The many pathways to a nursing career

Choosing a career in nursing is a commitment to performing a critical role in healthcare. Nurses have great responsibilities but also great rewards and personal fulfillment. There are three routes to becoming an RN (registered nurse), all of which have different features, so candidates need to find the best fit. The career path starts when you select the type of degree to pursue. The three types of degrees are the ABSN (Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing), the BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing), and the ADN (Associate Degree in Nursing). 

There are many reasons why people choose to enter the nursing profession. One reason is job security – the demand for nurses is consistently high and will continue growing due to an aging population. This means that numerous job opportunities are available, and the chances of finding employment as a nurse are very good. There is also variety in the settings that nurses can work in, such as hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, schools and government agencies. This allows for flexibility and the ability to find the most appropriate work environment for you. There are many opportunities for career advancement in nursing, and nurses typically earn good salaries.

Rockhurst University in Kansas delivers the ABSN online, and it can be completed in under two years. It is an accelerated nursing program for students with bachelor’s degrees in other subjects who want to enter nursing.

Case study 

Ivy is a young woman who has published a video on YouTube about how she got accepted into nursing school to do the ABSN and her reasons for choosing this program. 

She advises on improving college applications. Nursing schools require applicants to have hours worked in a healthcare setting. She worked as a licensed physical therapist assistant, which involved seeing patients in many departments in the hospital, such as the ICU (intensive care unit), maternity, and oncology, so it was a good experience for nursing.

Although applicants are looked at holistically, grades are still important as they want students who can cope with the rigor of the program and who will be able to pass the NCLEX-RN (National Council Licensure Examination). 

She advises finding out what the requirements are for prerequisite courses. Nursing schools will have their own list. For her ABSN, Ivy did the following prerequisite courses:

  • Statistics.
  • English Composition.
  • Chemistry 1 & 2 with Laboratory.
  • Nutrition.
  • General Psychology/Lifespan Psychology.
  • Abnormal Psychology.
  • Anatomy & Physiology 1 & 2 with Laboratory.
  • Microbiology with Laboratory.

Continuing education by studying courses relevant to the nursing profession is also looked on favorably by nursing schools. This is also true for research work carried out in a medical setting. 

Ivy already had a bachelor’s degree in healthcare when she decided to train as a nurse. She looked at the different routes that she could take. One advantage of the ADN program was that it was more affordable. However, this would mean that she would still have to do the BSN in the future. The ABSN was only a two-year course. She would have a nursing degree and would be well-qualified when applying for jobs. She found that many hospitals in her area were only recruiting nurses with a BSN. Although the ABSN can be expensive, it is more affordable at some universities. 

Some hospitals will hire ADN nurses on the proviso that they complete the BSN within a specific timeframe. It will take one to two years to complete the BSN, and some hospitals will pay the tuition. Many ADN nurses are returning to school to get their BSN. Taking this route would mean doing a two-year ANdand then another two years to do the BSN. In contrast, the ABSN would take two years or less.

In the end, Ivy applied to do the ABSN. She was accepted and is looking forward to starting the course.


The ABSN program is designed for those who already have a bachelor’s degree in another subject and want to train as a nurse. This program is typically shorter than BSN programs, taking 12 to 18 months to complete, as opposed to the traditional four years. The course consists of nursing-specific subjects condensed to accommodate the faster pace of the program. Many accelerated programs expect applicants to have already completed some courses, such as microbiology and statistics. 

There are online ABSN programs that can suit busy professionals looking to transition into the nursing field because they offer the opportunity to complete your coursework online. Online programs are similar in length to classroom-based ones and take between 11 and 18 months to complete. Students will still need to attend clinical settings and some meetings on campus.

An entrance exam covers math, reading, science and English. There are resources to help students prepare for this exam. 

Many accelerated programs require several core prerequisite courses. Typical subjects include microbiology, statistics, anatomy and physiology. Students must earn a minimum grade of C in these courses, and the school can require that they were taken within the last five to 10years. 

The accelerated program entails intensive nursing coursework concentrating on science-based subjects such asanatomy, physiology, microbiology and chemistry. There is practical instruction in laboratories and work experience in healthcare settings such ashospitals, nursing homes, and other medical facilities. 

This is an example of the modules studied in the accelerated program:

  • Foundations of clinical nursing: pathophysiology, research and laboratory.
  • Pharmacology: medical, surgical, mental health, geriatric and clinical.
  • Family health: community health and clinical.
  • Leadership: ethics and advanced clinical.

With teaching and practical experience, students should be prepared to pass the NCLEX-RN and become an RN. 

The ABSN is more intensive than the traditional BSN programs, which only suits some students. It can require a high level of dedication and time management.  

There are advantages to choosing this kind of program, including the faster completion time and the fact thatemployers look favorably on the BSN. Having a bachelor’s degree gives opportunities for promotion, higher pay, and training for more specialist work such as CNM (Certified Nurse-Midwife). By completing an intensive course, students are fully prepared for the NCLEX-RN licensing exam.


The shortest route to becoming an RN is to pursue an ADN, which is the minimum requirement. It provides enough education and medical training to sit for the required exams and obtain a license.

The ADN degree typically takes two years of full-time study to complete. Part-time and evening options are available but will take longer. The curriculum includes nursing and liberal arts. This degree is ideal for students who want to pursue a professional nursing career but do not have the time or money to complete a BSN degree. It can also help LPNs (licensed practical nurses) to qualify for an RN license and move into professional nursing.

An online degreecan suit students who work or have family responsibilities. The coursework for an online or in-person ADN is the same, and online students are expected to attend laboratories for practical instruction to complete their clinical hours.

An RN with an associate degree can qualify for a wide range of specialty qualifications that can increase career opportunities and salary potential. The degree can also serve as the foundation for earning a BSN, which can expand professional and earning potential even more.

There is a liberal arts curriculum with courses that are considered prerequisites and must usually be completed before starting the ADN program. The list of prerequisite courses differs between nursing schools, but will typically include the following:

  • English composition
  • Communications
  • Psychology
  • Sociology
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Human anatomy andphysiology
  • Statistics

The ADN course will focus on nursing skills and practice and can include the following:

  • Microbiology and immunology
  • Medical-surgical nursing
  • Introduction to the nursing profession
  • Nursing health assessments
  • Professional issues in nursing
  • Pediatric nursing
  • Psychiatric nursing
  • Maternal-newborn nursing
  • Community health nursing

During the ADN program, on-the-job training gives the experience needed to succeed as a nurse. Students complete about 700 clinical hours, though many do more. There is the opportunity to work with local healthcare providers such as hospitals, nursing homes, clinics, or physicians’ offices to gain clinical experience under the supervision of a clinical trainer.

Many students decide to become a nurse after working in another healthcare field. This could be an MA looking to become an RN. Some schools offer an MA-to-ADN path, which allows the student to apply some of the coursework from the MA program toward the associate degree.

Some ADN programs for students already in entry-level nursing roles offer a fast-track by eliminating breaks between courses. Vocational-technical schools or online programs can offer this. Students with an LPN license can take an LPN-to-ADN program, a shortcut that builds on the education and experience they already have. 

Gaining an ADN can enable you to quickly start your nursing career by gaining experience and earning an income. It is less expensive and time-consuming than other degree programs and offers more flexible optionssuch as evening, weekend and online classes.


The BSN is a four-year undergraduate degree program that prepares students to become RNs. It provides two years of preliminary courses and general education followed by two years of clinical rotations and nursing classes. Although this is a more extended program than the ADN, it does give more opportunities to practice in specialist areas and provides the knowledge and critical thinking skills required for managerial roles. 

Many medical facilities have begun to require RNs to have a BSN degree, even for entry-level nurses. The BSN is a highly respected qualification because it grants more advanced nursing education and preparation.

Online BSN programs offer a flexible and convenient route to becoming a nurse. The courses completed online can take less time and be less expensive than programs run in a traditional classroom environment. Online nursing schools also allow you to enroll in the most affordable school without relocating. 

Having a BSN is also a requirement for specializing as a CNS (clinical nurse specialist), MSN (Master of Science in Nursing), DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice), or NP (nurse practitioner). 

There are prerequisite courses required for the BSN, usually introductory classes in biology, chemistry, anatomy and physiology. 

The BSN curriculum consists of courses including:

  • Assessment of Health and Illness
  • Anatomy, or Structure of the Human Body
  • Pharmacology
  • Pathophysiology
  • Health Maintenance and Restoration
  • Research in Nursing
  • Health Promotion and Risk Reduction
  • Mental Health
  • Reproductive Health
  • Statistics
  • Psychology
  • Community Health Nursing
  • Leadership and Management
  • Nursing Care I and II

Students also gain hands-on experience through clinical rotations in various healthcare settings, such as hospitals, clinics and nursing homes. They work with patients, clinical mentors, and other healthcare professionals. Placement opportunities include medical and surgical wards, oncology, ICU, A&E, coronary care, operating theatres, district nursing, GP practice nursing, and integrated community teams.

BSN programs focus on the whole individual’s development, leadership skills, and critical thinking ability. They also emphasize the importance of evidence-based practice, quality improvement, patient safety, cultural sensitivity and diversity.

Upon completion of the program, graduates are eligible to take the NCLEX-RN to become a licensed RN. BSN graduates can work in various healthcare settings such as hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, schools and government agencies. They can also continue their education and pursue advanced practice roles such as nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist and nurse midwife.

Application to nursing school

A strong applicant to nursing school will typically have a good academic record and a GPA that meets or exceeds the minimum requirement of the school or program to which they are applying. It is beneficial to have a clear understanding of the nursing profession and the responsibilities of a nurse and to demonstrate this in the personal statement and interview. Effective communication and interpersonal skills are important as nursing requires interacting with patients, families, and other healthcare professionals. The applicant should demonstrate a passion for helping others and a desire to make a positive impact in the lives of patients. Strong time management skills are required as nursing programs can be demanding and require a significant time commitment.

Healthcare experience will be beneficial for applying to nursing school, as it can demonstrate that the applicant is committed to the field and has some understanding of the work involved. It can also show that the applicant has been exposed to various aspects of the healthcare setting and that they have a realistic view of the nursing profession. It can help the applicant to better understand what the nursing profession entails and if it is the right career path for them. However, it is only sometimes a requirement, and other factors are considered.

Having a license can improve an application to nursing school. This could be a CNA (certified nursingassistant), LPN (licensed practical nurse), RT (respiratory therapist) or MA (medical assistant). Volunteering in a healthcare setting can also be beneficial. This can demonstrate that the applicant has some training and experience in healthcare and is committed to the field. It can also show that the applicant understands the healthcare setting and the work involved. However, it is only sometimes a requirement.

Generally, nursing schools in the US expect applicants to have a strong academic record, with grades mostly ‘B’ or above. Some nursing schools may require a minimum GPA of 3.0 or higher, while others may be more flexible. It is best to check with the specific school or program you are applying to in order to determine their specific requirements regarding grades. Additionally, some nursing schools require prerequisite courses to be completed before applying to their programs, such as English, Math, Anatomy, and Physiology.

Finding the right nursing school can take some research and careful consideration. It can be helpful

to visit schools and check out the facilities, such as the library, computer suites and simulation laboratories. It is also a good idea to talk to current students, alumni and faculty members and visit the school’s website to learn more about the program and the school’s culture. 

There are scholarships available. Most are awarded based on financial need, though some are for academic achievement or community service. Many scholarships do not consider academic achievement. Both public and private organizations are offering scholarships to students at nursing schools. The scholarships are for various groups, including students with disabilities, minorities, veterans, first-generation degree students, single parents, and mature and international students. 


Now is an excellent time to apply for a nursing degree as nurses are in demand, and there are opportunities to work in various healthcare settings and many options for career advancement. The differing aspects of the three nursing degrees mean that applicants can choose the one that is most appropriate in terms of time required, the intensity of the course, and affordability. When the choice has been made and a place has been gained at nursing school, it will be the first step to having a rewarding career.

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