A Guide to Nursing Qualifications and Credentials

The job title of ‘nurse’ encompasses a surprising multitude of roles. From everyday bedside care to psychiatry and pediatrics, from midwives to managers, researchers to clinicians, there are many different types of nurse and, accordingly, many different types and levels of nursing qualification.

When setting out to become a nurse, the path you take depends on your professional goals. There are some basic qualifications you can achieve to set you on your way, but as you specialize further, more credentials can be studied for. Here is a basic guide to the core nursing qualifications available in the US.

Nursing Assistant Training Program

This program won’t qualify you as a nurse as such, but it will get you started working in the medical world as a certified nursing assistant (CNA), looking after patients, helping them with basic tasks, and reporting to nurses and other medical staff. You can complete the training program in three to eight weeks at a community college or other institution, and will need to pass an exam.

Practical Nursing Diploma (PND)

This qualification can also be taken at a community college or technical school, and generally takes one year or longer. You’ll also need to sit an exam to get your license. You’ll then be able to start working as a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or licensed vocational nurse (LVN), undertaking basic care, monitoring patient health, and communicating information on staying healthy to the patient and their family.

Once you’ve got a PND, you can take additional certification to demonstrate an advanced level of knowledge about a specific subject – e.g., childbirth or developmental disabilities.

Associates Degree in Nursing (ADN)

This is the basic-level course to qualify as a registered nurse (RN), where you are able to undertake full nursing duties, including administering treatment and medicine, performing diagnostic tests and recording a patient’s medical history. An ADN takes 18 months or more with an exam at the end of it and is studied at university level.

An alternative route to becoming an RN is to take an RN Diploma at a hospital or technical or vocational school. If you’re already working as a nursing assistant or licensed practical nurse, then this could be the next step in your career.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

As the name suggests, a BSN is a degree-level qualification in nursing, and generally takes three to four years to complete. Wilkes University Passan Hall, home of the Passan School of Nursing for over 40 years, offers an accelerated BSN that can be taken online. If you’ve already got a bachelor’s degree in another subject, then you can take the BSN in just one year.

Although the BSN qualifies you to become an RN in the same way as the shorter ADN, many employers prefer applicants to have a BSN, and in many cases, it’s essential. A BSN also opens the path to more advanced study, as below.

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

The next step on from a BSN, taking an MSN gives you wider career choices, including directorial, managerial and executive roles. You could also become a nurse educator. With post-master’s certification, you can become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) specializing in midwifery, anesthetics or other clinical areas.

Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)

Alongside the parallel path of a research-focused PhD, the DNP qualifies you for the highest level of nursing. Earning a doctorate typically requires three to six years of study following a master’s. While relatively few nurses achieve this position, doing so sets you up for job titles such as chief nursing officer and the highest level of respect in your profession.

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