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Nursing School: Clarify Your Nursing Career Goals

By Peterson's Staff updated on Monday, January 28, 2013

Nursing, unlike many other professions, has a variety of educational paths for those who return for advanced education. You should decide if baccalaureate- or graduate-level work is congruent with your career goals. The next step in this process is to reexamine your specific career goals, both immediate and long-term, to determine the level and type of nursing education you will need to meet them. Ask yourself what you want to be doing in the next five to ten years. Discuss your ideas with a counselor in a nursing school program, nurses who are practicing in roles you are considering, and others who are enrolled in a nursing school, nursing program, or who have recently completed a degree at a nursing college.

Baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs

Baccalaureate degree nursing programs prepare nurses as generalists for practice in all health-care settings. Graduate nursing degrees occur at two levels -- master’s and doctoral. Master’s nursing programs vary in length, typically between one and two years. Preparation for roles in advanced practice as nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives, clinical nurse specialists, certified registered nurse anesthetists, nursing administrators, and nursing educators requires a master’s degree in nursing. Many nursing programs meet the needs of RNs by offering options such as accelerated course work, advanced placement, evening and weekend classes, and distance learning courses.

Accelerated nursing programs

A trend in nursing schools for RNs is accelerated programs that combine baccalaureate and master’s nursing programs. These combined programs are designed for RNs without degrees whose career goals involve advanced nursing practice and other roles requiring a master’s degree. Nurses who complete these combined programs may be awarded both baccalaureate and a master’s nursing degrees or a master’s degree only.

Doctoral nursing programs

At the doctoral level, nurses are prepared for a variety of roles, including research and teaching. A doctoral program at a school of nursing generally consists of three years of full-time study beyond the master’s degree, although some programs admit baccalaureate graduates and include the master’s-level requirements and degree within the doctoral program.

by Marilyn Oermann, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, Professor, College of Nursing, Wayne State University

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