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Top 5 nursing degrees for 2012

Did your last IV feel like a game of pin the tail on the donkey? While that scenario makes YOU feel like the ass, it's your nurse who should've been better prepared.

In addition to a gentle demeanor and perhaps a steady hand, the key to entering the nursing field is the right education. Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts a 22 percent increase in nursing jobs from 2008 to 2018, a college degree, coupled with solid hands-on training, can make you a much more competitive candidate when it's time to reach out with resumes. But if you're not quite sure where or how to start, check out five nursing degrees on the rise for 2012.

5 nursing degrees on the rise

1. Certificate or Diploma. A certificate or diploma in nursing can lead to employment as a licensed practical nurse, or LPN, also referred to in some states as a licensed vocational nurse, or LVN. These programs can be completed in nine to 18 months and enable you to partake in a variety of entry-level tasks: taking vitals, assisting with dressing and wounds, and following the directions of RNs or physicians.

When searching for online LPN degrees, make sure you find one that includes extensive hands-on training in a hospital environment. Having experience in a hospital before you hit the job market could be what gets your foot in the proverbial door. Once you have completed this training and passed your NCLEX-PN licensing exam, you can also further your training in an LPN to RN program, which can help you work toward becoming a registered nurse (RN).

2.The ADN. The associate degree in nursing is a two-year program that can help you take steps toward a registered nurse career and passing the NCLEX-RN exam. RNs can seek work in any number of fields from ambulatory services to critical care and the ADN is often considered the stepping stone to a four-year degree.

You can seek an ADN having LPN experience or by meeting the qualifications to enter directly from a high-school education, assuming you've obtained the right kind of science background. If not, preparatory classes may be required. As with an LPN program, you'll want to look for an online program that places substantial emphasis on hospital training so that when you're ready to start your career, you'll have the hands-on skills that are essential for a strong start.

3. The BSN. Many nurses with an associate degree choose to work on completion of a four-year program. While the pay is about equal for RNs having either an associate or bachelor's degree (although some data shows RN-BSNs making slightly more), the four-year degree does avail nurses to increased employment opportunities and put them at the cusp for pursuing graduate education, the BLS indicates.

Online RN to BSN degrees can help you to make that step from a two-year to four-year degree. Another option includes the accelerated BSN program, which is designed for those without a nursing background but holding a bachelor's degree in another area.

4. The MSN.The master's of science degree in nursing is required for those who want to become an advanced practice nurse, or APN. The BLS currently lists four advanced-practice nursing occupations, all requiring a master's-level education: clinical nurse specialists, CNSs; certified registered nurse anesthetists, CRNAs; certified nurse-midwives, CNMs; and nurse practitioners, or NPs.

You'll find both online RN to MSN degrees and online BSN to MSN degrees to help you advance toward graduate-level training. You can also find accelerated MSN degrees geared toward those with no prior nursing training, as well as online MSN degrees focused in newer fields such as leadership or informatics.

5. The DPN. The doctor of nursing practice degree is one of the highest professional degrees awarded in the field, focusing on the clinical aspects of nursing. There are any number of other doctoral-based nursing programs available, but the DPN (instead of the MSN) appears to be the new threshold set by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, or AACN, for entry into advanced practicing nursing by 2015.

While DPN degrees are not readily available online, you can find the online Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing as one option that is offered through distance learning.

That's a wrap

Talking to other nurses and academic advisors could be a smart way to determine what nursing degree is right for you. However, with the BLS predicting fast career growth in the nursing field and the AACN concerned that a shortage of nursing faculty is slowing the expansion of nurse education, it may be time to make sure your nursing ducks are all in a row. You could find that online nursing programs are a godsend when it comes to advancing your education while also staying targeted on you career; some might even describe that as a mission worth fighting for.


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