Becoming a clinical nurse is the first step to an exciting and rewarding career. It allows you to work in various healthcare settings, including health centers, hospitals, schools and private practices. As a clinical nurse, you will have advanced expertise, which means you could also become employed in education and leadership roles. Of course, your specialization will determine exactly where you will start to work, with some common areas including emergency care, pediatrics and geriatrics.
There is a high demand for clinical nurse specialists, particularly because they are so advanced. They are able to work as a primary care provider, but they earn less than physicians, which puts them in particularly high demand. For inner cities, this is a particularly important benefit, but also for under-served areas and rural communities. The demand is also for the expertise of clinical nurses, who are able to coach and mentor other nurses, thereby improving health outcomes across the board. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a significant rise in both demand and salaries of clinical nurse specialists.
The Different Educational Pathways
If you want to work as a clinical nurse, you must hold a Master’s Degree at the very least. However, there are numerous pathways available to achieve this, including RN to MSN degrees. The goal is that you become a true industry expert, so an MSN degree is the bare minimum you should aim to achieve. However, most nurses start by obtaining their Bachelor’s Degree first, of which there are five types. These are:
- BSN, which takes four years and allows you to apply to a graduate school. The first two years are designed to look at core requirements, and the final two years focus on nursing in particular.
- LPN to BSN, which takes four semesters. Through this pathway, someone who already is an LPN or LVN is able to earn their BSN.
- RN to BSN, which allows registered nurses to earn their degree, allowing them to further their career.
- Second degree BSN, which is for those who hold a Bachelor’s in a non-nursing field. It takes two years to complete this.
- Accelerated BSN, which is the full BSN but only takes 12 to 20 months to complete.
Once you complete your BSN, you can take the NCLEX-RN exam, which allows you start working as a licensed registered nurse after you have passed it. This exam looks at four specific competency areas, which are delivering a care environment that is safe and effective, having psychosocial integrity, promoting and maintaining health, and having physiological integrity.
If you do want to become a clinical nurse, you will have to further your education and achieve a Master’s Degree as well. This is generally a two-year program. While studying towards this degree, you will need to choose a specialization as well. Usually, you will also have to take part in a clinical practicum. The exact requirements for this vary on a state to state basis. The MSN pathway tends to start with a theoretical and practical element, followed by further in-depth training. Since a clinical nurse also mentors and teaches, the programs also include how to develop and implement a teaching curriculum.
Finally, some clinical nurses also choose to hold a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree. This is not a requirement, but is certainly a great aspiration that will help you to further advance your career. With a DNP degree, you will be a true expert in your field. These programs look at things such as health care policy and leadership. They are costly programs, but they are believed to give excellent returns on investment due to further salary progression.
There are a number of specializations that are nationally recognized for clinical nurses. These are adult health, adult gerontology, adult psychiatric and mental health, child and adolescent psychiatric and mental health, gerontology, acute care, general adult, home health, pediatrics, public and community health, infectious disease, cardiovascular disease, occupational health, neonatal, oncology, public health, school health, parent-child, perinatal, rehabilitation, women’s health, core clinical nursing, and advanced diabetes management. To take part in these programs, the prerequisites set out by the American Nurses Credentialing Cenetr must be met. These tend to include holding an RN license, having a Master’s or Doctoral degree, having worked at least 500 hours in a clinical setting and having completed graduate courses in subjects, such as advanced health assessment, pathophysiology and advanced pharmacology.
The time to complete your education to become a clinical nurse depends on your chosen pathway. Achieving a BSN takes four years, but choosing the accelerated option could reduce this to 12 months. If you already hold a non-nursing BSN, it should take you less than 2 years to complete your nursing Bachelor’s degree. An MSN usually takes two years and a DNP takes between two and three years.
More and more students are adult learners and already hold jobs. Then, there are those who simply cannot afford to go to school full time. Because of this, most nursing top schools, universities and colleges now offer part time degree options and some also have online options. It is important to recognize, however, that most of these schools do set time limits on how long it can take to complete a degree.
Nursing is a hands-on profession, which means that it is rare to be able to complete your entire education online. Most will require you to do a practicum, which can generally be completed in your own geographical area. Through online schools, you can usually take part in both synchronous and asynchornous education. It is very important to do your research in the various schools and the online programs they offer.
Getting Licensed as a Clinical Nurse
There are five steps needed to become licensed as a clinical nurse. These are:
- Go to college for your BSN
- Pass the NCLEX-RN and become a registered nurse
- Choose your specialty
- Study towards your specialty
- Become certified with the ANCC
Choosing Your Specialty
To become a clinical nurse, one of the most important things you will have to do is choose your specialization. You need to think, therefore, about the type of setting you would like to work in, and which challenges you would like your patients to face. If you want to work with children, for instance, pediatric nursing may be for you. If you prefer the psychological, then you should choose mental health.
Prerequisites for Studying
The exact prerequisites set for studying towards becoming a clinical nurse vary from one school and state to the other. However, some requirements are commonly found, including the need to have a good GPA (between 2.75 and 3.5), to have letters of recommendation, to be up-to-date with your immunizations, to have excellent English skills (this will be tested for those with English as a second letter), to write a resume and an essay, and to pass certain statistical classes. It is generally best to look into your chosen school and find out which prerequisites they have.
One of the most important things is that you only study with a school that is properly accredited and preferably one that has held that accreditation for a long time. There are a number of accrediting bodies but the two most important ones are the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), also known as the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). If your school’s program isn’t accredited, you will find it difficult to be accepted for various exams. Furthermore, your degree results will not count towards professional education. Indeed, once you are licensed, you must take part in continuing education at regular times. These programs should be approved by your State Nursing Board.
The Cost of Becoming a Clinical Nurse
The cost of becoming a clinical nurse varies. Tuition fees for a BSN depend on the school you choose, its geographical location, whether you are an in-state or out-of-state student and more. It is reasonable to expect to pay around $34,000 for every year of study. The cost of an MSN varies as well, but you can expect to pay another $36,000 for the full program.
Naturally, these are only the tuition fees. Studying is costly and comes with other expenses such as books and study materials, travel costs, residency costs and so on. This is another reason why it is so important to choose an accredited program, as this will allow you to apply for scholarships and financial aid. Financial aid is now sometimes even available for online programs.
Scholarships and Financial Aid
There are various scholarships and financial aid programs available for those who wish to become a clinical nurse. Generally speaking, you will need to apply for your scholarship or aid for each element of your program (the BSN followed by the MSN and followed by the DNP if you choose to obtain your doctorate). Some of the more popular scholarship and financial aid packages for clinical nursing include:
- Global Scholarship Alliance
- March of Dimes
- Kaiser Permanente
- NurseJournal.org Global Health Nurse Scholarship
Working as a Clinical Nurse
Clinical nurses are true specialists, which is needed because managed care has grown so much over the past few years. As a clinical nurse, you will spend your time performing a wide range of tasks, but the ultimate goal is to find a way to minimize expenditure and maximize health outcomes for patients.
Naturally, your chosen specialty will determine exactly which tasks you will perform. However, all clinical nurses engage at least in the following:
- Ensuring patient care is at optimum level by partnering with direct nursing staff. This means you will evaluate the practices that are in place and come up with alternatives through consultation with managers. Furthermore, educating others is a big part of this.
- Making decisions in terms of the allocation of resources, including staff.
- Working on the development of highly specialized treatment plans, which you will perform after evaluation of the individual patient.
- Providing education to patients and their family on managing specific conditions.
- Encouraging teamwork across the board and developing practices to improve this.
- Looking into patient data and monitoring their outcomes.
- Taking part in new education and research to keep knowledge up to date.
Nursing is about a lot more than providing bedside care. Although this is an important element, various other factors are just as important. If you want to be involved in improving the kind of care that people receive and if you want to know how care settings operate from the inside, then clinical nursing may just be for you.