Guide to Entry-Level Nursing
| Janice Monti
Whether you acquire a license or certificate right after finishing high school -- or go on to earn an associate, bachelor's, or graduate degree -- the nursing field offers several pathways to entry-level employment. The path you pursue will likely depend on your personal interests, education, and salary preferences.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a favorable job outlook for all nursing careers over the next decade. Nurse assistants can expect an 8% job growth between 2019 and 2029; licensed practical and licensed vocational nursing occupations should see a 9% increase; and registered nurses can expect 7% growth. This guide can help you begin your nursing career by exploring license and education requirements, financial aid opportunities, and career prospects.
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Types of Entry-Level Nursing Roles
Not all nursing careers require a two-year or four-year degree from a college or university. Nurses who want to enter the workforce sooner can enroll in training programs that lead to licensure or certification. These offer less of a time commitment or financial burden than earning a traditional postsecondary degree. Students can begin a nursing career after completing a nursing assistant program -- which can take approximately 12 weeks -- or a one-year training program for licensed practical and licensed vocational nursing.
Nursing assistants (NAs) rank among the fastest growing entry-level nursing jobs that do not require a degree. NAs perform routine healthcare services, from recording patient vital signs to assisting with their hygiene. Although NAs are employed in an array of settings, they often work with the growing population of older adults in nursing homes and home healthcare.
Prospective NAs with a high school diploma or GED can enter the workforce after completing a 1-3 month training program and passing a state certification exam. NAs who pursue specialized training may obtain the restorative nurse assistant (RNA) certification. Many CNAs/RNAs become licensed registered nurses after gaining practical experience to move into associate or bachelor's programs.
Licensed practical nurses (LPNs), also known in some states as licensed vocational nurses (LVNs), can move into entry-level nursing jobs relatively quickly. Becoming an LPN or LVN generally requires a high school diploma or GRE, successful completion of a 1-2 year accredited program that includes 700-1,000 hours of clinical experience, and a passing score on the NCLEX-PN exam.
LPNs and LVNs work under the direction of registered nurses and physicians. They assist with procedures, monitor treatments and medication, maintain patient records, and often help with daily patient care including bathing and dressing. While they may find positions in hospitals and clinics, they often find employment nursing homes and residential care facilities.
Working in an array of settings, from hospitals and clinics to residential care facilities and schools, registered nurses (RNs) provide and coordinate treatment, perform and analyze tests, and educate patients and the general public about healthcare concerns.
While several pathways lead to an RN license, a nursing diploma from a hospital-administered program or an associate degree in nursing (ADN) provide the quickest way to entry-level RN jobs. Most students complete these programs in two years or less before taking the NCLEX-RN exam -- a requirement for state licensure. Earning a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN), which also prepares graduates for RN licensure, usually requires four years to complete. However, many schools offer ADN-to-BSN and other accelerated programs that shorten the time to complete a degree.
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