Although registered nurses traditionally work in hospitals and doctors' offices, they can choose alternative career paths. For example, trauma nurses can become flight nurses who travel in helicopters to emergency and disaster situations to provide nursing care. Travel nurses take short-term assignments of about three months at different hospitals around the world. In addition to a salary, most travel nurse companies provide basic living arrangements as part of the total compensation package.
The traditional nursing career path is to earn a bachelor's of science degree (BSN) in nursing. Students who already have a bachelor's degree can enroll in a two-year accelerated BSN program. A shorter path is to pursue a two-year associate's degree in nursing, usually at a community college. Some nurses who earn an associate's degree enroll in a special RN-to-BSN program after they start working as a nurse. All degree programs include supervised clinical experience in a hospital or other health care facility.
Some hospitals have nursing schools that offer a two- or three-year diploma in nursing. Students who enroll in hospital-based nursing schools frequently get more clinical experience than students who seek an academic degree. They also benefit from having access to most clinical rotations on site at the school. Many students who graduate from a hospital diploma program get a job at the hospital where they earned their degrees, since they are usually already familiar with hospital policies, protocols and procedures.
A registered nurse must be licensed in the state or states in which she practices. Candidates for licensure must take and pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) and apply for a license to the appropriate state board of nursing. Most nursing degree programs sufficiently prepare students to pass the nursing exam. However, nursing instructors may recommend an NCLEX study guide or review course to even better prepare you to take the exam.
Advanced Practice Roles
After working for two or more years, some nurses become certified in one of four advanced practice roles: clinical nurse specialist, nurse anesthetist, nurse-midwife or nurse practitioner. Advanced practice nurses provide primary patient care and may prescribe medication in some states. They usually spend an additional one to three years in an advanced practice program and may receive a master of science in nursing as part of the program. Nurses must pass a state certification exam in the advanced practice area and apply for a special advanced practice license.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: How to Become a Registered Nurse
- Department of Veterans Affairs: Nurse Qualification Standard
- The California State University: Classification and Qualification Standards, Registered Nurse Series
- National Council of State Boards of Nursing: NCLEX Examinations
- NursingSchool.org: Education of a Prospective Nurse
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