The world of nursing education in the United States is complex. There are different levels, different entry points, and possibilities of some qualifications being used as the foundation for achieving others.
Broadly speaking, there are two main types of nurse. One is the Registered Nurse, the other is the Licensed Practical Nurse. Registered nurses usually have greater responsibility and possibilities for promotion. They must study either for four years to achieve a Bachelor of Science in Nursing in a College or University, or for two years to earn an Associate Degree from a Community College. They then have different opportunities according to which path they have followed.
The Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), also in some States called the Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN), takes classes which may last as many as eighteen months or as few as nine months, and is awarded a certificate at the end of the course. A Practical Nurse will normally work under the supervision of a Registered Nurse. He or she will do practical tasks like giving injections and setting up intravenous drips, but will not normally plan routines or medication schedules, or engage in any activity that impacts on the ward as a whole. The job is well suited to the nurse who likes to care for people, giving them the benefit of his or her attentiveness and personality, rather than the nurse who likes to control the progress of patients and is ambitious for advancement.
Once they have gained the qualification relevant to their particular training, both types of nurse must take the National Council Licensure Examination – NCLEX-RN for registered nurses and NCLEX-PN for practical or vocational nurses – in order to obtain a State license to practise nursing.
Beyond this basic framework, there are academically higher qualifications in nursing and also various ways in which those who already have some nursing experience or a nursing degree are able to advance up the career ladder. This is where online nursing degree programs play a particularly important role.
A Practical Nurse who wishes to become a Registered Nurse can either take an online or a credit-by-examination course to be an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) which leads to a Registered Nurse licensure. A Registered Nurse who has an Associate degree (2 years of study) can follow a ‘fast track’ online course to gain a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. This is abbreviated as ‘RN-to-BSN’ and is one of the most commonly offered online nursing degrees.
The other most frequently found online nursing degree course is for Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). This qualification entails specialization in a particular area of nursing. The Nursing Doctorate takes the specialization a step further and may involve clinical research. It is generally pursued by those with above average academic ability who are seeking a leadership role within nursing, and it is particularly suitable for online study.
It should be borne in mind that online nursing degrees entail differing levels of online provision. Some Internet-based programs are affiliated with an institution that offers courses on campus for which attendance may or may not form a part of the program requirement. Other courses are completely online and are not even associated with a college.