If you’ve chosen nursing as a career path, you’re in good company! Nursing employment is expected to grow faster than the national average between now and 2030, and in 2020, enrollment in nursing programs increased 5.6 percent. The past two years have been challenging for nurses, but one thing is for certain: There are few jobs as fulfilling or important as nursing.
For example, one University of Connecticut sophomore switched her major from education to nursing after watching nurses care for her 84-year-grandmother, who had both COVID-19 and cancer.
“They were switching out their protective gear in between every patient, running like crazy trying to make sure all of their patients were attended to,” she said. “I had that moment of clarity that made me want to jump right into health care and join the workers on the front line.”
Becoming a nurse is a challenging, rewarding goal, and getting your associate’s degree in nursing online is a flexible option for your busy schedule. Here’s a breakdown to help you get started:
- The path to becoming a nurse
- Choosing between an ADN and BSN
- Finding the right online program
1. Know the Path to Become a Nurse
There are three major steps to becoming a nurse.
- Earn an RN diploma, an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN), or a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN). To earn your degree, you can complete either an in-person or online program. This typically takes two to four years depending on your course load.
- Work at a healthcare facility to gain clinical experience (often referred to as “clinicals”). During this step, you’ll have a clinical instructor who acts as your liaison between the healthcare facility and school, and they will be observing you as you shadow a staff nurse. The hour requirements vary, but you can typically expect to spend about 70 hours on clinicals.
- Pass the national RN examination (NCLEX-RN). This six-hour test focuses on four areas: providing a safe and effective care environment, health promotion and maintenance, psychosocial integrity, and physiological integrity.
2. Decide between an ADN or BSN
In step one above, we mentioned that you can earn an RN diploma. This can be a fast option, but it may lead to less advancement than if you earn an ADN or BSN. We’re going to focus on those two last options here.
In the choice between getting an ADN or a BSN, which is the right option for you? You can find online programs for both options, and both prepare you to take the NCLEX-RN. Still, each program has different pros and cons. Let’s compare them.
|How long the program takes||20–24 months||36 months|
|What you can do with the degree||Focused on technical clinical tasks and day-to-day care||Direct patient care plus leadership and big picture initiatives|
|NCLEX first-time pass rates (2021)||80.45%||89.96%|
|Possible next steps in your education||● Complete an RN-to-ADN bridge program
● Apply credits to a non-nursing bachelor’s degree such as public health
|● Earn your master of science in nursing degree|
|Average base salary||$72k||$87k|
3. Find the Right Online Program for You
Once you’ve decided whether to go the ADN or the BSN route, it’s time to decide where you’ll get your degree. Keep in mind that no matter where you go, you’ll have to complete your clinicals in person (hey, you’ve got to learn how to place an IV sometime!). But there are many classes—usually generals and your introduction to nursing classes—in nursing programs that you can complete online.
In general, it’s easier to find an online BSN program than an online ADN program. There are simply more of them available! But if you feel that an ADN program is the way to go for you, here are some tips for finding a great online ADN program:
- Look out for required prerequisites. Some ADN programs require that you have your LPN license or equivalent work experience first.
- Start by checking which local community schools have online ADN programs. That way, you can do most of the academic work online and then not have to travel to do lab and clinical requirements.
- Consider some of these accredited online ADN programs: Nightingale College, Northwestern Michigan College, John A. Logan College, Sampson Community College, and Rasmussen College.
Becoming a nurse is challenging, but it’s such a rewarding process. Getting your associate’s degree in nursing online may be the perfect, flexible option for you to get started, and you may even be able to work while you take classes. To browse local CNA jobs that will fit with your schedule while you earn your ADN or BSN, visit Generations Healthcare at lifegen.net/career-hiring.