How to become a nurse
While job prospects in many areas are diminishing, healthcare is growing. With the nursing shortage predicted to get worse, jobs for nurses are abundant throughout the world. Unfortunately, along with the shortage of practicing nurses comes a "Catch 22" shortage of nursing educators. Therefore, nursing programs are difficult to get into, and many have waiting lists. The wait is worth it. Wages will continue to increase, and experienced nurses will be in high demand for years to come.
You may want to begin your career as a nursing assistant or aide. This requires a short course of study, and is usually available from your local adult education department. In some instances, it may give you an advantage in getting into a nursing program as well.
It also provides you with a source of employment while you pursue your nursing career, as well as direct insight into the world of nursing. There are other programs such as becoming a Surgical Tech which don't require you to become a nurse first, but can lead into a path towards nursing. Often these programs are available through technical schools or adult education programs.
Moving on up the career ladder, you may choose to become and LPN/LVN (Licensed Practical or Vocational Nurse). This is generally a one year course of study typically from a vocational school or junior college. The LPN/LVN works under the direct supervision of a physician or an RN. It is not uncommon for people to choose to become an LPN/LVN as a means to support themselves as they pursue their RN (Registered Nurse). Some RN schools offer course credit to LPNs or allow you to challenge some courses through exams. This practice is not as common as it once was, however, with the shortage of nurses becoming crisis levels in some areas, we may see more of this again.
For RNs there are more choices to be made in regards to levels of education. In the past, hospitals offered three year diploma courses where students lived and worked in the hospital and earned a nursing diploma, and then sat for their boards to become RNs. As nursing roles expanded far beyond the realm of hospital nursing, these programs closed. Today, very few remain, and most of those are affiliated with 2 year (Associate Degree) programs.
ADN vs. BSN
The two most popular courses of study today are the ADN (Associate Degree Nurse) and the BSN (Bachelor of Science Nurse). The ADN course is typically a two year degree program, and the BSN a four year program. The ADN program is often focused more on practical applications of nursing where as the BSN program expands into the theoretical realms of patient care. Most institutions pay on a scale based on education as well as experience. In recent years there has been a big push to mandate the BSN be a minimum requirement to be a professional nurse. Sound arguments both for and against this have been well presented, and thus it is still being debated. The nursing shortage is playing a big role in the practicality of this. However, for professional advancement, the BSN is usually required. Again, an ADN program provides a career ladder choice to nurses. Many programs for RN-to-BSN are gaining popularity. After graduation from any of these courses of study, nurses all sit for their boards to become Registered Nurses. This exam is known as the NCLEX-RN.
Make Sure It's Accredited
An important point in choosing any nursing program is making sure it is accredited by the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC). This ensures that you will be able to sit for your boards. Not all schools are accredited, and can delay your licensing process.
Advance Degree Programs
There are also many advanced degree options including Nurse Practitioner programs, as well as Masters and Doctoral degree programs with various areas of specialization and practice. Most management positions require advanced degrees.
A great resource for nursing programs is Peterson's Guide to Nursing Programs available at local libraries, high school and college career centers, and for purchase from most large bookstores.