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Associate Degree Programs in Nursing

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The associate degree in nursing is an educational path taken by many registered nurses and some licensed practical nurses. These programs prepare nurses to move into the workforce with the skills and knowledge necessary to take care of patients, work with other nurses and adhere to the policies of good nursing care in a wide variety of medical settings.

There are three ways to become a registered nurse. Students can opt for the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), earn their diploma from an approved nursing program, or pursue their Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN). Licensed practical nurses can choose the associate degree program or the LPN program through a nursing school. Upon completion of the program, you must pass a nursing exam in order to receive the license to practice.

Associate Degree Programs in Nursing

If you want to become a nurse through associate degree programs in nursing, you must first meet basic admission requirements, including a minimum GPA and high school diploma. Associate degree programs in nursing are typically offered in community colleges, nursing schools or universities that support associate degree programs. The associate degree in nursing typically includes but is not limited to the following topics:

  • Concepts in Nursing -- the study of human health needs, including the skills and knowledge necessary to treat and comfort patients of all ages in all stages of life.
  • Pediatric Nursing -- the study of common health issues from infancy to adolescence, including discussions of preventative care, such as immunizations.
  • Nursing Skills -- laboratory courses designed to allow aspiring nurses to practice nursing skills in a supervised atmosphere.
  • Psychiatric Nursing -- how to spot the symptoms of mental disorders, develop therapeutic treatments in a nursing environment, and understand human behavior as it relates to psychiatric disorders.
  • Medical/Surgical Nursing -- addressing the needs of patients who are going through significant medical challenges or surgical issues, how to address trauma cases and assist in various types of surgeries.
  • Leadership and Management in Nursing -- learning decision-making techniques, accountability and ethics, management concepts for patients with long-term illness, and how to manage the treatment of patients with complex medical requirements.
  • Practical Pharmacology -- understanding drugs in a medical setting, including side effects, contraindications, alternative treatments, administration of drugs, legal issues and ethics.
  • Medical Terminology -- becoming well-versed in universal medical terminologies, including systemic word-building to help students learn terminology quickly.

Some associate degree programs might also require general education courses, such as English, arts and humanities, mathematics and science.

Certification and Licensure

Students who successfully complete the associate in nursing must then pass the National Council Licensure Examination. This is known as the NCLEX-PN for those who are pursing a practical nursing license, and the NCLEX-RN for those who are pursuing the registered nursing designation. Each state might then have additional requirements; information on each state can be found at the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.

Work Environment and Typical Responsibilities

Nurses who graduate from associate nursing schools can find work in many settings, including hospitals, clinics, long-term care facilities, home health care, offices of physicians and more. Nurses typically interact with patients, doctors and other health care professionals on a daily basis. Their work schedule depends greatly upon the facility; some nurses might work nights, days, swing shifts or a combination of these.

Those who work as licensed practical nurses are usually under the supervision of a registered nurse. Registered nurses work under the supervision of a physician and might oversee the work of several LPNs or technicians. The general responsibilities of a nurse include:

  • Monitoring patient health, keeping track of vital signs, reporting problems
  • Providing basic nursing care, including wound treatment and administering medications
  • Providing basic comfort care, which can include both emotional and physical support
  • Keeping clear records and updating them regularly, then reporting to other nurses or doctors on the patient's health issues, changes or improvements
  • Discussing health care issues and choices with patients and, if appropriate, their families

Registered nurses often have more duties, including the ability to perform and analyze diagnostic tests, consult with doctors on care plans and operate various forms of medical equipment.

Other responsibilities for nurses might vary depending upon the setting in which they work. For instance, a home health nurse might teach family members how to care for their loved one, while those who work in the maternity ward might help mothers learn how to nurse and care for their newborn children.

Salary Information and Employment Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, licensed practical nurses made a national mean annual salary of $42,400 in May 2012, and have a job outlook of 22 percent from 2010 to 2020. Registered nurses made a national mean annual wage of $67,930 in May 2012, with expected job growth of 26 percent from 2010 to 2020 (bls.gov/oes, 2013; bls.gov/ooh, 2012).

Sources:

Bureau of Labor Statistics: Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses|
Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment Statistics, Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses
Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment Statistics, Registered Nurses
Bureau of Labor Statistics: Registered Nurses
College of San Mateo: Nursing Course Descriptions
Northwestern Michigan College: Nursing Associate Degree Course Descriptions


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