By Talitha Basinski, MSN-Ed., RN

So you want to be a nurse. Maybe your grandma was a nurse and you want to be just like her. Maybe your dad is a nurse and told you that you should follow in his footsteps. Maybe you took one of those assessment tests in school that told you that you’d make a good nurse or astronaut and since you’re afraid of heights you’ve decided to go into nursing. Maybe like me you think blood and guts is cool but don’t want to spend years (and thousands of dollars) going to medical school. Or maybe you sat in a hospital room, holding the hand of someone you loved, wishing that you could do more to help them, and you decided this was your calling. Regardless of the reason, you’re here now. You want to be a nurse. But you don’t know exactly what that means or how to do it. Well you came to the right place because I have the answers! So let’s get started!

What is a nurse?

First we should start with some definitions. There are a few healthcare careers that use the word nurse in their title and that can be a bit confusing. 

A medical assistant (MA) work in doctor’s offices, clinics, and urgent cares. Medical assistants learn about taking vital signs, giving injections and pills, and how to bill insurance during their medical assistant program. Most MA programs are 6 months to 1 year in length.

A certified nurses aid (CNA) is someone who has taken a certification course allowing them to assist in caring for a patient. A CNA can take vital signs (blood pressure, pulse, etc) and assist a patient with activities of daily living such as eating and bathing. A CNA cannot give medications, start IVs, or do an assessment of a patient.

A licensed vocational nurse (LVN) and a licensed practical nurse (LPN) are essentially the same thing. These nurses are able to do everything a CNA can do, plus they can give some medications and do certain types of activities like putting in a bladder catheter or start an IV if trained to do so.

Registered nurses (RN) can do everything that a CNA and LVN can do, but they can also assess patients, give all kinds of medications, and do more skills than the other two. If a RN continues their education they can become a nurse practitioner (NP) or a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA), amongst other things.

Often people will choose to become a MA, CNA, or LVN before becoming a RN. This is not a requirement, but is a way to gain experience in the field or get a foot in the door for a future job. Personally I would recommend that anyone considering nursing should become a MA or CNA first. This allows you to see if you even like healthcare before spending time and energy on school. It also will help you increase your confidence with caring for patients if you are used to being around patients. I have met so many nursing students who are terrified of going to their clinical experiences because they have never taken care of a stranger before.

I do want to add that just because someone is a CNA or LVN does not mean that they want to become a RN. In the same way that most RNs don’t want to be doctors, many CNAs and LVNs like what they do and don’t feel the need to become a RN.

So how do you become a nurse?

First you will want to investigate the requirements of local nursing schools. Most will have pre-requisite courses such as anatomy, physiology, and microbiology. Each program will likely have different entrance requirements. There are also different types of nursing programs. There are associate degree nursing (ADN) programs at community colleges. Or you can attend a bachelor of science nursing (BSN) program at a university. Ultimately the difference between the two is that BSN degrees take longer because they require public health and leadership courses. ADN programs typically take 2 years where BSN programs can take 3-4 years. Graduates from both degree programs will take the same test, called the NCLEX, to become a registered nurse. Some hospitals prefer BSN prepared nurses and others may pay BSN nurses more. Many people chose to attend an ADN program as they tend to be cheaper and shorter. This allows the person to graduate and start working as a nurse. Nurses who graduate with an ADN degree can later return to school to get their bachelor degree by enrolling in a RN-to-BSN program. The path you chose to get into nursing should be the one that is best for your life situation. If you are interested in learning more about medical assisting, please email info@uunursing.com.