How to Become a Nurse—Fast

Smiling nurse in blue scrubs
Smiling nurse in blue scrubs

You know that feeling you get when you know what you want to do and can’t wait to get started? If you have decided on a career in nursing, you want to know how to become a nurse fast.

Some people feel called to nursing because of a sincere desire to help others. Others start careers in fields that aren’t as rewarding as they had hoped, and they want to switch to a field that offers more fulfillment.

No matter what your motivation is, you can make a positive change in your life and the lives of patients, their families and the wider community through nursing. Read on to learn more about how to become a registered nurse fast.

Different Education for Different Roles

The term “nurse” is very broad. Just as the term “runner” can apply to someone who runs for their own enjoyment, as well as to an Olympic athlete, professional nurses have a variety of roles, some of which depend on the extent of their educational background. As you think about a career in nursing, think beyond the role you’ll have as you get started and imagine what your career might look like in the future.

Most people entering nursing pursue one of three types of educational programs: a practical nursing certificate (PNC), an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).

Practical Nursing Certificate (PNC)

A practical nursing certificate or diploma is usually offered through community or technical colleges and sometimes through hospitals. Students must complete courses in biology, anatomy, physiology, basic pharmacology, lab work and nursing skills. Most people complete this program in one year.

Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)

The ADN is also available through community or technical colleges. Courses cover important foundational material such as biology, chemistry, pharmacology, behavioral health, lab and nursing skills. ADN students also go through a period of supervised clinical practice on patients to become familiar with how the skills they learned in the classroom translate to the bedside. Generally speaking, students complete an associate degree in two years.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

A BSN is a more intensive nursing program usually offered by colleges and universities, some of which have dedicated schools of nursing. In addition to the nursing foundational courses, a bachelor’s-level nursing program will also include instruction on patient management, nursing leadership, how healthcare policy affects members of the community, technology and information systems and much more.

The time it takes to complete a bachelor’s degree in nursing can vary. Traditional four-year programs not only include the nursing curriculum but all the general education requirements needed for any bachelor’s degree, such as courses in literature, history and so on.

A Fast-Track to a BSN

There is another option for people who have already completed a bachelor’s degree in another field—the Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing, or ABSN, which can typically be completed in 12 to 18 months. Because they have met their general education requirements with their first bachelor’s degree, an ABSN student’s coursework is oriented exclusively on the nursing curriculum.

All of these programs will prepare the graduate for a national nursing licensing examination for a specific nursing role: the NCLEX-PN for licensed practical nurses and the NCLEX-RN for registered nurses.

The Nursing Role that Fits Your Education

When you are evaluating which educational program to choose, you must think about the specific kind of nursing position you want. The three programs mentioned above are geared toward two nursing roles: licensed practical/vocational nurse (LPN/LVN) or registered nurse (RN).

Those who hold a practical nursing certificate are prepared for the LPN/LVN role. An LPN/LVN is primarily focused on hands-on patient care and works under the supervision of a registered nurse, nurse practitioner or physician. Typical responsibilities include:

  • Taking and recording vital signs
  • Changing bandages or dressings
  • Gathering samples for lab tests
  • Bathing, dressing and feeding patients
  • Cleaning, sterilizing and preparing equipment/instruments for procedures
  • Depending on the state’s regulations and under the supervision of an RN:
    • Administering IV fluids or medications
    • Inserting catheters

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data shows that the median annual wage for LPNs/LVNs is $48,070. As an LPN/LVN gains experience, they may look forward to supervising other LPNs/LVNs or allied health professionals but will likely not supervise an RN.

Becoming a Registered Nurse

Those who hold an ADN or BSN/ABSN are prepared for a role as a registered nurse. While people with an ADN can become registered nurses, there is now a preference for RNs to have at least a bachelor’s degree.

A recent American Association of Colleges of Nursing survey demonstrated employers’ preferences for new nurses with a bachelor’s-level degree. More than 40% of hospitals and other healthcare facilities require new hires to have a bachelor’s degree in nursing, while nearly 80% of employers express a strong preference for BSN-prepared graduates.

The responsibilities of RNs overlap somewhat with those of an LPN/LVN, but their preparation means that they can also direct and manage these activities:

  • Develop and execute patient care plans
  • Perform diagnostic tests
  • Prepare patient education
  • Address patient safety
  • Supervise care staff, including LPNs, certified nursing assistants and others

Registered nurses also play a role in developing policies for community health, collaborate with other health professionals and use their critical thinking and judgment to deliver care. These advanced skills mean that RNs can command higher salaries than LPNs. The BLS reports RNs have an annual median salary of $77,600, and opportunities for leadership and career growth are plentiful.

Choose an ABSN Program to Enter Nursing Fast

Once you have committed to nursing, choose a program that allows you to have the strongest career options. The online Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) from Wilkes University can put you on the right path with its exceptional curriculum, outstanding faculty, support for clinical placements and strong NCLEX-RN passing rates.

Wilkes University is highly ranked by U.S. News & World Report, The Princeton Review, The Economist and the Brookings Institution. Wilkes University’s nursing programs are accredited by the Commission on Colleges of Nursing (CCNE).

Reach your goal of becoming a nurse fast with Wilkes’ online ABSN. Apply now for the upcoming term.