Many health care careers require years in school before you can begin working in the field. Nursing, on the other hand, has a low barrier to entry and so many rungs on its career ladder. It is a perfect solution for those who want to work in healthcare, but aren't willing—or can't afford—to spend a decade in school first. Each step in nursing builds off the previous, making it easy to work in the field while studying for the next step.
The first and easiest step in nursing is a certified nursing assistant (CNA) certification. This step can be achieved in high school or immediately upon graduation. Programs within the public school system are typically year-long classes, but adults can take accelerated CNA programs in as little as six weeks. Each state has different licensing rules, but most require both a written and a skills test for certification. This step in the nursing ladder allows you to work in a long-term care facility under the guidance of a nurse.
The next step is to become an LPN, or licensed practical nurse. Many CNAs start this program as soon as possible. The responsibilities and, in turn, the salary for an LPN is greater than a CNA. Most LPN programs can be completed in 12 to 18 months and require extensive, hands-on clinicals in the field.
An RN, or registered nurse, is often the next step, but requirements can vary greatly from state to state. Usually, an RN program requires additional classes and the completion of an associate's degree. As with each rung on the nursing career ladder, there is a state-administered exam to take for licensure.
After working as an RN for a while, many nurses will return to college and start work on their BSN. Getting a bachelor's degree is helpful for job security and growth within the hospital system. The program is often called 'RN to BSN'.
Nurses can also continue on to advanced degrees, sometimes called 'RN to MSN' degrees. While some nurses move into administrative positions with a master's degree in management or leadership, others prefer to stay in the arena of patient care. Two popular tracks that keep nurses in contact with patients are a nurse-midwifery program and a certified registered nurse anesthetist program. Both are required to have postgraduate degrees as a baseline of education.
Nursing is the ultimate career ladder to climb, one rung at a time, while working your way through school. The end results can be positions just as highly regarded—and highly paid—as medical doctors.