Five Important Nursing Degree Upgrades

Learn about the five basic nursing education upgrades..

Nursing Degrees and Credentials

nursing degree and medical books

In the health care market, the more education you complete, the more demand there is for your skills. Right now, there is an incredible demand for nurses with continued nursing education nursing degrees.

However, the majority of new registered nurses (RNs) today come from lower-level programs such as associate or diploma programs. Tuition costs and timing play a central role in the number of lower-level nurses entering the job force each year.

Opting for Nursing Continuing Education

If you are a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or a nurse with an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) and would like to climb the health care ladder, do not despair! A large number of working nurses eventually decide to go back to school and upgrade their nursing degrees. The reason is simple. With a higher degree you are more employable, you'll earn a higher salary and you'll have much more freedom to chart your own nursing career path.

Common Nursing Degree Upgrades

You can upgrade your nursing degree in as many ways as there are nursing acronyms. Regardless of where you're starting, you are sure to find an appropriate path since many schools have special programs that are customized to meet the needs of students starting from different points. Here are some of the most common upgrades:

1. From LPN-to-RN

To become an RN, you must pass the NCLEX exam in your state after earning an associate's or bachelor's degree in nursing. If you opt for the former, simply go back to a technical school or community college for another year to earn an associate's degree, then take the exam.

The other way is to enter an LPN-to-BSN program. Some colleges have special programs which will allow you to get credit for some of your prior courses, and then go on to earn a BSN degree and become an RN.

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2. From ADN or RN-to-BSN

If you already have a nursing license (having earned a diploma or associate's degree) then you could qualify for a special program at many nursing schools that will take less than the normal 4 years to complete your nursing degree. Usually referred to as an RN-to-BSN Program, they are typically oriented toward working nurses who must balance school with their job. They offer flexible schedules and credit for previous experience.

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3. From Non-Nursing Bachelor's Degree to BSN

If you have already earned a bachelor's degree but you now want to become an RN and earn a nursing degree, you can enroll in special accelerated programs designed for people like you. These are called Accelerated RN Baccalaureate Programs and they take the form of 1 to 2 years of intense training in nursing.

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4. From BSN to Masters of Science in Nursing (MSN) Degree

An MSN degree is an 18 to 24 month program that allows a nurse to specialize in a particular area—such as an area of advanced clinical training or research. Some students take on joint degrees in related fields like business administration, public health or hospital administration. Most people working toward an MSN already have a BSN, but there are accelerated programs for diploma nurses (to earn a BSN and MSN in one shot) and for non-nursing college graduates.

Typical requirements for admission into a MSN program include a BSN degree from an accredited nursing school, an RN license, minimum GPA and GRE scores and some period of clinical work experience.

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5. From BSN or MSN to Doctoral Nursing Degree

You can earn a doctorate in nursing after completing either a BSN or MSN. Like nurses with master's degrees, nurses with doctoral degrees are expected to have tremendous job demand over the next ten years. These programs prepare nurses for careers in health administration (a PhD is the preferred degree for nursing executives), clinical research and advanced clinical practice. They take from four to six years to complete, so they represent a significant commitment on your part.

In a doctoral nursing degree program everyone receives training in research methods (including statistics and data analysis), education, the history and philosophy of nursing science and leadership skills. But it's up to you to focus in on a specific research area for your degree. Compared to a BSN or MSN, it's important to match your particular interests with those of a particular faculty member.

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Nursing Education Certifications

Professional Nursing Certifications are specialized exams that you can take to prove your expertise in a specific field, beyond the skills required for an RN license. The exams are provided by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). The ANCC offers generalist, advanced practice and clinical specialist exams in almost 30 areas.