Nursing Programs You Can Complete in About a Year or Less

stephanie behring

Written and reported by:

Stephanie Behring

Contributing writer

nursing student raises hand in class
nursing student raises hand in class

If you’re ready to get your nursing career on track fast, consider one of these programs.

It’s no secret that healthcare is one of the fastest-growing career fields in the country. One reason? One of the largest generations in American history, the baby boomers, is aging. This will lead to an increased need for healthcare services and a continued demand for qualified healthcare professionals. Luckily, the educational programs of many important healthcare roles can be completed in a year or less, allowing eager nursing students to get to work quickly to fill the growing need.

In This Article


Home Health Aide | CNA | LPN | Accelerated RN

Statistics underscoring the demand for healthcare workers abound: For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that more than 85% of adults over 65 have at least one chronic health condition. And 56% of adults over age 65 have at least two chronic health conditions. This creates a significant need for healthcare.

The nursing profession has been experiencing an increase in demand for qualified nursing professionals for years and will continue to do so as the baby boomer generation ages, says Jenna Liphart Rhoads PhD, RN, CNE, assistant nursing professor at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay. 

“Additionally, nursing roles continue to morph and expand from bedside/acute care to preventative health and education roles,” she says.

The next decade will also lead to baby boomers leaving the workforce. By 2029, the youngest members of this generation will be at retirement age, leaving millions of jobs open. One huge area predicted to be affected by this generational shift is nursing. About half of all current registered nurses (RNs) are over 50. Together, these factors make right now a great time to jump into a nursing career.

Consider exploring these programs that can be completed in a year or less.

Home Health Aide

Program Time

4-6 weeks

Average Program Cost

$300–$700

Median Annual Salary

$27,080

Home health aides are projected to see a staggering 34% growth over the next decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Programs can be completed in as little as 4 to 6 weeks, although full semester options that last several months are also offered. Your program will go over the skills you need to assist people in their homes with activities such as bathing, eating, dressing, and other daily hygiene tasks. You’ll also learn how to take vital signs and monitor patients for safety.

Certification isn’t required by all states. When it is, you’ll need to complete at least 75 hours of training in a program that’s been approved by your state. Programs might be offered by local home health agencies, hospices, health services agencies, or even online. Keep in mind that you’ll need to complete some in-person clinical training if you choose to attend an online program. Most states require at least 16 hours.

Home health aides generally take on tasks such as:

  • Providing companionship and support
  • Helping clients bathe and dress
  • Arranging transportation
  • Helping with housekeeping tasks such as laundry or dishes
  • Planning and scheduling appointments
  • Shopping for groceries and other necessities
  • Preparing meals that meet a client’s medical and cultural needs
  • Taking vital signs
  • Assisting clients with simple exercises
  • Reporting any changes in a client to nurses
  • Taking on any other care tasks assigned by a supervising nurse

Next steps for advancement: As a home health aide, you might choose to pursue a program to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN), which will give you the chance to take on much more responsibility, oversee nursing aides and assistants, and potentially double your salary.


Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

Length of Time

1–4 months, with between 75 and 180 hours of training, depending on your state

Average Program Cost

$1,000–$1,500

Median Annual Salary

$30,830

Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) complete programs that are approved by their state and earn certification. Programs can require as few as 75 hours or as many as 180 hours depending on your state. Program lengths will also vary depending on state requirements and the structure of your program, but most can be completed in 1 to 4 months. Nursing assistant programs are offered by nursing facilities, health departments, hospitals, community colleges, and technical skills.

“Home health aide or CNA programs are a good fit for people who want to enter the healthcare field quickly,” says Rhodes. “[They] allow people to get their foot in the door of healthcare. Many CNAs and home health aides eventually attend nursing school and can gain experience that is valuable for their nursing education.”

Nursing assistant programs offer the educational foundation you need to provide care for patients in hospitals and other facilities. You’ll cover topics such as:

  • Medical terminology
  • Patient movement and body mechanics
  • Basic patient assessment
  • Basic wound care
  • Infection control
  • Patient rights
  • Communication
  • Taking and recording vital signs
  • Caring for patients’ daily needs such as bathing

You’ll have plenty of opportunities once you earn certification. The BLS predicts 8% job growth for CNAs over the next decade. In addition to hospitals, you’ll find job opportunities in skilled nursing facilities, rehabilitation faculties, mental health hospitals, and more. On the job, you’ll take on daily tasks such as:

  • Ensuring patient rooms are clean and well-stocked
  • Helping patients with daily hygiene such as bathing, dressing, and using the bathroom
  • Helping patients eat and recording amounts if needed
  • Transferring patients from beds to wheelchairs
  • Transporting patients throughout the facility as needed
  • Taking and recording patient vital signs
  • Dressing patient wounds as instructed by a nurse
  • Reporting any changes in patient status to a nurse
  • Performing any other patient care tasks directed by a nurse

“CNA jobs are often physically and emotionally demanding and are best suited to those who enjoy working with people and want to make a difference in others’ lives,” Rhoads says.

Next steps for advancement: Without having to change jobs, CNAs can increase their employment opportunities and salary potential by earning a certification as a medication aide (CMA). This allows you to legally administer certain medications and report patient changes to the rest of the staff. Depending on the requirements of your state, you could complete a medication aide course in as little as six weeks before taking the MACE certification exam.


Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

Length of Time

9–18 months, including various hours of clinical experience

Average Program Cost

$10,000–$15,000

Median Annual Salary

$48,820

Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) take on more advanced duties than CNAs. You’ll spend at least nine months in school, but you’ll potentially see a significant jump in your salary and in your responsibility. You’ll work closely with doctors and registered nurses and take on tasks such as medication administration. You’ll often supervise CNAs and home health assistants. Plus, you’ll find plenty of opportunities: LPNs are predicted to see a 9% job growth in the coming decade, according to the BLS.

“LPN programs allow people to enter healthcare more quickly than RN programs and are great for those who enjoy working with people in a fast-paced environment,” says Rhodes. “Becoming an LPN would provide a higher-paying job than (that of) an aide, and there is a possibility for a wider variety of roles. LPNs generally have more autonomy and have a higher scope of practice as well.”

You’ll need to attend a nursing program approved by your state and earn licensure before you can become an LPN. All states have their own licensing rules for LPNs. In California and Texas, LPNs are called Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVNs). LPN programs are offered by community colleges and technical schools.

Programs can be as short as nine months and as long as 18 months. LPN programs are normally about 60% clinical training. Some programs might allow you to complete the rest of your education online. You’ll need to take and pass the NCLEX-LPN exam given by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) to earn your LPN license and begin looking for work. 

Once on the job, you’ll take on daily tasks such as:

  • Administering patient medications and treatments
  • Interviewing patients about medication history and current symptoms
  • Monitoring patients after treatments
  • Drawing blood for lab work
  • Administering vaccines
  • Updating and reviewing medical records
  • Administering breathing treatments
  • Preparing IV medications

Next steps for advancement: LPNs can often apply the credits they earn in their program to coursework for an associate degree, earning a registered nursing degree in as little as a year. By doing so, you can save money on school, increase your level of responsibility, and give yourself the chance to significantly boost your salary.


Registered Nurse (RN)—Accelerated Program

Length of Time

One year or a little longer, including clinical experience

Average Program Cost

$10,000–$15,000

Median Annual Salary

$75,330

Earning your license to work as a registered nurse (RN) typically takes longer than a year. However, accelerated programs can allow you to earn your license quickly. These programs are designed to help address the nursing shortage and add more qualified RNs to the healthcare workforce.

Not everyone is eligible for an accelerated program. You’ll need to already have a bachelor’s degree in another field before you can begin. Your accelerated RN program will allow you to apply the credits from your current bachelor’s toward a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). It’s important to note that your current bachelor’s degree will need to have included enough science and humanities credits to fulfill the requirements of a BSN.

Your accelerated RN degree will allow you to earn a BSN by focusing solely on nursing credits and clinical work for a year. It’s important to note that these programs are intensive, demanding, and have strict requirements.

An accelerated RN program will allow you to apply the credits from your current bachelor’s toward a BSN.

“All nursing prerequisites must be completed prior to beginning a fast-track RN program because the programs consist of only nursing courses,” says Rhodes. “Due to the grueling nature of fast-track RN programs, students are strongly cautioned against working a job while attending school.”

However, a fast-track program will allow you to earn licensure quickly. The exact requirements for these programs depend on the school offering them and on RN licensure rules in your state. You’ll need to pass the NCLEX-RN exam before you can apply for licensure in your state.

Once you have your RN license, your daily job duties can vary depending on your specialty. Having a specialty is a great way to focus your nursing knowledge. You can get a quick overview of some popular RN specialties below.

Cardiovascular Nurse

What You’ll Do: Cardiovascular nurses work with critically ill patients in cardiac care units as well as patients recovering in cardiac rehabilitation facilities.

Community Health Nurse

What You’ll Do: Community health nurses are public health specialists. In this role, you’ll treat patients while working to identify health issues specific to your community.

Emergency Room Nurse

What You’ll Do: Emergency room nurses are on the front lines in busy hospitals. They work to treat acute illnesses, injuries, and accidents in a fast-paced environment.

Geriatric Nurse

What You’ll Do: Geriatric nurses focus on caring for elderly patients. In this role, you’ll focus on conditions that often affect older adults such as diabetes and heart disease.

Home Health Nurse

What You’ll Do: Home health nurses see patients in their homes. You’ll spend your days traveling to different locations in your community and providing medications, wound care, and other treatments.

Labor and Delivery Nurse

What You’ll Do: Labor and delivery nurses provide care to mothers and babies during childbirth. In this role, you’ll be the person spending the most time with the mother during their labor and delivery, offering support and providing care.

Legal Nurse Consultant

What You’ll Do: Legal nurse consultants put their nursing knowledge to work to advise on legal matters. This role will allow you to act as an advocate for people who’ve been injured by an accident or crime.

Neonatal Nurse

What You’ll Do: Neonatal nurses work with critically ill infants. You’ll work in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) to care for infants who were born premature or with health conditions.

Obstetrical Nurse

What You’ll Do: Obstetrical nurses work with women trying to conceive, women who are pregnant, and new parents. In this role, you’ll provide support, care, treatment, and education.

Occupational Health Nurse

What You’ll Do: Occupational health nurses take on the responsibility of making the workplace safer. In this role, you’ll make sure a company’s employees are able to work without being exposed to health and safety risks.

Oncology Nurse

What You’ll Do: Oncology nurses work with cancer patients to provide care and specialized medical treatments. You’ll support patients and their families and educate them about the disease. 

Operating Room Nurse

What You’ll Do: Operating room nurses help care for patients before, during, and after surgical procedures. You’ll help prep patients for surgery and answer any questions patients and their families have.

Rehabilitation Nurse

What You’ll Do: Rehabilitation nurses help people who are recovering from injury, surgery, or illness. You’ll work as part of a team with physical therapists, occupational therapists, and other professionals to provide care and treatment for patients.

School Nurse

What You’ll Do: School nurses oversee the health of students. You’ll keep student health records and monitor students for healthy development.

Trauma Nurse

What You’ll Do: Trauma nurses work with patients immediately after accidents. In this role, you’ll work with patients who’ve been in serious accidents and need urgent life-saving care.

Have More Than a Year? Consider an Advanced Degree


RNs who are looking to take on more advanced responsibilities can consider earning a master’s or doctoral degree. Nurses who earn these degrees are referred to as Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs). They’re able to take on leadership roles, work independently, and provide primary care.

You’ll generally need at least a Master of Science of Nursing (MSN) for any APRN role. Most MSN programs take between one and three years to complete. Some APRN roles, notably nurse practitioners and nurse anesthetists, are moving toward doctoral nursing degrees as a standard. 

  • Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNSs): A CNS is a leader who is able to make a change in a healthcare organization by training new nurses and advocating for changes to nursing policy. They also see patients and can act as primary care providers. The BLS currently includes CNSs among RNs for salary data, but the top 25% of RNs earn an average of $90,760.
  • Nurse Practitioners (NPs): NPs are able to act as primary care providers. They can see patients, diagnose medication conditions and injuries, provide treatments, order tests, and prescribe medication. NPs are well compensated for their expertise and earn an average annual salary of $111,680, according to the BLS.
  • Nurse Anesthetist: A nurse anesthetist prepares anesthesia for surgical procedures. They administer it to patients, monitor patients for safety during procedures, and ensure they recover safely afterward. Nurse anesthetists are in high demand in rural areas and earn a high average salary of $183,580, according to the BLS.
  • Nurse Midwives: Nurse Midwives care for women during pregnancy, labor, and delivery. They ensure deliveries are safe and provide education to new parents. Nurse midwives work at birthing centers or their own healthcare practices. The BLS lists their average annual salary as $111,130.

Source: Salary and job growth data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, as of 2020


jenna rhoads

With professional insight from:

Jenna Liphart Rhoads PhD, RN, CNE

Assistant Nursing Professor, University of Wisconsin


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