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The Fastest Paths to Becoming a Nurse

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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’re one of those people with 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 $73,300, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The healthcare industry currently suffers from a nursing shortage, which means nurses fresh out of school enter an industry with many job prospects.

This guide explains how to become a nurse through several educational pathways, all of them faster than a traditional four-year bachelor’s degree.

LVN/LPN Programs

If you’re interested in entering the nursing field but not dead set on becoming a nurse, you can become a licensed vocational nurse (LVN) or licensed professional nurse (LPN) instead. Although these jobs go by different titles, LVNs and LPNs essentially 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 to this pathway, LVN/LPNs do not need full two- or four-year degrees to gain licensure. Instead, they enroll in an educational program at a vocational or community college. These programs typically last around one year, and they cover the foundations of human anatomy and nursing. Upon graduation, these professionals earn a median annual salary of $47,480, according to the BLS. You can find out more about the profession here.

LPN-ADN Programs

Sometimes nursing professionals become LPN/LVNs as the first step to becoming RNs. Some colleges offer LPN-to-ADN programs. These allow individuals with LPN/LVN licensure to build upon their previous education to earn an associate degree in nursing (ADN). Because of this, LPN-ADN programs only require half the credits of a normal 60-credit associate degree program. Students can also finish in half the time, or one year of study.

LPN-RN Bridge Program

Another way to earn RN licensure is through a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN). This degree also adds to knowledge and skills learned in the one-year LVN/LPN program. The curriculum not only covers foundational nursing courses, but also considers pharmacology and more advanced topics in caring for patients across the lifespan. While most bachelor’s degrees traditionally last four years, this bridge program may last 2-3 years. Sometimes it can last longer for part-time students as well. Learn more about LPN-RN bridge programs here.

Registered Nurse Diploma Program

An RN diploma remains one of the fastest ways to become a nurse. Many of these programs last 2-3 years, although students can find some programs that only require one year of study for full-time students. That said, RN diplomas do not possess the same popularity as full degrees because RNs with diplomas do not get the same advancement opportunities as their degree-holding peers.

Diploma programs cover the basics required to earn a RN licensure. Students learn about foundational nursing theory and skills, and they also complete the required supervised clinical hours. In comparison, degrees include general education courses that can help students with soft skills, like critical thinking and communication. Bachelor’s degrees also tend to include more advanced nursing courses.

ADN Programs

When it comes to earning licensure with a full degree, aspiring RNs can go for either an ADN or a BSN. An ADN remains the quickest option. Like all other associate degrees, an ADN traditionally lasts two years. Learners may even graduate more quickly if they earned dual credit in high school or completed an LVN/LPN program.

ADN programs generally consist of 60 credits of coursework and supervised clinical hours. This resource offers more information about associate degrees in nursing.

Keep in mind, though, that although an ADN is faster than a BSN, it does come with limitations. Nursing organizations recommend that RNs obtain a bachelor’s degree, and many employers look for candidates with BSNs as well. Some states, like New York, also require ADN holders to attain a BSN within a decade to maintain their licensure.

Accelerated BSN Programs

Traditionally, BSN programs last four years. However, accelerated BSN programs allow students who hold a non-nursing bachelor’s degree to finish this degree more quickly — sometimes in as few as 12 months. Other programs may take 2-3 years to complete, depending on whether students enroll part or full time.

Individuals who already possess a bachelor’s degree in a field unrelated to nursing, but who want to switch professions and become an RN, can apply to BSN programs. Accelerated BSN programs assume that incoming students have already completed their general education requirements. That means learners can skip those credits and enroll directly in nursing courses such as pediatric, adult, and geriatric nursing. They also need to participate in all of the required supervised clinical hours. For more information about the top accelerated BSN programs, visit this page.

Bridge BSN Programs

In the nursing industry, bridge programs work similar to accelerated programs. However, only people with previous healthcare education and experience can take advantage of these programs. Bridge BSN programs, therefore, appeal to LPN/LVNs or nurses with associate degrees who want to work as RNs. Professionals with previous experience as paramedics, cardiovascular techs, and respiratory therapists can sometimes find bridge BSN programs catering to them as well.

The curricula for these programs do not include general education requirements. Instead, students jump straight into nursing courses and supervised clinical hours. Sometimes learners can graduate within two years, but they often need longer, like 2.5-3 years. Learn more through this webpage which breaks down exactly how bridge BSN programs work.

Benefits of BSN Programs

Right now, aspiring nurses can earn RN licensure with either an associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing. However, a BSN might soon become a requirement to become a registered nurse in some states, due to an industry-wide push to prioritize BSN degrees over ADN programs.

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing even recommends that RNs pursue BSN degrees, citing BSN holders’ “critical thinking, leadership, case management, and health promotion” skills. The association refers to research concluding that RNs with BSNs work more effectively than their colleagues with ADNs.

Candidates with BSN degrees may therefore gain a competitive advantage in hiring. Job prospects for RNs remain bright for the next decade across the board; with an aging population and an increasing number of people diagnosed with chronic conditions, the U.S. needs more healthcare workers. Even so, RNs who hold bachelor’s degrees can look forward to better job prospects than ADN holders, according to the BLS.

Reviewed by:

Deborah Weatherspoon, PhD, RN, CRNA, CNE, COI
Expert Reviewer: Deborah Weatherspoon, PhD, RN, CRNA, CNE, COI

Dr. Deborah Weatherspoon is an advanced practice nurse. She graduated with a PhD from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. She is currently a university nursing educator and has authored multiple publications. She has also presented at national and international levels about medical and leadership issues. She enjoys walking, reading, traveling to new places, and spending time with her family.

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