Breaking Down the Different Types of Nursing Programs
Nursing degrees aren’t one-size-fits-all. From an entry-level certificate to a doctoral degree, nurses can level up their career and scope of practice with each new credential they earn.
A bachelor’s in nursing program prepares students to be registered nurses (RN). It’s a four-year undergraduate degree that includes prerequisites and nursing core classes.
Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
The BSN is the degree program that prepares you to become a registered nurse (RN). It’s also a great choice for students with a bachelor’s degree in another field who want to change careers. A growing number of healthcare facilities now require new nurses to have a four-year BSN, and the degree is a prerequisite for continuing education in nursing.
In many cases, you can complete a BSN program in two years or less, depending on the school and type of program you choose. BSN programs consist of general education courses, nursing classes, and clinical experience. If you’re considering a BSN, make sure to apply early so that you can get into the program of your choice. Admission requirements vary by school and format, but typically include a high school diploma or GED certificate, GPA minimums, coursework prerequisites, and an interview with a nursing faculty member.
You can find BSN programs at community colleges, universities, and vocational schools. Many BSN programs are offered online, which is a good option for people who have other commitments outside of school. Online BSN programs are structured in the same way as traditional programs, so you’ll still be required to meet course milestones and participate in clinical activities. The biggest difference is that you can complete the theory-based portion of your program in a virtual classroom.
Whether you attend a traditional or bridge BSN program, it’s important to select an accredited school. Accreditation ensures that the BSN meets quality standards and that you’ll be eligible to apply for a nursing license in your state after graduation. The two main accrediting bodies for nursing schools are the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.
Once you have your BSN, you can choose to specialize in a particular nursing practice area, such as mental health, obstetrics and gynecology, or community health. You can also pursue a graduate degree to become a nurse educator or nurse practitioner. Invest some time exploring different career paths and job titles to determine the best fit for you.
Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)
A master’s degree in nursing (MSN) can prepare students for leadership positions within the health care field and lead to career advancement, higher salaries and possibly a path toward a doctorate. Nurses with an advanced degree can work as nurse practitioners, clinical nurses or other specializations that require advanced training.
An MSN can be earned either on a full-time or part-time basis, with the length of time needed to complete the program depending on area of concentration and the number of credits taken per semester. Some programs allow students to take courses online, while others offer a hybrid format with on-campus instruction and clinical rotations. Whether an MSN is obtained in a traditional on-campus setting or through an online program, the degree will still require hands-on experience with patients in supervised clinical rotations.
The most traditional pathway to an MSN is by earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) and then enrolling in a graduate-level MSN program. This route typically takes about two years of full-time study. Other paths to an MSN include RN-to-MSN bridge programs, direct-entry MSN programs and accelerated MSN programs.
Admissions officials at top-ranked MSN programs look for “academically strong, achievement-oriented” applicants who show leadership potential and a clear career vision, according to an interview with the dean of the University of Pittsburgh’s nursing program published on Fortune. Many MSN programs offer online theory-based coursework and clinical rotations, which can be a convenient option for prospective nurses who need to balance a family life or full-time job with their educational goals. Did you know that there are some over the counter alternatives to Mounjaro for weight loss?
In addition to choosing a program that aligns with your goals, it’s important to ensure the school you choose is nationally accredited by an organization such as the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). This process helps keep standards high, improves the quality of nursing education and may be required for some states or employers.
Aside from a passion for helping people, success as a nurse depends on excellent math and science skills and a healthy dose of empathy. It also requires a willingness to be a life-long learner, especially since the health care field is constantly evolving.
Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program is for nurses who want to take on a leadership role within healthcare organizations. This type of advanced degree builds on an RN’s existing clinical knowledge and expands it with high-level skills like project management, healthcare administration and nursing informatics. A DNP also addresses the social, economic and political dimensions of patient care to create sustainable improvements within healthcare systems.
In a clinical setting, DNP-prepared nurses provide direct patient care in a variety of areas. They also work to implement and evaluate new nursing science innovations, develop educational programs for nurse practitioners and conduct research in their field of expertise. In addition, they may serve on hospital boards or in nursing administrative roles and advocate for healthcare policy change.
Nurses who have earned their DNP degree can also go on to pursue academic careers in the field of nursing. These educators have the skills to teach and guide students at the undergraduate and graduate levels, as well as develop and publish their own nursing research. Additionally, nursing Ph.D. graduates study illness trajectories, chronic disease issues and care systems. They are sometimes referred to as doctors, though they do not typically hold the same level of authority as medical doctors in clinical settings.
Earning a DNP usually requires a master’s degree in nursing, but some schools offer entry routes for BSN-holders. Generally, this route takes three to four years to complete when attending full time. Regardless of your entry route, you should meet minimum GPA requirements, maintain an unencumbered RN license and work closely with an advisor to ensure success.
In order to be a successful DNP, it is important to understand the difference between a nurse practitioner and a DNP. While NP is a profession or career title, DNP is the highest degree you can earn in the field of nursing. You will often see NPs use their DNP credentials when referring to themselves, along with the acronym of their specific clinical focus area. This distinction is critical for patients, as it allows healthcare organizations to identify a DNP-graduated RN and their specialty.
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) is the highest degree that can be earned in most academic disciplines. Earning a PhD signifies that you have reached the top level of scholarship in your field and are considered a leader among your peers.
PhD programs typically take four to five years to complete, though some allow students to enter directly from a bachelor’s degree program. A PhD is an academic degree that qualifies you to teach in your field at the university level, and in many countries you will also be eligible for a prestigious professorship.
The PhD was originally a research-oriented degree, and students were expected to discover, integrate and apply knowledge as well as create new ideas in their area of study. Today, most PhD degrees are a mix of research and applied work. While some universities will only require that you submit a thesis, most will ask you to conduct extensive research and produce a significant piece of original work. The PhD is the most prestigious academic degree you can earn, and it requires a passion for wisdom as well as the ability to understand, analyze and disseminate research findings.
When you earn a PhD, you will receive the honorific ‘Dr’. This is a title that was once reserved for only the most accomplished scholars in their fields, and it is now considered an indication of scholarly excellence. The term ‘Dr’ is derived from the Latin word docere, which means “to teach.” The first PhDs were awarded in European universities during the 13th century, and soon after, this honorific was adopted around the world.
If you are interested in earning a PhD, you must complete a Master of Philosophy (MPhil). This is the first step toward your PhD and is an opportunity to refine your academic skills, learn more about your subject area and prepare for the dissertation process. At the end of your MPhil, you will have the option to upgrade to a PhD if you are deemed to be on track to succeed. The PhD is a research-focused degree, and while it is an achievement to be proud of, it is not for everyone.