If you’re considering a career in nursing, you need to know exactly what training and the job itself entails. You also need to be sure that you have the right temperament to be a nurse. While rewarding and satisfying for the right people, the profession is also notoriously stressful — and filled with both joy and tragedy.
Particularly if you’re leaving a lucrative career, you must be absolutely sure that nursing is the right profession for you. And to help you make your mind up, you’ll need to find answers to the following questions.
What Nursing Qualifications Are Required?
First, you need to decide which type of nurse you want to be. The fastest route to a career in nursing involves becoming either a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or a licensed vocational nurse. While the educational requirements for both differ, they involve a lot less training than the more senior registered nurse (RN) position.
To qualify as an LPN or LVN, you’ll usually need to pass a one-year training program. The RN route requires, as a minimum, an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN). However, a bachelor degree in nursing (BSN) tends to open more doors in terms of career progression and specialization.
Whichever route you take, you will need to apply for state licensure — which requires passing either the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) or the equivalent LPN/LVN exam (NCLEX-PN).
What is the Difference Between an RN and an LPN/LVN?
LPN and LVN programs involve a combination of practical placements and classroom lessons. They cover subjects such as first aid, basic anatomy, physiology, nutrition and practical skills such as starting intravenous drips. The responsibilities of LPNs and LVNs include:
- Updating patient records
- Dressing wounds
- Bathing patients
- Measuring vitals
- Assisting doctors and RNs with tests and procedures
- Maintaining and assembling medical equipment
- Administering medication
Registered nurses perform all of the duties LVNs and LPNs do. However, RNs usually hold seniority, and they take a much more active role in research, care management and diagnoses. Degree-educated, RNs also have the opportunity to continue their studies in order to specialize in fields such as cardiology, critical care and neonatology.
How Much Will Training Cost?
Exactly how much your nursing course or degree will cost depends on a range of factors, such as the type of nurse you want to be, the college you choose and the duration of your studies. The cheapest pathways involve training to become an LVN or LPN. Local schools and community colleges tend to run these one-year courses, and charge anything from $3,000 to $15,000 in tuition fees.
If you take the degree route to becoming an RN, tuition fees can range from around $40,000 to more than $100,000 per year — depending on which educational establishment you choose. It’s therefore a good idea to be sure that nursing is for you before you commit to spending such a huge amount of money.
What Hours Do Nurses Work?
The hours you will work as a nurse will depend on a number of issues, including the healthcare provider you work for, the particular type of nursing you’re involved in and the local demand for nurses. However, you should expect to work weekends and evenings, as well as night-shifts. As every hospital, clinic and healthcare provider has its own approach to working hours, you need to establish your own shift patterns before accepting a job offer.
For example, you might be asked to work three 12-hour shifts a week. Or the terms of your contract might dictate that you work five eight-hour shifts. While the average full-time week is usually 40 hours, you might work more than that through voluntary or mandatory overtime.
How Much Do Nurses Earn?
This is a good time to choose a career in nursing. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), opportunities in nursing are expected to grow by 16 percent between 2014 and 2024.
The BLS also reported that the median annual salary for an LPN/LVN in 2018 is $44,090. Registered nurses earn a median salary of $68,450 — a figure that has risen steeply in recent years. But for nurses who specialize and diversify, the rewards are much greater. For example, a physician assistant earns a median annual salary of $101,480, while a nurse practitioner earns $107,460.
What Are the Career Prospects Like?
There is a nursing shortage in the United States. If you’re qualified, conscientious and flexible, you should be able to find employment without too much job hunting. According to the BLS, there is a growing demand for registered nurses in assisted living and care homes, as hospitals are under increasing pressure to discharge patients as quickly as possible.
Once you have qualified as a nurse, it’s up to you which career path you take. If you simply love to care for people, you might be happy working at your local hospital. But you also have the option of working in nursing homes, palliative care facilities, specialist clinics and physicians’ offices.