Nursing in the US is not just an essential profession but a lucrative one that offers job stability. With the current shortage of nurses, and the projected job growth in coming years, this career path boasts many work opportunities.
Are you deciding which career to pursue in the healthcare field? Read this article to find out what it takes to become a nurse in the US and why this career path could be a great option for you. If you’re already a nursing student, you’ll gain more insight into the real world of nursing and how the shortage of nurses in the US influences the present and future of the profession.
Steps to becoming a nurse in the US
Nurses are highly respected in the US because joining the profession is not an easy process. Here are the phases you should prepare yourself for in the journey to becoming a nurse:
Meeting the educational requirements
Just like doctors, nurses are responsible for human life, and such affairs cannot be left to the uneducated. There are numerous degrees and programs to enroll in when preparing for this career path. All throughout the United States, you’ll find one or more academic learning options for nursing.
It doesn’t have to be a Bachelor’s degree, you can choose an Associate degree or an accelerated program such as various the Illinois nursing programs available at Elmhurst University. Each program offers you a unique place in the nursing hierarchy and access to different opportunities within the field. You can aspire to pursue higher degrees such as the master’s program even while working.
Obtain a license
Credentials are important if you wish to advance in the nursing profession. Earning a degree or completing a nursing program is just the beginning. Nurses must pass the relevant national nursing licensure examinations in order to acquire a license to practice. Here are some of the most popular national exams for nurses in the US:
- Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA): This exam is for prospective nurses looking to start as nursing assistants. The CNA examination is not as strict because the responsibilities of a nursing assistant are limited.
- National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN): You must pass this examination to become a licensed practical nurse. It’s greater in scope than the CNA evaluation, as this nursing position covers more responsibilities. Licensed practical nurses can conduct tests and administer medications.
- National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN): This is an in-depth exam that all registered nurses must pass before being allowed to practice. It is a computer-adaptive test that covers several medical areas, including the healthcare environment and physiological integrity.
After you are awarded a license, all you need to do is find a job. Fortunately, you’ll find many job opportunities as a nurse, although your location and specialty play significant roles. For instance, medical facilities dedicated to the elderly will have more job openings for nurses in areas with larger older populations.
Despite the shortage of nurses, the profession remains competitive. You’ll want to stand out in terms of theoretical knowledge and practical skills to get your dream job.
Pick a specialty
Nursing is a broad career path with different specialties. While studying for a nursing program or a degree, you can choose which aspect of the profession is most suitable for you. Note that you’re not obligated to pick a specialty during the program or even after obtaining your license. Many nurses start off in the general nursing department and decide on a specialty after years of experience.
However, this is a decision you’ll need to make at some point in order to advance to higher roles in the profession. Here are some of the popular nursing specialties:
- Neonatal nursing: This specialty involves caring for newborn infants that suffer from a variety of medical ailments..
- Clinical nursing: This is more of a supervisory role where those with advanced degrees and certifications supervise lower-level nurses.
- Nurse midwife: These nurses specialize in prenatal care. They assist patients through all the stages of pregnancy up until delivery.
- Critical care nursing: As the name suggests, this is a specialist position in the critical care or trauma units of hospitals or medical institutions.
Advance in your nursing career
The desire to move up the corporate ladder is a natural instinct, and as a nurse, you might also want to rise to the apex of the profession. To achieve this, you would need additional training and further schooling.
Registered nurses can acquire several additional certifications and licenses. Fortunately, this profession allows you to combine schooling with work since you can schedule your shifts around your classes. Plenty of programs are also available online. Benefits of furthering your career include higher remuneration, top-level opportunities and deeper knowledge of the profession.
Duties of a nurse
A nurse is a licensed health care practitioner who either functions alone or under the supervision of physician or other advanced personnel in the field. Nurses are educated professionals with the task of maintaining and promoting patients’ well-being.
With over five million nurses in the US, the duties performed by these practitioners cover a wide range of functions, including:
- Conducting physical exams
- Checking patients’ vitals
- Updating health care histories
- Meeting patients’ emotional needs and listening to patients
- Providing physical support
- Counseling and educating patients on healthcare
- Taking blood samples and performing tests
Nurses perform these functions and more in different work settings, such as:
- Home healthcare settings
Types of nurses
Just as there are different nurse functions, there are also different types of nurses. Depending on their area of specialty, nurses provide various types of care.
Family nurse practitioner
Family nurse practitioners (FNPs) provide family-based care. These nurses must have attained an advanced educational degree that enables them to provide healthcare services to patients of all ages. They operate with a lot of autonomy and enjoy large remuneration for their services. Becoming a family nurse practitioner requires a Master’s degree in Nursing. It can take a prospective nurse up to 10 years to reach this stage.
These advanced practice registered nurses are some of the highest paid. Their fundamental role is to administer anesthesia during medical procedures. Nurse anesthetists also help monitor patients recovering from anesthesia after an operation. These healthcare professionals work alongside other experts such as surgeons and anesthesiologists. They often practice under the supervision of a physician.
These registered nurses are not tied down to a particular location or any singular healthcare facility. Travel nurses often move from one place to another, within or outside the country, providing medical help. They often move to places where they can make a difference, such as locations where there is a shortage of nurses.
Due to the inconvenience of constant relocation, these nurses receive big salaries and side benefits. However, to become a travel nurse, you must be a registered nurse with a license and at least two years of experience. Further requirements depend on your specialty.
Nurses of this type have the responsibility of teaching nursing courses in colleges and other institutions. Nurse educators usually possess an advanced degree as well as clinical experience, which helps them adequately prepare students to become registered nurses. It’s possible to combine work in these educational institutions with clinical practice.
These registered nurses care for babies and children in the pediatric department of a medical facility. Children’s systems are much more delicate than that of adults, so they require specialized care. Pediatric nurses are trained to handle sensitive cases that have to do with children.
The scope of pediatric nursing is to help children grow healthily. The age range of pediatric patients extends to 17 years.
The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit nurses specialize in treating and caring for newborn babies suffering from illness or prematurity. It’s a much more niche area of nursing since the age range is limited to neonates. In some cases, neonatal nurses also assist new parents in learning how to care for their infant.
Why you should choose nursing
Below are some of the most popular reasons why Americans go into nursing:
Nurses make a difference in society
The importance of nurses in medical care is indisputable. The entire objective of this profession is to care for the ailing and to ‘nurse’ patients to health. For many, it took the COVID-19 pandemic to fully appreciate the importance of nurses. While the rest of the world stayed at home during the lockdown, these brave men and women committed themselves to curing the nation, one patient at a time.
Beyond the aforementioned, nurses also make a difference with other social efforts such as counseling, volunteering and health fairs. These professionals often end up becoming patients’ confidants.
The greatest reward in this profession is that the positivity nurses let out into the world comes back around. It’s immensely gratifying to see a critically ill patient follow the recommended treatment plans and bounce back to health.
Nursing degrees and programs are easily accessible
The US has a wide selection of institutions offering nursing programs and degrees. A quick internet search will get you up to speed with the courses available near you. These courses are so accessible that you can frequently enroll online to secure a spot.
Below are some of the popular nursing programs you can join:
- Licensed Practical Nurse: LPN is a one-year-long training program offered in many institutions across the US and does not require prerequisite knowledge or a certificate. LPNs must pass a national licensing exam after completing their training.
- Associate Degree in Nursing: ADN programs focus on technical training and are offered by several community colleges around the country. The program takes 15 to 24 months, after which prospective nurses must pass the National Council Licensure Examination.
- Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN): BSN is a four-year course offered by several colleges and universities across the country. This degree is one of the most popular as it often allows nurses many job opportunities, not to mention an attractive base salary.
- Accelerated BSN program: This nursing program is designed for individuals with a prior degree in a different field. It is the fastest route to becoming a registered nurse, hence the ‘accelerated’ tag. It typically takes 12 to 18 months to complete.
- MSN: A Master of Science in Nursing is a high-level program that incorporates a lot of nursing disciplines into one entity. As a result, this certification opens doors to more competitive and highly coveted positions, such as the neonatal nurse practitioner and family nurse practitioner.
These courses are available in numerous post-secondary institutions all across the US. Both local and international students can take advantage of these opportunities.
Nursing degrees and training are obtainable online
In this era of technology, e-learning has become popular. Many institutions now allow students to complete college programs from the comfort of their homes. You can be anywhere in the country and earn a nursing degree. However, because nursing is a practical-heavy profession, you’ll be required to carry out in-person clinicals in a physical healthcare facility.
One significant aspect of online programs you should pay attention to is accreditation. Before enrolling in any online nursing program, verify that the Accreditation Commission approves the university and the course of interest. Only degrees from accredited online courses will qualify you for the National Council Licensure Examination.
The benefit of online courses is that they’re incredibly convenient. You can combine work with schooling and study from anywhere using your mobile device.
Enriching benefits and remuneration
Nursing is one of the most important careers today, so it’s only natural that these professionals enjoy financial benefits. If you’re considering a career in nursing, this will probably help you make up your mind.
In the US, the salary for nurses depends on the following:
- State: The pay and benefits of nurses vary with the state for several reasons, one of which is the cost-of-living index. For instance, the cost of living in California is almost twice that of Alabama. So, nurses in the former receive higher pay. Other very high-paying states in the US include Hawaii and Massachusetts.
- Industry: Nursing is a diverse career path with several specialties and classifications. While a lot of nurses work in medical facilities, others can be found in the pharmaceutical industry, office administration, federal executive branch, military and forensics. Registered nurses in these industries have varying job descriptions and pay.
- Specialty: There are different specialties in nursing, and each requires a different level of education which also affects nurses’ salaries. For instance, the certified registered nurse anesthetist is one of the highest-paid types of nursing. This does not necessarily mean they do the most work. The higher pay is tied to their level of education and experience in nursing. Nurse midwife, nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist and nurse educator are also high-paying specialties.
Aside from the salary, some other benefits of the profession include paid leave, paid sick leave, health insurance and retirement benefits.
Smooth transition into the workforce
Moving from the academic setting into the labor market can be quite rough for any profession. Many spend a significant amount of time looking for the perfect job and an even longer time adapting to the new position. This is rarely the case with nursing.
Firstly, many nursing courses take a practical approach with simulations of real-life scenarios.
So, nurses already have an idea of what to expect in the field. In addition, nurses are often assigned to hospitals or other healthcare facilities for a one-year residency program. During this time, they acquire experience to add to their resume.
The biggest factor that seems to positively impact the transition of nurses into the labor market is the shortage of personnel. Since the health system is trying to encourage the influx of more nurses, several job offers are available. Due to the essential nature of the profession, there are also several volunteer programs you can take part in to gain experience.
Nursing is a very lucrative profession, but it is also a delicate one. Due to the current and expected shortage of nurses, there seem to be many opportunities within this career path.
There are other factors you should consider before becoming a nurse. This includes the educational requirements, functions and specialties. You need to be ready to sacrifice some time to follow the career path of your dreams. Understanding these factors and how they come to play in the US will help prepare you for a successful career in nursing.