The Fastest Paths to Becoming a Nurse

Updated November 4, 2022 · 4 Min Read

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Want to begin a nursing career as quickly as possible? Read on to learn about how to become a registered nurse fast.
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Some people agonize for decades about finding the right career path. Others know exactly what they want to do — and they can't wait to get started. If you have hopes of becoming a nurse, you might be wondering how you can start your career as soon as possible. This guide will help you explore your options for nursing programs.

Nursing remains a great career choice for many. Registered nurses (RNs) make a median annual salary of $77,600, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The healthcare industry currently suffers from a nursing shortage. Because of this, nurses fresh out of school enter an industry with many job prospects.

This guide explains how to become a nurse through several educational pathways that are each faster than a traditional four-year bachelor's degree.

LVN/LPN Programs

Program Length: One year

Becoming a licensed vocational nurse (LVN) or licensed professional nurse (LPN) is a great option for those interested in the nursing field but still deciding if being a nurse is for them. Although these jobs go by different titles, LVNs and LPNs perform the same duties. They provide basic care for patients, though they do not take on as many responsibilities as RNs.

As one of the main advantages of this pathway, LVNs/LPNs do not need full two- or four-year degrees to get licensure. Instead, they enroll in an educational program at a vocational or community college. These programs usually last around one year, and they cover the foundations of human anatomy and nursing.

Graduates earn a median annual salary of $48,070, according to the BLS.


LPN-to-ADN or LPN-to-RN Bridge Programs

Program Length: 16 months

LPN-to-RN nursing bridge programs come in two forms: LPN to associate degree in nursing (LPN-to-ADN) or LPN to bachelor of science in nursing (LPN-to-BSN). An LPN-to-ADN bridge program is geared toward nurses who want to focus on entry-level registered nursing positions that allow them to administer patient care.

ADN graduates can work in hospitals, physicians' offices, or other healthcare facilities. Options also include working as a travel nurse, home health nurse, or community health nurse.

Most LPN-to-RN programs can be completed online, in-person, or in a hybrid nursing program format for three semesters or 16 months. Programs offer courses in nursing foundations, anatomy and physiology, microbiology, pharmacology, and behavioral health.

After completing the program, students are eligible to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) to earn their RN license.


LPN-BSN Bridge Program

Program Length: 2-3 years

LPN-to-BSN programs provide LPNs with the opportunity to experience a wider range of responsibilities and more autonomy as they provide direct care to patients. Programs are offered online, in-person, and in a hybrid format, allowing students to continue to work as LPNs as they earn their BSN.

Becoming an RN by earning a BSN qualifies nurses to work in clinical settings administering medications, providing treatment, and educating patients. Some RNs can also fulfill nonclinical roles for research labs, pharmaceutical companies, and government agencies.

Unlike a traditional BSN program, a bridge program allows nurses to earn their degrees at a faster pace because of their nursing experience. They can forgo certain general education requirements and focus on classes like biology, chemistry, anatomy and physiology, ethics, and statistics.


Registered Nurse Diploma Program

Program Length: 1-3 years

Nurse diploma programs are typically completed directly in a healthcare setting. They prepare individuals for entry-level positions. Students receive anursing diploma rather than a degree. However, because many diploma programs are now accredited, degree programs often accept college credit for certain courses. Graduates are also eligible to earn their RN license by passing the NCLEX.

Coursework in a diploma program includes basic pharmacology, informatics, patient care, and mental health. These courses instruct on how to perform basic nursing duties, such as recording patient information, operating medical equipment, and educating patients.

Diploma programs are often the fastest way to start working as a nurse. Those interested in working as soon as possible usually take this route. Because some employers prefer nurses with an ADN or a BSN, many nurses use this method as a stepping stone before earning a more advanced nursing degree.


ADN Programs

Program Length: 2-3 years

Traditional ADN programs can take 2-3 years depending on if individuals enroll full time or part time. This type of program is suitable for prospective nurses who do not have the time or money to complete a BSN. Programs are provided both online and in-person, allowing the student to attend work and school. Consequently, an ADN is a popular degree for initial licensure.

The typical curriculum in an ADN program includes courses in nursing principles, immunology, behavioral health, pharmacology, pediatrics, and geriatrics. Students must also complete an average of 700 clinical hours. Graduates are eligible to take the NCLEX and become a licensed RN.

After earning an ADN, nurses have the option of completing an RN-to-BSN program for additional training. Many ADN-RNs choose to enroll in such a program when looking to gain more responsibilities and increase their earning potential.


Accelerated BSN Programs

Program Length: 18-48 months

Accelerated BSN programs are prelicensure programs that allow students to earn their degree in less time than it would take when enrolled in a traditional program. Most of these programs are geared toward individuals who have a bachelor's degree in another area but are looking to transition into nursing.

Students enrolled in an accelerated BSN program have already spent at least four years in schooling; this option is one of the fastest for students who have already earned a non-nursing degree.

Students can expect to take rigorous courses, labs, and clinicals that train them to become RNs. Due to the intensity, it is often not possible for students to work full time while enrolled in the program. However,accelerated BSN programs offered online can provide students with some flexibility.


Find the Right Program For You

With the healthcare community still recovering from burnout due to the COVID-19 pandemic coupled with the country's aging population, now is a good time to become a nurse. The demand is quite high. Various programs provide opportunities to those with different educational and professional backgrounds.

Deciding on the right program depends on several factors, like its length, cost, and method of instruction (online, in-person, or hybrid). The need to continue working during the program can also determine which program works best.

As the program options increase in length and degrees, so does the cost. However, nurses with more advanced degrees benefit from a higher earning potential and additional employment opportunities with more responsibilities. Prospective nurses must consider what they can afford, how much time they can commit, and their professional goals.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Nurse


What is the fastest path to becoming an RN?

The fastest way to become an RN is through an RN diploma program, which can be completed in as little as a year. While completing this program does not lead to a degree, it does make the individual eligible to take the NCLEX and earn their RN license.

What is the difference between an ADN and a BSN?

An ADN is an associate degree, while a BSN is a bachelor's degree. ADN programs can be completed in 2-3 years, whereas traditional BSN programs take four. After graduation, nurses with a BSN often have more employment opportunities and a higher earning potential due to additional training and education.

What is the best path to become an RN?

The best path to becoming an RN depends on the person. While the most direct and common route is earning a BSN, the cost and length can impact the choice. Those who have limited time and money may find it necessary to choose a diploma program, while others can complete a costlier, more time-consuming program.

What is the most common degree for new nurses?

According to the Journal of Nursing Regulation, the most common degree for new nurses is a BSN. In 2020, 41.8% of new nurses entered the field with a bachelor's degree. A little less than 38% of new nurses earned an ADN; about 11% completed a diploma program.


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Page last reviewed October 11, 2022

NurseJournal.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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