The medical field offers a wide range of career options to those holding a nursing degree. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, many nursing occupations have a faster-than-average employment growth projection, including registered nurses, Licensed Vocational Nurses, and nursing assistants. There are several routes a person can choose to take in pursuing a nursing career. A person can start in the field as a nursing assistant, an LPN/LVN, or a registered nurse.

The amount of schooling required and type of training will vary depending on which type of nurse you want to become. Nursing degrees which require lengthier schooling and more extensive training commonly have the potential to lead to job positions and higher salaries, though career opportunities and salary depend on several factors.

Before you can begin planning your career path to becoming a nurse, you may want to consider which type of nurse you wish to become. Some people choose to work their way up from a nursing assistant to an RN so they may earn a salary and acquire experience in the medical field as they pursue their final goal. Other people choose to earn their associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing and gaining their RN license, and then starting their career as a registered nurse. This decision should be and is usually made based on personal preferences and circumstances. Though your career path does depend on which route you elect to travel, all paths begin with a high school diploma or a GED.

To begin a career in nursing as a nursing assistant or nursing aide, you will need to enroll in a course to obtain a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) certificate. The program takes six to twelve weeks, depending on the program and your ability to successfully progress through the program. Students enrolled in the course will learn the basics of the medical profession; taking vital signs, drawing blood, nutrition, infection control, anatomy, and basic nursing skills. Certified Nursing Assistants have the opportunity to become orderlies, home health aides, or patient care technicians. Nursing aides commonly find employment in hospitals, nursing homes, and long term care facilities. A nursing aide must work under a nurse’s supervision. Nursing assistants can gain useful experience which can help ease the way to the next step on the path to becoming a nurse.

The next rung on the nursing ladder is becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse/Licensed Vocational Nurse. In order to earn this title, a person must enroll in a state-approved one-year LPN/LVN program at a vocational school or community college. The program usually involves both classroom study and clinical practice. The course work is more advanced than that taught to aspiring nursing assistants. Students are taught anatomy and basic patient care. Additionally, LVN students are taught to administer medication and first aid. Most clinical practice is gained in hospitals, but can be attained in doctor’s offices or other medical treatment centers. After successful completion of the program, LVN/LPNs are required to pass a licensing program in the state which they intend to work.

LVN/LPN’s work under the direction of a physician or an RN. They can take vital signs, administer injections, provide wound care, observe patients for signs of adverse reactions to medications administered. These types of services are needed in hospitals, long term care facilities, doctor’s offices, and many other areas of the medical profession.

After becoming an LVN/LPN, the next step up would be obtaining a degree in nursing and gaining a registered nursing license. There are two types of degrees which are required for licensure, an associate degree in nursing or a bachelor’s of science in nursing degree. The associate degree is typically a two year program while the bachelor’s typically will take four years to complete. Program length will vary and how long it takes you to complete a program will depend on several factors. Once again, the decision is based on personal need and availability, but a four-year degree is preferable, as it may increase the salary potential and the possibility of specializing in a specific area of nursing care. Any program you select must be accredited by the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission.

After completing an accredited program, a nurse is required to pass the National licensing examination or the NCLEX-RN. This is often referred to as the state board’s exam. The test can vary based on the requirements in each state. Once you successfully pass the exam, you can begin your nursing career. But if you choose to move to a new state or need to move, you will want to contact the state board of nursing to find out if you will need to retake the exam in your new state of residence before being allowed to practice there.

A registered nurse has more career options than those available to a nursing assistant or LPN/LVN. Registered nurses often work in operating rooms, intensive care units, health clinics, doctor’s offices, general patient care units in hospitals, and more. RN’s are able to provide care for the majority of needs which arise in patients. In addition to overseeing the work of LPN/LVNs, these nurses can also establish or alter a patient’s care plan, read and add to a patient’s medical history record, as well as providing information to patients and their families. In May 2010, the average salary of an RN was $64,690 per year, according to the BLS. Salary ranges vary based on experience, education, type of facility, and location.

The options in nursing do not stop at the BSN degree. Nurses can pursue graduate degrees to become specialized nurses in various fields, including nurse anesthetists and nurse practitioners.