The field of nursing is a trusted and rewarding profession. Each day nurses do what they can to help those in need—whether they’re treating patients in the emergency room or comforting family members in the waiting room.
As such, being a nurse requires ample expertise and skill—which can only be acquired through experience in a nursing school or nursing program. But, how long is nursing school? A nursing degree can take anywhere from one to six years, but it more commonly takes two to four.
This guide will help you craft a roadmap to becoming a full-fledged nurse by discussing available nursing degrees, other paths to nursing, types of nursing roles, and how Host Healthcare can be your nursing career’s dream destination.
Available Nursing Degrees
The world of nursing has many paths of study depending on your field of interest and education level. Let’s take a more in-depth look at how many years of college to become a nurse and the types of nursing degrees available for those looking to enter the profession:
- Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) – Earning an associate degree or ADN program is a popular option for those who wish to become a registered nurse. This type of degree can open the door to entry-level positions at emergency rooms, nursing homes, and physician’s offices. While admissions requirements can vary from school to school, you’ll need a high school diploma or GED to apply.
- Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing (BSN) – Combine your love for the liberal arts with healthcare by pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing. A BSN takes a minimum of four years. However, an accelerated nursing program does exist for students who have already earned an ADN or bachelor’s degree in another field. Job sites include everything from operating rooms to administrative offices. Additionally, a BSN significantly increases a nurse’s options for specialization within the field. As a result, courses can vary by focus.
- Master’s Degree in Nursing (MSN) – MSN candidates can pursue a range of degree titles, depending on specialization, such as Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS), Certified Nurse Practitioner (CNP), Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA), and Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM). Nurses working in these specializations are known as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), a job field that is expected to grow 45% by 2030.1 In most cases, you’ll need to finish the BSN to apply to an MSN program. This degree takes two to five years to complete.
- Doctoral Degree in Nursing – This is the highest level of education for nurses, and includes four options: Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing (PhD), PhD in nursing education, and Doctor of Nursing Science (DNSc). Nurses pursuing this degree can expect to contribute research to the field and pursue job prospects as educators and practitioners. Full-time, this degree takes two years.
Additional Paths to Nursing
For those who have already earned credentials in nursing and are slowly achieving their nursing goals, or who are specifically looking to change their career paths, there are alternative routes toward a nursing profession that may save time and money:
- Certificate of Practical Nursing (CPN) – This certification can take as little as twelve months to earn, making it the fastest route for entering the nursing profession. However, it does not provide enough education to become a registered nurse. Instead, this certificate allows you to practice under the supervision of a registered nurse or physician.
- LPN-to-ADN Path – Taking approximately one to two years to complete, this nursing degree path is for licensed practical nurses (LPNs) who are looking to become registered nurses.
- LPN-to-BSN Path – This degree program is for nurses with an ADN degree who are looking to get more education and a higher degree (BSN). It typically takes about two years to complete.
- Accelerated BSN – This pathway is for students who already hold a BA in another degree. It can take anywhere from a year and a half to three years to finish.
Types of Nursing Roles
When it comes to nursing, specialities abound, allowing individuals to pursue what they are truly passionate about.2
So, while the answer to the question, “how long does it take to be a nurse?” depends on your level of education and whether you enroll as a full-time or part-time student, what role you pursue will also determine how long it’ll take you to become a nurse.
Here is a list of just some of the roles out there for nurses:
- Travel nurse – For those who love to travel and make a difference, being a travel nurse is an excellent option to consider. Travel nurses work around the country, providing relief and support to hospitals in need.3 Travel nurses are registered nurses, meaning they have at least earned an associate’s degree in nursing. If you are interested in this career path, read our guide on how to become a travel nurse.
- Medical surgery nurse – As the most common specialization, medical surgery nurses work with patients suffering from respiratory illnesses such as asthma and pneumonia, as well as those recovering from surgery. This speciality’s popularity is largely due to how foundational it is for newly graduated nurses.4 Medical surgery nurses must be registered nurses and hold an ADN degree.
- ICU nurse – A fast-paced environment, the intensive care unit (ICU) sees patients who are in critical condition. Typically, nurses have at least a year of experience before becoming an ICU nurse, after which they can specialize in trauma or cardiac care. ICU nurses have completed an ADN program and are licensed registered nurses. Within specific ICU units, they may also be required to hold an MSN. Although they are usually interchanged, there is a huge difference between the roles of ICU and a progressive care unit nurse.
- Nurse midwife – A midwife cares for patients during and after pregnancy, tending to daily and gynecological needs. To become a midwife, a registered nurse (RN) must complete a midwifery training program. To become a certified nurse-midwife, a master’s degree and additional licensure are required.
- Nurse practitioner (NP) – This role requires additional education (MA or higher), training, and licensure. An NP is primarily differentiated from a registered nurse (RN) in that an NP is able to diagnose illnesses, prescribe medication, and analyze lab work.
- Hospice nurse – A hospice nurse cares for the terminally ill, providing companionship, assistance with daily living, and pain and medication management. A hospice nurse has earned at least an ADN and is a registered nurse.
Make Traveling a Part of Your Nursing Journey with Host Healthcare
The path to becoming a nurse typically takes two to four years. However, your timeline will greatly depend on the types of degrees and certifications you pursue, as well as your field of interest.
If you’re looking to become a travel nurse, you can see the country while caring for those in need. Take the journey with Host Healthcare.
Apply to be a traveler and we will connect you with a recruiter to help you find your best career path forward. Just let us know about your disciplines, specialties, and years of experience, and you’ll be on your way toward a network of career opportunities.
- US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nurse-anesthetists-nurse-midwives-and-nurse-practitioners.htm
- Southern New Hampshire University. 16 Types of Nurses Including Job Descriptions and Salary. https://www.snhu.edu/about-us/newsroom/2018/05/types-of-nurses-infographic
- Host Healthcare. How To Be And Become A Travel Nurse. https://www.hosthealthcare.com/blog/how-to-become-a-travel-nurse-10-steps-to-become-a-travel-nurse/
- Global Pre-Meds. The most popular nursing specialties in the US. https://www.globalpremeds.com/2016/05/10/4036/
- Regis College. Registered Nurse vs. Nurse Practitioner: What’s the Difference? https://www.regiscollege.edu/blog/nursing/registered-nurse-vs-nurse-practitioner-whats-difference#
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Registered Nurses. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm
- National Council of State Boards of Nursing. Passing Standard: Setting the NCLEX Passing Standards. https://www.ncsbn.org/2630.htm