Becoming a nurse is a very fulfilling and honorable career path. Many people believe that to become a nurse, a four-year degree is required. However, the truth is that one can become a registered nurse (RN) with just a two year Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN). As with any degree, there are multiple factors to consider when thinking about pursuing an ADN. Many people will have a host of questions such as:
- How much does the program cost?
- What will be taught in the curriculum?
- Are clinical hours required?
- What is the licensing exam like?
- What is the outlook on jobs?
It is a good idea to research community colleges or technical colleges to compare the different ADN programs available as most traditional four year universities only offer a degree path towards earning a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN). Because of the regional nature of community and technical colleges, the costs associated with obtaining an ADN vary.
Tuition & Additional Costs
Tuition for an Associate’s Degree in Nursing can vary wildly depending on things such as the location of the school, if the program includes tuition only or if the cost of additional items is built into the tuition. Most programs typically fall between $5,000 – $25,000 for public schools, and may even exceed $30,000 for private institutions. Residents of the state will also typically be eligible for discounts on in-state tuition. Many schools offer financial aid to students in the form of federal student loans, scholarships or grants.
Programs in cities with a higher cost of living, like Los Angeles or Chicago, may charge higher rates than community colleges in the rural area. Some programs charge for tuition only but expect students to cover additional costs such as equipment, books, uniforms, and other required supplies. Many nursing students are required to provide their stethoscope, scrubs, and in many instances pay for parking at their school or clinical facility. The additional costs can add up to $2,000 or more depending on the program.
To produce well-rounded scholars, most schools require students to take prerequisite classes for general education. These requirements vary by school. Most nursing students can expect a similar group of core classes needed to pass the NCLEX-RN. These classes include science, math, writing, and humanities.
Nursing students must be proficient in areas of chemistry, microbiology, human anatomy and physiology and pharmacology. It is also critical to have sharp math skills, and students can expect to take courses in algebra and statistics. Most, if not all, nursing programs will include psychology classes, writing or English, behavioral health, patient care, and basic nursing classes. There are typically minimum GPA requirements that students must meet to pass these classes, and they can be quite rigorous.
While book learning is an essential component of ADN programs, students learn the most by completing clinical hours. Every school and state have different requirements on the minimum number of hours required for clinicians, and students must complete the required number of hours to be eligible to take the NCLEX-RN exam. Students can expect to spend a great deal of their education in hospitals, rehab facilities or clinics working with professional nurses and doctors, and learning the practical applications of their school work.
Students will learn how to treat patients and superior nurses with professionalism and respect while honing their practical skills such as how to safely transfer patients or how to insert an IV. Clinical hours can be extremely exhausting and emotionally difficult, as this will be the first time students are challenged to put their knowledge to use all while maintaining a professional appearance and composure. Students working with geriatric patients or patients in palliative care may find that their hours are especially taxing emotionally.
NCLEX-RN Exam and RN Licensure
The National Council Licensing Exam of Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) is the national exam required to be passed in order to practice as an RN. Schools publish their pass rates on their websites, which is a good indicator of how well students in the program fare when taking the exam. Once a student passes the NCLEX-RN exam, they will receive their results and license within a few weeks.
The exam is difficult and students often study for weeks leading up to the exam date. The content of the exam is composed of four main components, or “Client Needs.” The Client Needs students will be tested on are as follows:
- Safe and Effective Care Environment
- Health Promotion and Maintenance
- Psychosocial Integrity
- Physiological Integrity
The exam is lengthy and there is a time limit so students will need to adequately prepare before the exam, and on test day, to ensure they are at their best mentally and emotionally. Tips on how to prepare and pass the NCLEX-RN exam can be found here. Each state also sets its own guidelines on how often nurses must renew their license. Nurses must always keep their license active in order to remain employed as a registered nurse.
Jobs to Expect
The job outlook for nurses continues to be very strong. After completing an Associate’s Degree in Nursing and obtaining their license, students will be able to search for employment as a Registered Nurse. Some students wish to seek employment at a hospital or medical facility where they completed some of their clinical hours. Some students may want to expand their network and seek employment in private practice facilities. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the outlook for a career in nursing is growing at a rate much faster than the national average. With the Baby Boomer generation getting older and requiring more medical care, along with an increased national interest in health and well-being, more and more nurses are needed within healthcare facilities.
Many students will complete an internship in which they will get exposed to several different areas of practice with the hope of narrowing down their chosen specialty. Some areas in which an RN may specialize are neonatal care, emergency room care, oncology, labor and delivery, the operating room and so much more. The average hourly rate for an RN with an Associate’s Degree in Nursing is now at $29.34 per hour! Many nurses do get overtime pay as well. Nurses do typically have non-traditional schedules. Some students may find themselves working night shift hours, and while it can be difficult to adjust to this schedule, it often comes with a shift premium with the potential to earn more money.
Hourly rates can be higher for nurses who are willing to travel to different places as a travel nurse. Travel nurses work on typically short term contracts with different healthcare facilities all over the country. A travel nurse could expect to be in a different city every 3-6 months if desired. Typically employers reimburse the travel nurse for relocating costs and provide free housing or housing stipends. There are certainly many benefits to exploring travel nursing for those who wish to live in new cities.
As the healthcare industry continues to see tremendous growth, the need for nurses will continue to rise. Compensation, flexibility with schedules and personal satisfaction make becoming a registered nurse a wonderful career path, and it only takes an Associate’s Degree in Nursing to get started in this thriving field.