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What Classes and Education Are Needed to Become a Nurse?

If you have a good bedside manner and feel a sense of personal reward when you take care of someone, you may want to consider a career in nursing. Read on to learn about your career and education options in this field.

An Overview of Nursing

Nurses assist physicians in providing healthcare to individuals. The exact duties that you'd perform depend on your level of training. Becoming a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or vocational nurse requires less training than does becoming a registered nurse (RN). As an LPN, you'd work under the supervision of RNs and perform basic nursing duties, such as taking a patient's blood pressure, changing dressings, inserting catheters, helping patients bathe and collecting samples for laboratory tests. You'd report the status of your patients to RNs and doctors.

As an RN, you'd have more responsibilities. Your duties could include recording patients' medical histories, setting up patient care plans, administering medications, operating medical equipment, performing diagnostic tests and teaching patients how to manage their illnesses. You could choose to focus your work on a specific health condition, a specific group of people or a specific area of the body. For instance, you could become a diabetes management nurse, an addiction nurse or a cardiovascular nurse. You could also choose to work in a specific type of environment, such as in a hospital's emergency department or at a school.

Important Information About This Occupation

Median Annual Wage (2020) $75,330 (RN), $48,820 (LPN)
Job Outlook (2019-2029) 7% (RN), 9% (LPN)
Key Skills Compassion, emotional stability, physical stamina, critical thinking
Similar Occupations EMT, Dental Hygienist, Physician Assistant
Work Environment Hospitals, residential care facilities, doctors' offices, home healthcare services

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Educational Requirements for LPNs

Becoming a licensed practical or vocational nurse requires completing a certificate or diploma program in practical nursing. LPN programs typically take a year to complete and include both classroom and clinical training. Acceptance into a program requires a high school diploma or equivalent. Oftentimes, these programs require you to have taken biology, chemistry, and algebra during high school.

Coursework

The coursework you encounter during an LPN program can include anatomy and physiology, human biology and general psychology. You'll be introduced to the foundations of nursing and learn about nursing for different points in a patient's lifespan. In addition to classroom and lab coursework, you'll gain supervised clinical experience.

Educational Requirements for RNs

Registered nursing programs are 2-4 years in length and can lead to a diploma, associate's degree or bachelor's degree. Some individuals who have completed a 2-year degree program transfer into 4-year programs to take additional nursing courses. Earning a bachelor's degree can lead to career opportunities in research, teaching, consulting or administration. Additionally, if you already hold a bachelor's degree in another major, accelerated 1-year nursing programs are available. As with LPN programs, RN programs require you to have completed some prerequisite courses before you may enroll.

Coursework

During your RN program, you'll encounter foundational coursework similar to that found in an LPN program. However, you'll take additional supportive courses, such as nutrition, chemistry, microbiology, health assessment, and leadership and management. You'll be trained in different types of nursing, such as medical-surgical, obstetric, pediatric and mental health nursing. You may also be required to take a research course if you choose to enroll in a bachelor's degree program. As an RN student, you'll be required to gain supervised clinical experience as well.

Advanced Education

If you're a licensed nurse who holds a bachelor's degree in nursing, you may have the opportunity to go on to pursue more advanced or specialized training within a graduate program. Earning a master's or doctoral degree could enable you to become an advanced practice nurse, such as a nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist or nurse midwife. As an advanced practice nurse, you could provide primary or specialty care to patients and would be allowed to write prescriptions in most states.

Licensure Requirements

To work as an LPN or RN, you need to become licensed. This means passing the appropriate National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) for your level after graduating from an approved program. Be sure to check with your state for any additional licensure requirements.