The Differences Between Nursing Degrees vs. Nursing Licenses

The Differences Between Nursing Degrees vs. Nursing Licenses

Becoming a nurse is no easy task, and for good reason. When you have a person’s health and well-being in your hands every day, you have to be highly trained, compassionate, and dedicated.  

However, understanding the steps required to become a nurse can be a little bit confusing. There are several different nursing degrees to consider, plus licensure for the state. Nursing degrees and nursing licenses are not the same thing—and you need both to legally work as a nurse in the United States.   

Nursing Degrees Vs. Licenses  

Essentially, a nursing degree is a prerequisite for licensure. Before being allowed to take the licensure exams, a nurse must demonstrate that they have successfully completed an accredited nursing program and earned a degree.  

Earning a degree means a nursing student has learned all of the skills needed to work as a nurse and pass their school exams. A high-quality education is essential for every nurse actively working in the healthcare industry.  

Once a degree has been earned, however, there is one more hurdle: passing the all-important exams. These exams are challenging for a reason—they must evaluate whether or not a nursing student is ready to work with real patients. Licensure is necessary for getting a job and legally working as a nurse.  

Types of Nursing Licenses and Types of Nursing Degrees 

Degree programs for nurses can range from associate’s degrees to master’s degrees. Generally, the more education a nurse gets, the more the potential responsibility and pay increases.  

There are also different types of nursing licenses, and each one defines the limitations of what tasks a nurse will be permitted to perform in a clinical setting. The most common license type is RN (Registered Nurse). Nurses with this licensure can perform many different patient care tasks and are indispensable in a hospital setting. Passing the NCLEX exam is required to become an RN.  

Lower-level licensures include LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse) and CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant). These healthcare professionals must work under the supervision of an RN and are more limited in the tasks they can perform. However, the education requirements for taking these licensure exams are lower than for those seeking the RN licensure.  

Autonomy and pay are two major considerations for those interested in getting a nursing degree. With an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree, students can sit for the RN licensure exam. Advanced nursing degrees can lead to much more autonomy and greater pay. Some nurses go on to earn a master’s degree, become nurse practitioners, or even earn a Ph.D. in nursing.  

Which Degree and License Type Is Right for You? 

There are pros and cons to every degree and license type for nurses. Before you choose a nursing degree program, you need to think about what you envision for your career.  

Are you hoping to finish your degree quickly and work part-time to earn supplemental income? If so, you may want to work toward an LPN or CNA license. If you want to work full-time as a nurse, however, an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree in nursing is the standard path to becoming an RN.  

If you want to take your career even further, you may want to consider an advanced degree. There is a need for nursing educators, nurse leaders, and nurse practitioners in the United States. Earning an advanced nursing degree could open up lots of doors and allow you to earn more money throughout your career.  

Ultimately, the choice is yours. You need to understand the commitment of time and money each option requires and choose based on your specific situation. While different options will give you different opportunities, the demand for nurses is strong and most people who earn their degree and licensure have no trouble finding a job.  

Working toward a nursing license is a big commitment. But if you follow through, it can provide you with a fulfilling and interesting career path you can continue with successfully for many, many years.  

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