When you consider what your educational path toward becoming a nurse should be, you should base your decision on several factors. Your financial situation, previous education, age, relocation plans and other factors all come into play.
For many students, the AD or ADN (associate's degree or two-year community college program) is the best path to take, especially if cost and time are factors.
After graduating with your ADN, you will be ready for nursing positions in hospitals and other inpatient and outpatient facilities. This program is popular for many seeking a second career. It is a shorter program and is not as expensive as some of the baccalaureate programs available. The emphasis is on basic nursing skills and applying them to your patients.
One disadvantage of this path is that your career choices and salary levels will be more limited: more employers are now seeking nurses with BSN (bachelor's of science in nursing) degrees for many levels or positions in their facilities. Also, some states, like North Dakota, for example, require a baccalaureate degree to take the NCLEX exam.
After weighing the options, you may decide that an associate's program is the best choice for you right now. You always have the option of furthering your degree later. If you decide to do that, you can try to find an employer that offers tuition reimbursement or obtain financial aid through your school, student association, local community or other government program.
For many high school graduates who were already planning for a four-year degree, a bachelor's program can be a very good idea. Many employers also favor nursing applications with a BSN degree.
The advantage of completing a baccalaureate degree is in the more extensive training that prepares you for advancement opportunities. A BSN will qualify you for positions in inpatient and community settings and will help you on the road to an advanced degree, if you choose to pursue one. Some colleges are now offering accelerated programs.
Diploma (Three-year hospital-based) program
Although diploma programs are not as common as they once were, they do still exist, often at hospitals in the Eastern United States. Diploma programs are usually three-year programs based in hospitals and held in conjunction with local community colleges. Bridgeport Hospital School of Nursing in Connecticut is one hospital that offers a diploma program. The hospital has also arranged with a local community college to help its students obtain an associate's degree by completing some other coursework with the college.
A diploma program requires more clinical work than most degree programs, which can ease the adjustment into a permanent hospital job for newly-licensed nurses. However, if you finish a diploma program and later return to school for your bachelor's degree, you'll find that you have a lot of credits left to complete.
LVN or LPN
There are schools and colleges in the United States with programs specifically designed to put you to work as a nurse sooner than most traditional programs. These college programs lead to the Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN) or Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) designation. Visit the National League for Nursing for more information on these programs.
If you are a registered nurse (RN) with a diploma or associate's degree, you may want to consider enrolling in a BSN program, especially if you are interested in furthering your nursing career. Universities offer these programs through traditional learning methods at the university setting and many are now offering online BSN programs. Visit Peterson's website, where you can log in and search for RN-to-BSN programs.