Most nurses begin their careers by getting an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN), which qualifies them to give treatments and medications to patients and consult with physicians about a patient’s case. Because registered nurses (RN’s) must also explain test results and treatments to patients in many cases, they receive a good deal of course training in communication as part of their ADN degree, in addition core courses on clinical topics.
The ADN degree can help you to get an entry level job relatively quickly in many parts of the country, because demand for nurses has been strong in the US for many years. In fact,employment opportunities for registered nursing are predicted to grow “much faster than the average for all occupations” between now and 2018 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. A drawback in this picture, however, is that nursing degree programs are becomming so popular that schools – particularly state universities and community colleges facing cuts in government support – can’t accept all the students to want to get an associates degree in nursing.
First, The NCLEX Exam
Before you can actually start working as a nurse, however, you will need to get a license to practice your home state by passing what’s called a NCLEX-RN (National Council Licensure Examination), exam. All 50 states administer them (many, by the way, include a criminal background check). Nursing is a career that requires real commitment, but a typical registered nurse’s salary is good: the national median, according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics from 2010, is about $64,600.
An RN is qualified to administer medication and other treatment to patients, as well as consult with physicians regarding patient care. He or she must also explain the results of diagnostic tests and long term treatment options to patients and their families. When you have your license, you will be qualified to work in a hospital, nursing home, clinic or even home care setting. Once you’ve built up experience as an RN, you may want to pursue a additional degree like an RN TO BSN, with course work that will prepare you for an advanced nursing job as a clinical nurse specialist, nurse anesthetist or nurse-midwife.
Virtually all schools will require you to take certain general required courses before starting your core nursing courses for the ADN. A typical list of prerequisite courses, which may schools will insist you have a grade of at least “C” in to count towards your nursing degree, might include sociology, basic algebra, writing or English literature, a social studies course and a computer literacy requirement. A community college is often the place where aspiring nurses get these courses taken care of (in fact, many successful RN’s take they associate’s degree courses at community colleges as well).
The classic Associates Degree of nursing is a two-year program. However, many schools now offer faster track options if you want to move through a program quickly, or allow flexibility to get your degree over three years if you need to take a break in the middle to handle family or career responsibilities.
Once you get into nursing school, here are some of the typical core courses you’re likely to be choosing from:
- Nursing skills
- Math for medical personnel
- Disease processes
- Speech communication or communication
- Human growth and development
- Developmental psychology
- Maternal and newborn nursing or nursing care of the child-bearing family
- Fundamentals of communication
- Medical terminology
- Anatomy and physiology
- Mental Health Nursing
Salary & employment statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics