The nursing profession is so varied that individuals can choose among hundreds of responsibilities, skill levels and health care settings. As the population continues to grow, the need for nurses keeps pace. The problem is that nursing education is lagging behind, as there is a severe shortage of nurse educators. Despite this issue, the person who wants to become a nurse can do so through a variety of educational and work experiences. Perhaps no other occupation holds the possibilities for advancement that nursing does at this point in time.

The person who seeks a nursing career, in all cases, must endure some education and tests. Even the nursing assistant (CNA) now must obtain classroom and hands-on education and seek certification through testing that involves multiple choice questions and hands-on supervised assessment. Education and certifications are necessary to regulate the nursing profession and to keep patients safe from those who are not skilled in the nursing practice. The CNA, as well as the LPN (licensed nurse practitioner) often represent the first steps on the nursing career ladder. The LPN usually requires a one year course of study from a vocational school or junior college as well as testing for certification.

The CNA and any other nurse or nursing student can advance a career through further education and work experience. For instance, a CNA can go on to earn an associate’s degree and pass an exam to become a registered nurse (RN). This is a two-year degree that offers a fast-track for those who want to enter the nursing profession as quickly as possible. The nursing student who achieves a BSN degree also can become an RN, but the advanced degree enables that student to emerge as a nurse who can adapt to managerial roles.

Finally, the nurse or nursing student can go on to earn a master’s or doctoral degree and serve as an advanced practical nurse (APN), clinical nurse specialist (CNS) or as a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) among other nursing specialties. These nurses either focus on a specific disease, illness, procedure or health care setting, or they become skilled in a wide range of health care issues, much like a general practitioner physician. Nurses who obtain a graduate degree or higher often work autonomously, in tangent with a physician, or in administrative positions in various health care environments.

The role of the nurse has changed over the past century, and nurses today can find great satisfaction in the choice of health care settings and in roles of increased responsibilities. On the other hand, many nurses often are overworked, as the nursing shortage is a problem among an aging nurse population. Since it usually takes approximately two to six years to gain viable nursing skills, this nursing shortage will keep demand for nurses on the forefront for the next decade or longer. In that time, it is predicted that nursing salaries will increase as rapidly as the demand for nursing skills.

The nurse who has an eye on advancing a career in nursing is in a prime position to gain further education and certification through part-time studies, online coursework and through employer training and certifications. If you want to become a nurse, it’s no better time than now to begin your quest. But, as in any career, study the possibilities carefully. You can save time, money and your talent and skills if you know where to study and what is required for your nursing specialty.

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Top 10 Online Nursing Schools

University of Phoenix
University of Phoenix — BSN, MSN, and Certificate. The University of Phoenix is the nation's largest online university and currently offers several nursing programs at three different degree levels, based on previous nursing education and experience.

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Kaplan University
Kaplan University — Bachelor's, and Master's Nursing Degrees. Kaplan's School of Nursing offers specializations for nurse administrators and nurse educators.

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Grand Canyon University
Grand Canyon University — BS in Nursing (BSN) and MBA/MS in Nursing. Grand Canyon University offers a unique MBA/MS in nursing degree program that teaches students about the business aspect of healthcare, specifically nursing healthcare. Current nurses who want more business experience will find this may be an ideal fit.

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Liberty University
Liberty University — RN to BSN Degree and MSN Degree. The Department of Nursing at Liberty prepares students for baccalaureate level nursing, putting strong emphasis on Christian ethical standards and viewing nursing as a ministry of caring.

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Walden University
Walden University — M.S. in Nursing (RN Track), M.S in Nursing (BSN Track). Walden offers a wide variety of nursing degrees and certificates that are all accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

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