How to Become a Nurse

Exploring the many opportunities of a nursing career

January 18, 2024
Student nurses sitting in a classroom facing a teacher that is out of view

Over 200 years ago, Dr. Florence Nightingale believed that a patient’s health could only be better when care delivery was focused on the whole person, including the heart, the mind, and the surrounding environment. Nightingale led nursing as a service devoted to the wellness of humanity regardless of status, location, or ability. She acknowledged health care was a right of all humans and nurses were at the heart. Nightingale called for the nursing profession to uphold the highest standards of care and safety, through science and empathy.

Today nurses are everywhere, in every medical specialty, holding up health care, advocating for patients, educating other health care providers, lighting new paths for quality and safety as leaders, and increasing access to care by serving as vaccinators, testers, and screeners in their communities. Nurses have often been referred to as the “frontlines” of health care because they truly are. A nurse is a friend, a nurse is a caregiver, a nurse is a champion for your health, a nurse is a supporter and many times, a nurse is a lifesaver!

There are many roles a nurse can take and almost as many specialties, offering the profession endless opportunities for career growth.

The Various Roles and Educational Nursing Paths

The key differences between these roles lie in their educational preparation, scope of practice, level of responsibility in patient care, and decision-making. Higher degrees often correspond to increased clinical independence, leadership opportunities, and broader responsibilities in health care settings.

CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant):

  • The CNA is a certificate-based assistant nursing position requiring a relatively short training program (usually a few months).
  • CNAs provide basic primary care for patients under the supervision of LPNs or RNs, such as bathing, feeding, and taking vital signs.

LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse):

  • LPNs have completed a one-year practical nurse training program and passed a licensing exam.
  • They provide more advanced secondary nursing care, such as administering medications, caring for various disease processes, and assessing and monitoring patients.
  • Mean annual wage $55,860 (via U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

ADN (Associate Degree in Nursing) or RN (Registered Nurse):

  • ADN is a two-year degree program, and RN is the licensure acquired after passing the NCLEX-RN exam.
  • RNs provide a wide range of acute and critical patient care, including administering medications and treatments, assessing illness, creating care plans, and performing diagnostic tests under the supervision of doctors.
  • RN Mean annual wage $89,010 (via U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing):

  • The BSN can be acquired in 2 or 4 years. For those RN’s who have completed an ADN and RN licensing, they may complete their advanced education in 2 years.
  • There are, however, programs that allow a student to come in and complete the RN and BSN together, in a total of 4 years.
  • The BSN provides more in-depth education in nursing, including assessment, diagnosis, leadership, and critical thinking skills.
  • BSN-educated nurses have more career opportunities, including management roles in health care settings.

MSN (Master of Science in Nursing):

  • MSN is a graduate-level degree that allows for specialization in various areas, such as nurse educator, nurse leader, nurse anesthetist, clinical nurse specialist, nurse practitioner, or nurse administrator.
  • Advanced practice nurses with an MSN have expanded responsibilities in patient care, often diagnosing, prescribing medication, and managing acute and chronic illnesses.
  • MSN graduates are positioned to lead in healthcare settings and serve in education, administration, teaching, and specialty care roles.

NP (Nurse Practitioner):

Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP):

    • FNPs provide primary care to patients of all ages, from infants to the elderly. They diagnose illnesses, prescribe medications, and perform routine check-ups.

Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner (AGNP):

    • AGNPs focus on the care of adults, including the elderly. They manage and treat common acute and chronic illnesses in this population.

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP):

    • PNPs specialize in providing health care to infants, children, and adolescents. They diagnose illnesses, prescribe medications, and provide education to families.

Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP):

    • NNPs specialize in the care of newborns, especially premature or critically ill infants. They work in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) and manage complex medical conditions in newborns.

Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP):

    • PMHNPs assess, diagnose, and treat mental health conditions in patients of all ages. They provide counseling, prescribe medications, and can provide additional therapy for specific conditions.

Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP):

    • WHNPs focus on women's health across the lifespan, providing care related to reproductive health, prenatal care, gynecological issues, and menopause management.

Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP):

    • ACNPs work in acute care settings such as hospitals, managing complex, acute, and critical conditions. They often assist in emergency departments, intensive care units, and specialty departments.

DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice):

  • DNP is the highest-level degree in nursing practice.
  • DNPs focus on advanced leadership skills, gain a higher level of clinical expertise, and are educated on a broad level for research, evidence-based practice, practice reform, and quality of care. They may work in executive roles, health care policy, or as advanced clinical practitioners.

FNP vs FNP-C

  • FNP (Family Nurse Practitioner): This designation indicates a nurse practitioner specializing in providing primary care to patients of all ages within a family context. They diagnose and treat illnesses, prescribe medications, and perform routine check-ups.
  • FNP-C (Family Nurse Practitioner - Certified): The "C" usually denotes that the individual has obtained certification in their field. In this case, an FNP-C is a Family Nurse Practitioner who has received certification through a recognized accrediting body such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB).

Why FNP?

Touro California’s Family Nurse Practitioner certificates are another opportunity for career advancement, autonomy, leadership, and a more advanced clinical role in the world of Nursing. FNPs are trained to deliver primary and behavioral health care to patients of all ages. Nurse Practitioners are licensed and certified to serve as primary care providers, diagnosing, assessing, treating, and managing patient's acute and chronic health conditions. Nurse Practitioners (NPs) can prescribe medications and therapies, offer counseling, educate to improve health, and care for a person as a whole, honoring patient values, differences, and choices. The NP programs at Touro can be completed in 1.5 years and are also offered in a hybrid format, allowing course engagement from home, and supplementing with a few onsite learning days every semester.

With a lack of access to primary health care, fewer practitioners taking time to listen and care, and a huge gap in access to mental health and wellness, Nurse practitioners are trained with the foundational skills and heart of nursing, the academic rigor of medicine, and empathy in diversity, culture, and vulnerability preparing them to give the best care in the most needed areas. In California, NPs will have autonomy of practice by 2026 allowing them to venture into self-run and managed clinics, focus on wellness, be reimbursed by insurance, and work shoulder-to-shoulder with all primary care and specialty providers.

Why choose to advance your education now?

Advancing your Nursing education is important today and every day. Attaining higher knowledge and skills is critical to ensuring that patients are receiving the best care, and health care institutions are providing the best measures. Going back to school is an investment in yourself and Touro strives to provide a rich learning experience focused on personal growth and professional elevation. Whatever your role may be now, advancing your education will take your skills and abilities to a higher level, opening many doors for wider opportunities.  In 12-18 months, you can achieve the next steps in your upward journey as a Nurse. Apply through NursingCAS.

Why the Touro University California School of Nursing? ADN to MSN in 18 months!

Getting an advanced degree in Nursing to boost your career shouldn’t be a dream. Attending classes from home once a week, and continuing to work while balancing life and family for 12-18 months, makes it possible. TUC’s program is designed for working nurses. The program offers live faculty-led sessions, cohort model peer support, a manageable academic load, support and resources both off and on campus, and the ability to be certified as a Clinical Nurse Leader and/or Public Health Nurse after completing the program. At Touro, you are never alone. An entire team of faculty, staff, support services, and leadership, support you and your vision. Touro is an amazing place for learning, enveloped in a culture of diversity, service, quality education, and amazing opportunities for networking and growing both academically and professionally.

Benefits of getting an MSN?

The Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is a door to opportunities for career advancement and promotion. MSN nurses become qualified as faculty, can take on leadership positions, serve as consultants, participate in research,  take part in executive teams and committees, and work in additional settings outside of the hospital.