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Many people search for online RN degrees
, but the truth is you cannot earn an RN designation simply by earning a nursing degree.
To become an RN, you must first earn a nursing diploma or degree. Then you need to pass a national licensing examination, the NCLEX-RN. Once you pass this exam, you will have earned a registered nursing (RN) license. The RN designation refers to a professional license rather than graduation from a specific degree program.
Many online nursing degree programs can help prepare working nurses to take the national RN licensing exam. There are more than 20 accredited online RN to BSN programs
. These programs are especially for working nurses who already hold an RN license.
What is a Registered Nurse?
A registered nurse, often referred to as an RN, treats patients and helps educate the public about health. RNs are front-line providers who give emotional support to patients and their families. RNs also monitor patients’ medical symptoms. They perform diagnostic tests and help with patient follow-up and rehabilitation.
RNs often supervise LPNs and nursing aides (health care aides). Many nurse managers or supervisors hold RN licensure.
Become an RN Online in 3 Steps
The first step to becoming an RN is to complete the minimum required nursing education. The second step is to pass the national RN examination (NCLX-RN exam). While obtaining your education, you will need to work at a healthcare facility under the supervision of an RN. To take the RN exam, you will also need to document many hours of supervised nursing experience.
More than one nursing degree program can help you become an RN online. RNs may follow one of three educational paths:
Entering the RN Nursing Field Using Online Nursing Degrees
Many RNs launch their careers by earning nursing diplomas or certificates. Some earn associate degrees first. After becoming employed in nursing as a health aide or LPN (licensed practical nurse), you may enter an online BSN program. Be forewarned, though, that most online BSN programs offer only the online RN to BSN degree option. To gain admission to these online nursing degree programs, you must already hold a valid RN license.
RN Outlook & Growth
If you become an RN, you will work inside one of the top 10 growth careers in the United States in terms of job demand. In 2008, there were 2.6 million nurses, making it the largest healthcare job niche.
Jobs are expected to grow 22 percent—much faster than average—through 2018, with almost 600,000 new nursing jobs expected to be created between 2008 and 2018.
Physician’s offices and home health agencies will offer the greatest demand. Employment is expected to grow more slowly in hospitals, which are discharging patients earlier and performing more procedures on an outpatient basis.
RNs who hold bachelor's or master's degrees will enjoy the best prospects and highest salaries. Advanced practice specialties—clinical nurse specialists, nurse practitioners, midwives and nurse anesthetists—will experience extremely high demand.
RN Salary & Wages
In 2008, RNs earned an average salary of $62,450. The middle 50 percent earned $51,640 to $76,570. The highest 10 percent earned more than $92,240.
Online RN Nursing Degrees & Specialties
If you decide to become an RN, you could major in one of many specialty online nursing degree programs. RNs often specialize in work settings and populations. For example, an RN may become a nurse educator working with HIV/AIDS patients. Public health RNs can also specialize as nurse educators and work for a government health department. Another RN may choose surgery and work in a hospital surgical unit. Surgical nurses can also become nurse anesthetists.
There are several accredited online MSN nursing programs. An online master of science in nursing degree (MSN) may be earned for any of the four advanced practice nursing specialties—clinical nurse specialists, nurse anesthetists, nurse-midwives and nurse practitioners.
Tremendous opportunity exists for RNs with special interests to combine these interests to create new and very interesting career paths.
For example, an RN who enjoys writing may specialize in medical writing or editing. There are online master's degrees in medical writing. (View other nursing and healthcare master's degrees
Consider both employment demand in your geographic area and your own interests in deciding the right RN career niche. Once you know your specialty, try and match that to the often bewildering world of degree majors and credentials available to nurses.
Changing Careers to Become a Nurse
Online BSN programs are the fastest route to a BSN for career changers who already hold a bachelor’s degree
with a non-nursing major. Few online nursing degree programs, however, admit nurses who do not already hold a valid RN license.
If you already have a bachelor's degree, but your major was not in nursing, there are special programs that allow career changers to earn a RN degree online. These special nursing degrees are often referred to as online accelerated BSN programs or second degree BSN.
If you have no nursing experience and want to enter this field, check with the nursing school at your local community college
. Many community colleges offer hybrid or blended online nursing aide programs, nursing diplomas and online associate degrees in nursing (ADN).
Community college nursing schools often combine online nursing theory courses with local supervised placements inside hospitals and nursing homes. Nursing students must be present to complete clinical hours and take exams, but can complete many core courses, such as anatomy, online.
Online MSN programs are sometimes open to individuals who hold a bachelor’s in a field other than nursing. Explore an online MSN program if you already hold a bachelor’s and want to move into nursing without repeating a formal new nursing bachelor’s degree online.
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