, according to bls.gov.
  • Cardiovascular nurses treat individuals who have heart disease or have undergone heart surgery. Students interested in this specialization can gain an understanding of the structures and functions of the cardiovascular system through human anatomy and physiology courses. Taking a medical-surgical nursing elective, if available, can also teach students about caring for surgical patients. Bls.gov notes that this is one of the many ways registered nurses (RNs) can specialize.
  • Genetics nurses screen, treat, and counsel patients with a genetic disorder, such as Huntington's disease. Biology courses such as genetics and microbiology can educate students on diseases that genetics nurses might come across. Pathophysiology courses, which discuss disease in more detail and are sometimes offered through ADN programs, may also help prepare students for caring for patients with a disease.
  • Critical care nurses work in hospitals' intensive care units. They care for patients who require focused attention and treatment and have a complex, serious, or acute injury or illness. Advanced nursing courses in ADN programs may discuss how to care for patients in critical situations and can help students develop an understanding of this nursing specialization.

Pursuing an entry-level career is not one's only option after earning an associate degree in nursing. Individuals may also seek more advanced nurse training through a bachelor's degree program. A bachelor's degree in nursing may qualify one for a greater variety of career options. For example, bls.gov states that administrative, consulting, teaching, and research positions typically require at least a bachelor's degree, and RNs with a bachelor's degree are likely to have stronger employment prospects than other candidates.

Students interested in applying to BSN programs should contact an admissions counselor to discuss the next steps.

American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, http://www.aacn.org/

"Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses," U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, January 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/licensed-practical-and-licensed-vocational-nurses.htm

"Registered Nurses," U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, January 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm

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