A Guide to The Levels of Nursing Certificates and Degrees For 2023

A nursing career is a rewarding career path that offers personal fulfilment, job security, flexible schedules, and a competitive salary. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for nurses is projected to grow by 9% from 2020 to 2030.

Anyone can begin or advance their nursing career at every educational level. There are several types of certificates and degrees that prepare students for the nursing field. Here’s our guide to different levels of nursing degrees and what you can expect to do with each.

Entry Level Nursing Qualifications

High school graduates can become nurses by enrolling in programs that lead to a diploma or certificate. They require less money and can be completed in less time than a college or university degree. Below are the qualifications for entry-level nurses.

1) Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) diploma or certificate

A Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) is expected to complete a state-approved training program and earn a diploma or certificate. CNA programs are often completed within 4 to 12 weeks. They help students get into the nursing field as quickly as possible. CNAs can work in hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, home healthcare services and more.

2) Licensed Practical Nurse / Licensed Vocational Nurse (LPN/LVN) diploma or certificate

LPNs/LVNs provide basic patient care under the supervision of doctors and RNs. The program for LPNs usually takes about 12 months to complete. An LPN/LVN certificate qualifies nurses to take the NCLEX exam for LPNs and obtain a license to practice. They can work in assisted living facilities, diagnostic testing centers, clinical research facilities etc.

3) Associate Degree in Nursing

With an Associate Degree in Nursing, anyone can become a registered nurse (RN). ADN programs can be taken at community colleges or universities and are usually completed in 2 years. After taking the NCLEX-RN and getting a license, nurses with an associate degree in nursing are allowed to practice. They can work in physician’s offices, nursing and residential care facilities, travel nursing organizations, etc.

4) Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing

A bachelor’s degree is becoming the new academic standard for registered nurses. The average income of an RN with a bachelor’s degree in nursing is typically higher than an RN who has an associate degree in nursing.

5) Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

A Bachelor of Science in nursing is designed for RNs who want to pursue supervisory roles and qualify for higher-paying jobs. Most BSN programs require 4 years of full-time study. It qualifies nurses for the NCLEX-RN licensing exam. They can work as public health nurses, home health nurses, forensic nurses, nursing informatics specialists and more.

6) Bridge Programs for Earning a BSN

BSN degree programs are mostly for high school grads or GED holders. But nurses who have a diploma or certificate can enroll in bridge nursing programs such as the RN-to-BSN degree program and the LPN-to-BSN degree program. Second degree BSN nursing programs are also available for those who hold a bachelor’s degree in another field.

Advanced Nursing Degrees

Some nursing specialties and leadership roles require nurses to complete a master’s or doctorate. Nurse Practitioners often have versatile roles and can work without the supervision of a physician. Below are the current advanced nursing degrees.

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Degree

A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) prepares nurses for leadership or educational roles. Students with a bachelor’s degree can complete this program in 2 years. Busy nurses can also consider a Master of Science in nursing online nurse practitioner program. They can work as nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, certified nurse midwives, etc.

Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Degree.

A Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree prepares nurses for advanced patient care or leadership and administration roles. DNP programs require students to have an MSN and often take about 2 years to complete. DNP grads can set up their independent practices or occupy executive positions in healthcare organizations.

Doctor of Nursing Philosophy (PhD) Degree.

A Doctor of Nursing Philosophy(PhD) degree is for nurses who want to be researchers or educators. A PhD in Nursing program requires students to prepare a unique dissertation that can advance healthcare delivery systems. It takes 3 years to complete and can qualify nurses for leadership positions in research and academic settings.

Doctor of Nursing Science (DNSc / DNS)

A Doctor of Nursing Science (DNS/DNSc) degree is designed to equip nurses with the skills needed to conduct investigative research in healthcare. It focuses on advanced nursing theory, public policy and ethics, health outcome measurements and more. It takes about 5 years to complete and prepares graduates to become nurse educators and researchers.

Advanced Nursing Certificates

There are certificates for nursing professionals who hold a Master of Science in Nursing degree but want to acquire more education. A post-master’s certificate allows nurses to improve their skills, expand their job opportunities and grow their careers.

Post-Master’s Family Nurse Practitioner Certificate

A family nurse practitioner post-master’s certificate allows nurses who have an MSN degree to choose a new nursing specialization. It’s a great option for nurses who specialized in management, education or healthcare during their master’s program. After completing the coursework, graduates will sit for the Family Nurse Practitioner Certification exam.

Post-Master’s Advanced Practice Nursing Certificate

A post-master’s advanced practice nursing certificate is for nursing professionals who have a master’s or doctorate and want to advance their skills and expertise. The certificate program provides nurses with advanced-practice training and instruction in their preferred specialisation.

Post-Master’s Certificate in Nursing Education

A post-master’s certificate in nursing education is for nurses who have an MSN degree and want to boost their career as nurse educators. The certificate program provides specialized training in nursing education and prepares students who wish to take the National League for Nursing (NLN) Certified Nurse Educator (CNE) exam.

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