There are several levels of education in the field of nursing, and each has its own requirements leading to its own specialized job. Understanding the differences between these educational levels and job types will help you choose the right nursing program for your educational goals.
Nursing aide programs require the least amount of coursework and can often be completed in a matter of months. However, jobs you can secure with these degrees do not pay much compared to some of the other nursing degrees.
There are three main types of degrees in the nursing field. Nursing aides have a certificate or diploma from a short-term, practical program. Often the credits accumulated in a nursing aid program do not transfer to other degree programs.
A two-year nursing degree leads to an LPN or licensed practical nursing degree. You can get an LPN from a junior college, a four-year college, or a vocational school, making it one of the most flexible nursing degrees available. However, you should be sure that your LPN credits will transfer to a four-year program if you later intend to pursue a higher degree. Many credits from LPN programs at vocational schools do not transfer to college degree programs.
A four-year RN or registered nurse degree requires coursework at a college or university, and is a form of the Bachelor of Science degree. This is the highest degree offered at most schools for nurses, although some schools also offer master’s or even doctorates in nursing.
There are several paths to becoming a nursing aide. Most programs involve six to twelve months of coursework and a state-mandated test. When nursing aides pass this test, they are referred to as CNAs, or certified nursing assistants.
CNA programs are offered through vocational schools, junior colleges, adult education programs, and even through high schools. In some high schools with a strong health occupations vocational program, CNAs can be certified before they receive a high school diploma.
There is a great field of employment available to CNAs since hospitals, nursing homes, and doctor’s offices can pay these workers to do many of the necessary everyday nursing tasks for far less than LPNs or RNs. This frees the higher-paid nurses to do the more responsible jobs, and healthcare facilities can hire fewer of these higher-paid workers in consequence.
This does not mean that nursing aides cannot find rewarding work or will be given all the “bad” jobs; however, they will most often be required to perform the menial tasks associated with nursing such as giving baths to patients, delivering meals or medications, and making beds or arranging patient rooms. This work is congenial to many nursing aides, however, who want to help and have a “hands-on” approach to medicine.
Despite the very necessary function they perform, nursing aides are unfortunately some of the lowest-paid of all healthcare workers. Many nursing aides make just above minimum wage, and they are often asked to work shifts in the night or evening hours or on weekends. Because of this, many CNAs quickly decide to pursue a higher nursing degree so that they will earn more money and have more control over their working conditions.
However, this does not mean that a CNA is a worthless degree. On the contrary, obtaining a nursing aide degree can be a great first step into the nursing field for several reasons. First, this degree takes less time than any other nursing degree, and can be obtained in a variety of educational settings. Finally, a CNA has the least arduous coursework of any nursing degree so it is easy for you to see if you are suited to the nursing field without investing a great deal of time or money into your degree efforts.
Most CNA courses are taken through some type of vocational program, so it is unlikely that these credits will count toward your ultimate college nursing degree. However, these courses can help you to learn the basics of nursing and can give you a taste of what the nursing field is like, which may help you choose the right college nursing program for your degree in the future.
Further info: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nursing-assistants.htm#tab-1)