The nursing field encompasses a broad spectrum of job titles and career tracks, from licensed practical nurses to doctoral-level educators and researchers. As healthcare professionals, nurses provide hands-on, sometimes highly-specialized care to patients of all ages and backgrounds. They are also employed as public policy advisors, nurse educators, and medical writers. Among the many different degrees available to individuals who wish to pursue a career in nursing, a practical nursing certificate, associate degree in nursing (ADN), bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN), master’s of science in nursing (MSN), and doctor of nursing practice (DNP) are the most common.
Earning a practical nursing certificate is the first step to becoming a licensed vocational nurse (LVN) or licensed practical nurse (LPN). LVNs and LPNs provide patients with basic medical care under the supervision of registered nurses and physicians. LPNs who wish to become an RN may enroll in an LPN to RN degree or “bridge” program in order to complete an ADN or BSN and qualify to sit for the National Council Licensing Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) exam. You do not need a BSN to sit for the NCLEX-RN exam, but employers are likely to favor RN job candidates who hold a BSN.
RNs with a BSN are also eligible to pursue a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) to become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). APRNs include clinical nurse specialists, nurse anesthetists, nurse-midwives, and nurse practitioners. Masters of science in nursing (MSN) programs have traditionally educated APRNs, but member schools affiliated with the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) will have transitioned their master’s programs for APRNs to the doctorate level by 2015.
Unlike a DNP, a Ph.D. in nursing is typically an academic and research-oriented degree. Many nurses complete an MSN before pursuing a Ph.D. program in nursing.