October 10, 2019 · 7 min read

Nursing Programs You Can Finish in About a Year or Less

All Nursing Schools Staff

first year nursing student raises hand in class

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing has been heralding the warning for years: The U.S. needs nurses and it needs them now. By 2050, the population of people over age 65 is projected to hit more than 83 million, bringing with them an increased need for healthcare related to aging and chronic disease. What’s more, a survey published in 2018 found that roughly half of the nursing workforce is over the age of 50, meaning more than one million nurses are expected to reach retirement age within the next 15 years.

Thankfully, nursing-related jobs that don’t require years of education are rapidly on the rise, and many are among the fastest-growing occupations in the nation. If you’re looking to join the field—whether you have a month or a year or more for your education—there’s a program that’s right for you.


Want to Knock It Out in as Little as 4–6 Weeks? Become a Home Health Aide

Length of Time

1–6 months, with at least 75 hours of training, depending on your state

Average Program Cost

$500–$1,500

Average Annual Salary

$25,330

With a whopping projected job growth of 37% over the next decade, home health jobs are the third fastest-growing occupation in the country, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The hottest job prospects in particular are those that require certification in order for you to work within hospice care or for home health agencies that receive reimbursement from Medicare or Medicaid. Not only are aides in high demand in these services, but some agencies might even pay for the training you need to get certified.

In a home health aide (HHA) program, you’ll learn how to help individuals who are elderly, disabled, or are suffering from a critical illness to take care of daily activities like bathing, dressing, and cooking, as well as health-related tasks such as checking vital signs and administering medication. Your program will also include education on basic nutrition, safety techniques, and infection control.

Though not all states or agencies require certification to work as a home health aide, those that do require at least 75 hours of training in a state-approved program. Depending on the program you choose, you might be able to complete this education in as little as four to six weeks, though semester-based programs could take up to a few months. Online options can be excellent for students who want to take classes at their own pace, but keep in mind that you’ll still need in-person clinical training—at least 16 hours in most states.

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.


Have 1–6 Months? Go for Your Nursing Assistant Certification

Length of Time

1–6 months, with between 75 and 180 hours of training, depending on your state

Average Program Cost

$1,000–$1,500

Average Annual Salary

$29,580

A nursing assistant program will prepare you to work in settings where you’ll be responsible for tasks such as taking vital signs, assisting with patient grooming, cleaning rooms, dressing wounds, and helping with minor medical procedures. Your program will also cover basic medical terminology, body mechanics, communication skills, and patient/resident rights.

The job prospects are good here too, with 9% growth predicted over the next nine years. Changes in patient preferences and federal funding have increased the need for nursing assistants who work in home healthcare and community rehab services. Nursing assistants with specialized experience in heart disease, dementia, and diabetes could be especially in high demand.

To work as a nursing assistant, you must be certified by your state’s department of health. But first, you’ll need to complete a state-approved program with at least 75 hours of training, though some states require as many as 180. Because of this broad range, programs can last anywhere from one to six months, with the majority of your time spent in clinical training. No matter the length of your program, you’ll have to pass your state’s certification exam and be able to demonstrate three to six skills in front of a registered nurse (RN).

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.


What About 9–12 Months? Consider a License in Practical Nursing

Length of Time

9–18 months, including various hours of clinical experience

Average Program Cost

$10,000–$15,000

Average Annual Salary

$47,050

Licensed practical nurses (LPNs)—known as licensed vocational nurses in Texas and California—have much of the same responsibilities as CNAs, but take on advanced duties and work more closely with doctors and senior nurses in specialized areas such as pediatric, medical-surgical, and geriatric nursing. With the aging baby boom population, there’s expected to be a growing need for LPNs—11% over the next nine years—especially in home healthcare and assisted living facilities. Those with specialty certification, particularly in gerontology, could have even greater opportunities.

All LPNs are required to become licensed in the state where they work. Licensing involves completing a board-approved program of roughly nine months to a year, though some might be closer to 18 months. You might have the option to accelerate some of your classroom coursework online, but most LPN programs consist of about 60% clinical training. Once your program is complete, you can earn your license by passing the NCLEX-PN exam given by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN).

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


Have a Year or More? Earn a Registered Nursing Degree at an Accelerated Pace

Length of Time

At least 1 year, including clinical experience

Average Program Cost

$10,000–$15,000

Average Annual Salary

$75,510

Due to financial reasons, many hospitals are facing increased pressure to discharge patients as soon as possible. They’re moving more patients through the system at a given time, which leads to higher demand for nurses in outpatient and long-term care centers. Facilities that specialize in the treatment of conditions such as cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease especially need registered nurses.

Designed for aspiring nurses with a bachelor’s degree in a different field, the accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) allows you to apply credits from your first degree to a program for registered nursing. Your previous education must have covered the specific science and humanities prerequisites of your program, but if it does you could earn your BSN in as little as a year. These programs are rigorous but let you focus on completing nursing-specific coursework and clinical experience. The amount of clinical hours you’ll need varies, so it’s important to make sure that your program at least meets the minimum requirements for licensing in your state.

Like LPNs, RNs must have a license in the state where they work. Licensing requirements are widely different across the country but all require having at least an associate’s degree in nursing, completing the number of supervised clinical hours as defined by your state, and receiving a passing score on the NCLEX-RN exam.

Once you have your RN license, you can work in many medical settings such as hospitals, physicians’ offices, outpatient clinics, and nursing homes. If you choose to specialize, you could go into less traditional roles such as legal nurse consulting or forensic nursing. Travel nursing is also an excellent opportunity, letting you explore new cities while bringing your talents to areas in desperate need of care.

Next steps for advancement: If you wish to take on greater responsibility and earn a higher salary, you might choose to pursue a master’s degree to become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). Depending on what you study as an APRN, you could work as one of the following:



You could also choose to go into administration, such as working as a hospital’s director of nursing, or move into nurse education. While job growth for RNs is projected at 12% through 2028, many roles within advancing nursing are expected to see an average of 26%. What’s more, APRNs make the most of any nurses in the field, often more than $100,000 a year.


Have More Time Than a Year to Earn Your Education?

In just two to three years, an associate’s degree program can help you get the training you need to immediately begin working as an entry-level RN. But keep in mind that as the field evolves, more and more nurses are earning their bachelor’s degrees. In fact, the Institute of Medicine has recommended that 80% have their BSN by 2020, and some employers are demanding that nurses with associate’s degrees go back to school within the next five years. If you want to increase your job opportunities, earning potential, and competitive advantage in the field, use the Find Schools button to research BSN programs in your area.

Source: Salary and job growth data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor States, as of 2018

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Five Important Nursing Upgrades

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Nursing Degrees and Credentials

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. Here are five upgrades for your nursing education that can help you advance up the career ladder.

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 upgrade your nursing education, 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.

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.

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 BSN Programs and they take the form of 1 to 2 years of intense training in nursing.

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 an 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.

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.

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.

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Nursing as a Second Career

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Is nursing the right career for me?

Whether you are a college student or a seasoned professional in a different field who is looking for a career change, a nursing career can be a very rewarding professional path, and now is a great time to become a nurse with the nursing shortage and demand for qualified nurses all over the U.S. There are many opportunities, not to mention financial aid resources, available to nursing students. Whatever the reason, if you are considering nursing as a second career, get more nursing career information by reading the nursing education Q&A below.

I have a bachelor’s degree. Can I earn a nursing degree faster?

Yes. Many nursing schools offer Second Degree BSN, Accelerated BSN or Direct Entry MSN programs designed specifically to allow students with previous bachelor’s degrees to complete their nursing degrees on an accelerated schedule. This helps many people expedite their education to begin their nursing as a second career within 1- to 2-years of starting their nursing education.

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Can I work while earning my nursing degree?

Yes. Many nursing schools offer part-time nursing programs designed to accommodate the schedules of working students.

Can I earn my degree faster with medical field experience?

Because each person’s educational and work experience are unique, the best way to figure out if yours will allow you to gain advanced placement in a nursing program is to talk to the nursing schools you’re interested in directly.

I’m over 40. Am I too old to begin a nursing as a second career?

No. While you should keep in mind that nursing is a physically (and at times emotionally) demanding job, if you have an aptitude for math and science, thrive on working in an intense atmosphere, and love working with people, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t consider nursing as a second career after 40. If you’re not convinced that your age won’t be a handicap, here are some things to consider:

  • According to the National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses, 45 percent of RNs are 50 years or older.
  • According to the same survey, the average age of all licensed registered nurses is currently 47, and this average is increasing every year—indicating that more and more students are entering the field after having pursued another career.
  • Nursing school administrators report that second-career nursing students typically bring an energy and intensity of focus to their studies that their younger counterparts lack, and are often top performers academically.
  • Potential employers value the maturity, professionalism, and advanced decision-making skills that older workers bring to nursing.

Is it hard for an older student to get into school or find work?

No. It would be illegal for any nursing school or employer to take your age into consideration while evaluating your application. What’s more, with nursing school enrollment just beginning to increase after a long decline and no sign of an end to the nation-wide shortage of nurses, both nursing schools and health care providers are actively seeking to recruit non-traditional nursing students—including second-career students.

What are the physical demands of a nurse job?

Working in a hospital or nursing home may be very demanding, for example, while working in an out-patient clinic, government agency or school may be much less stressful. Similarly, working as a staff nurse may be more physically demanding than working as a nurse administrator. Depending on where you work, some of the physical and mental stresses you’ll face may include:

  • Shift work, working on-call, or working weekends and holidays
  • Being on your feet for long periods of time
  • Moving (lifting and supporting) patients
  • Working in inadequately staffed facilities
  • Working with critically/chronically ill people and their families
  • Working in emergency situations

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Tips for choosing the right nursing as a second career program

To read more on these topics, please visit the Types of Nursing Programs sections of our Nursing School Education Resource Center. To learn more about upgrading your education in the nursing field, please see our Nursing Continuing Education page.

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Profile of a BSN Online Nursing Degree Student

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Why Get a BSN Online Nursing Degree?

Pat Newberry has been a registered nurse for more than 30 years, and there is nothing she would rather be doing. The Florida native obtained her associate’s degree in nursing in the 1970s, and she has had a varied career, moving from Florida to California, and working in hospitals, home health and occupational nursing settings. She has been a staff nurse, a charge nurse, a supervisor of nursing and an intensive care and cardiac nurse.

Why Make the Move to a BSN Online?

Newberry recently decided it was time to go back to school for a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). “For the longest time I felt that I was able to climb successfully within the ladder of nursing with an associate’s degree in nursing. After 30 years in nursing, I’ve decided I want to start teaching nursing on some level. What I’m finding is that while I’m an RN, more and more jobs are requiring a full bachelor’s degree in nursing.”

Researching BSN Online Nursing Degrees

After doing some online research, she felt comfortable with South University’s BSN online bridge nursing program. The program is for nurses with associate’s degrees who want to obtain bachelor’s in nursing degrees.

“South University was in my region, and closer to Florida. It was also an accelerated program with shorter semesters that worked for me,” Newberry said. She loves the online format. “Online programs are not for everybody. It takes some personal discipline to do things at home. But it works very well for me, and I’m doing well in it.”

What are Online Courses Like?

Newberry has cut back to part-time hours, but she said that many of her classmates are able to manage working full-time and studying to get their BSN online nursing degree.

She said that although all of the nursing coursework is online, there are assignments that require students to engage with their local communities. “Parts of the assignments involve talking to the community. For example, yesterday one of my assignments was to interview a nurse practitioner. But for the most part it’s all online. There are online lectures in addition to the textbooks.”

She emphasized that BSN online programs for newbie nursing students is not possible. The hands-on, clinical training is a must. But, she added, “Theory courses could go online.”

Is a Nursing Career Right for You?

How did this veteran nurse know that nursing was the right career choice for her? “When I was in high school in Central Florida, I enjoyed the math and sciences. I chose nursing at that time simply because a nearby community college was offering it. It was accessible, and I knew that with a nursing degree I could go anywhere in the country and get a job, and I have.”

It was a decision she has never regretted. “I never knew I would like it as much as I do. It’s stimulating. I love working with people in this capacity. Even though it’s tough working with sick people, there’s a calling for that,” she said.

The Positive Aspects of Nursing

While the profession can be challenging, the positives are many. “You see how you can affect one life, which can affect the lives of an entire family,” Newberry explained.

Her advice to anyone interested in nursing is to start by getting a bachelor’s degree in nursing, even though it takes more time than an associate’s degree program. “It provides a broader education. The evolution of nursing is such that the bachelor’s is going to be required.” And BSN online degrees provide greater flexibility for the right nursing candidate.

Practical Nursing Experience is Valuable

And after graduating, she recommends that young nurses work in a hospital. “It’s the best thing I can advise any nurse to do to get their feet wet,” she said. After this initial immersion establishes a broad base of experiences and a good foundation, nurses have a plethora of options. “There are many different types of nursing positions and not all of them involve direct physical care,” she said. “Many are administrative level, and many are case management level jobs. But everyone should start in a hospital, where you learn the basics.”

The thing about nursing, Newberry concluded, is that you can take it anywhere and jobs will be available. “A lot of nurses have husbands or wives that get transferred. You can pick up with nursing and just take it with you.”

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Getting RN Experience After Graduation

Employers look for at least a year of RN experience in nurse candidates. Here’s how to get it.

All Nursing Schools Staff

male nurse getting rn experience by working in community outreach innoculating kids

It’s a common Catch 22 for college graduates: Employers are interested in candidates with RN experience, but few are willing to give it to a new graduate.

This situation has plagued the nursing field, in particular, in recent years. Not only are employers looking for RNs with a few years of experience, but jobs are less plentiful than before. Since the recession caused many older nurses to delay their retirement, jobs haven’t opened up at the expected rate.

But new nursing school graduates shouldn’t get discouraged. There are strategies you can use to get RN experience and differentiate yourself in a sea of applicants. If you’re a current nursing student, keep these pieces of advice in mind and start preparing early.

How Can I Stand Out?

You’ve got the degree, but not enough RN experience. Here’s what you can do:

1. Volunteer

Volunteering won’t put any money in your pocket, but it could pay off in the long run. Volunteering your time in a hospital or other medical facility allows you to gain hands-on experience required by many employers. If you’re interested in a certain type of nursing, volunteer work gives you the opportunity to handle real-life scenarios and learn necessary skills.

Volunteering also has another benefit: You will meet nurses who can offer advice and networking opportunities.

During your volunteer hours, meet the nurse managers. These are the staff members who often make hiring decisions and some will be more apt to hire someone they have trained or worked with before. Working hard as a volunteer could spell employment in the future.

2. Showcase your nursing school accomplishments

Take a look back at what you accomplished during school. Were you part of a large research project that speaks to your skills as a nurse? Did you work with a renowned professor? All of these things can give you an added boost when employers look for qualified applicants.

If you’re in the midst of earning your nursing degree, now is a good time to take an active role in organizations such as the National Student Nurses’ Association. Or, work on a unique nursing project which could help beef up your resume in the future.

3. Network

Networking may be one of the most important tactics for finding an RN job. Plus, you can get started even before you graduate.

The National Student Nurses’ Association suggests that current students contact their school’s alumni organization before graduating. Talking to former students is a great way to network and let them know you’re starting your job search.

It’s important to know that networking comes in many forms. Attend conferences and career fairs and ensure your social media profiles, like LinkedIn, are up to date.

4. Further your education

In recent years, NSNA found that graduates holding bachelor’s degrees in nursing (BSN) or with higher qualifications tended to have slightly better luck finding a job.

If you have an associate’s degree, consider earning a BSN to improve your chances. Have a BSN? It may be time to look at MSN programs.

If heading back to school isn’t an option right now, you can also take shorter certificate programs to learn special skills.

What Else Can I Do?

Consider a few other tactics in your job search and you may land an entry-level position.

Look for “New Grad-Friendly” employers

It may take some searching, but there are medical facilities interested in hiring new graduates. According to a CNN article, one Los Angeles consortium of hospitals has a program set up with the goal of hiring 10 new graduates each year.

If you find an employer like this, but they’re not offering a nursing job you necessarily want, be open-minded. You can still gain valuable experience which can help advance your career later.

Take a non-traditional route

Perhaps you’ve always envisioned yourself working in a fast-paced hospital. Guess what? So have the majority of other nursing students flooding the job market.

The NSNA suggests looking “outside of the large acute-care setting for entry-level positions.” This includes rehabilitation facilities, school nursing, long-term care and rural communities. In fact, some believe these environments can offer some of the best experiences for new nurses.

Judy Honig, associate dean of student affairs at the Columbia University School of Nursing, told Forbes.com that these types of settings can make new RNs more creative.

“You have to know your material, you have to know what nursing is [in non-hospital settings], “Honig said. “The nurse in those situations in rural areas may be the most educated health professionals in the near area.”

Some days it may feel like finding a job is impossible, but don’t give up. With factors like the Affordable Care Act and nurses starting to take their retirement, the field is expected to grow faster than average through 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics current Occupational Outlook Handbook.

Sources: http://www.forbes.com/sites/alisongriswold/2012/06/18/has-nursing-been-overhyped-as-a-career-choice; http://www.nsna.org/portals/0/skins/nsna/pdf/realitiesofthecurrentjobmarket.pdf; http://money.cnn.com/2013/01/14/news/economy/nursing-jobs-new-grads; http://www.nursezone.com/Nursing-News-Events/more-news/Tactics-for-Getting-Hired-from-New-Nurses-to-Seasoned-RNs_41192.aspx.

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