This is a guest post by Patricia Walling who is a web content creator with an avid interest in healthcare and nursing.  Patricia can be reached by email at: patwalling85@gmail.com

As a field, nursing has seen an explosion in growth in recent years. The aging of the American population has led the Bureau of Labor and Statistics to predict job growth to increase by 22 percent by 2018, far out-stripping the national average. For many, the good pay and job security (which is even better than that of other popular fields, such as medical transcription) of nursing have made it an ideal career path, and nursing schools have blossomed across the country. However, each school has its own unique advantages and disadvantages and a number of factors should be considered before you select a school.

What Type of Nurse Do You Want to Be?

There are three main types of nurses: registered nurses (RNs), licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and advanced practice nurses (APNs). Each works in the medical profession, often in hospitals, but the educational route for each is different, as are the career prospects for each.

It is possible to become a registered nurse through either an associate degree (ADN) or a bachelor’s degree (BSN) program in nursing or by training through a recognized hospital diploma program. It generally takes four to five years to attain a BSN, while ADN programs take two to three years. Diploma programs through hospitals generally take three years to complete.

RNs fulfill the typical nursing role, performing basic medical procedures, working with doctors and caring for patients. While ADN and diploma programs offer a shorter timeline to becoming an RN, they offer fewer advancement opportunities and chances at specialization. Individuals with a BSN typically find that they have a wider variety of jobs to choose from, and many go on to become APNs.

APNs have attained a master’s degree in nursing. Their practice is more specialized, with many APNs serving as clinical nurse specialists, nurse anesthetists, nurse practitioners and nurse-midwives. These nurses have specialized in medicine and often treat patients. They can diagnose illnesses and write prescriptions and oftentimes serve in the same capacity as a general physician.

LPNs, also known as licensed vocational nurses, have less training than RNs. Most training programs for LPNs last about a year and are offered by technical schools and community colleges. While LPNs interact with patients on a regular basis and perform many basic medical functions, they do not perform tests or other medical procedures, although they will assist doctors and RNs during procedures. However, since advancement opportunities are limited for most LPNs, many colleges offer LPN to RN programs for those who have achieved certification as an LPN but wish to become licensed as an RN.

Program Accreditation

The most important aspect to look for from a program, after you have identified which type of nurse you wish to become, is its accreditation. If the program you attend is not accredited, you could find yourself barred from taking the state’s nursing test or attaining a license in the field. This is especially important if you are looking at for-profit colleges and online nursing programs, as many do not offer the appropriate accreditation.

The National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission, Inc. (NLNAC) is the most common accrediting commission for ADN and Diploma programs. Thus, before you decide on any of these programs, it is a good idea to go to their web site (listed below in the References section) and search their directory for the programs in which you are interested. It will tell you when the school was accredited, what, if any, actions have been taken against it and will provide you with a point of contact at the school.

For those interested in achieving a BSN, a master’s in nursing or a doctorate of clinical nursing (most commonly achieved by those interested in teaching other nurses), the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) is an independent accrediting agency commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education. In addition to accrediting bachelor’s and graduate programs, CCNE also accredits nursing residency programs. These institutions are both recognized throughout the country for their accrediting capacities, ensuring that you can work in any state provided you pass that state’s licensing test.

Real World Experience

While all accredited programs will offer real world clinical experience, the amount can vary by program. However, a teaching hospital should be part of your educational program, which will provide you with plenty of opportunities to learn. For instance, the University of North Florida offers a nursing program that has a community-based component, meaning students will be learning through hands-on training throughout their time at the school. Take the time to get as much real world experience as you can, as this will pay dividends in the future.

For those interested in pursuing a master’s degree or becoming an APN, university nursing programs typically offer these advanced programs as part of their curriculum. Some also offer doctoral programs at teaching hospitals. Visiting the Web site of the university’s program will reveal a great deal about their teaching philosophy, as will requesting to sit in on a class, to review syllabi and to talk to students.

Nurse Residency Programs

A new trend at some hospitals is to place new nurses into a nurse residency program. Basically, this is a 12-week long course in which new nurses will work with veterans to learn the often pressure-filled and confusing ins-and-outs of being a nurse. Therefore, once you have graduated from your nursing program and are on your way to being an RN, you might consider one of these programs as they have shown promise for easing the transition into what can be a hectic work life.

Regardless of what path you choose to take to become a nurse, it is essential that you do your homework first. Don’t sign up for a program simply because it is inexpensive or convenient. For instance, online programs might sound convenient but very few are actually accredited. You should always check the Web site of the school to which you are applying and the independent accreditation Web site to ensure everything matches up. In the end, remember that each path into nursing can lead to a different one and education never stops in the rapidly evolving field of health care. A good nurse is one who has learned to adapt to these changes, and the first step to becoming a good nurse is in finding the program that will help you to realize your career goals.


  1. A very important takeaway that Ms Walling mentioned was about online nursing program accreditation.

    “For instance, online programs might sound convenient but very few are actually accredited. You should always check the Web site of the school to which you are applying and the independent accreditation Web site to ensure everything matches up.”

    This is extremely important with any nursing program that you enroll in. Unfortunately, there are many students who complete a course and then find out they are not approved by their state.

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