Photo: Illustration by Charles W. Jones/
Photo: Illustration by Charles W. Jones/

Choosing a path into nursing

Degree options

Diploma in nursing (DiN)

What’s required: a high school diploma or the GED equivalent is usually sufficient for admission into a nursing diploma program. Diploma nurses typically attend classes and hands-on training in nursing schools associated with hospitals or medical facilities rather than with traditional colleges. Most programs require a one- to two-year commitment. The Diploma in Nursing (DiN) was once the trendiest way of becoming an RN but may be phased out soon.

What I can do with it: You can work as a registered nurse, although many employers prefer to hire job candidates with at least a two-year associate degree.

Where I can work: Entry level jobs in a hospital or inpatient facility can be available to diploma-holders.

Associate of Science in Nursing

What’s required: Two to three years of course study in topics including anatomy, nutrition, chemistry and microbiology. It also requires several liberal arts courses. Degree options include: Associate of Nursing (AN), Associate Degree in Nursing (AND), Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) and Associate of Applied Science in Nursing (AASN).

What can I do with it:

You can become a registered nurse and find entry level work. You will need to apply for a nursing license from your state board of nursing and take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). You also can continue your education by applying your course credits toward a bachelor’s degree.

Where can I work: Although a bachelor’s degree is often preferred over an ADN, you can find job opportunities with hospitals, home healthcare providers, insurance carriers, nursing care facilities and doctor’s offices and assisted living facilities, among other places.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing

What’s required: A BSN program typically takes four years to complete and includes both liberal arts courses and ones related to your career in nursing.

What I can do with it: While you can be an RN with an associate degree, nurses with a BSN are usually given more responsibility, more supervisory roles and higher salaries. Some of the jobs open to nurses with their BSN include surgical nurse, pediatric nurse, hospice nurse, Intensive Care Unit (ICU) nurse, obstetric and gynecological nurse.

Where can I work: A variety of workplace options will be available to you with a BSN, including private medical and surgical hospitals, physicians’ offices, public medical and surgical hospitals, home healthcare services and nursing care facilities.

Master of Science in Nursing

What’s required: A commitment of about two years is normal. Some MSN programs want you to have a certain amount of work experience. Some require that you have a Bachelor of Science in nursing (BSN), are a registered nurse, have a minimum GPA and GRE score, and have some clinical experience.

What I can do with it: practitioner. Earning your MSN qualifies you to deliver many of the same health care services that physicians are qualified to do, something that’s especially important in today’s high-cost health care field. Typically, nurses who are pursuing an MSN will focus on one of four advanced practice areas: nurse practitioner, certified nurse anesthetist, clinical nurse specialist or certified nurse midwife.

Where can I work: You have plenty of options, including general medical and surgical hospitals, home health care, independent practice, schools and universities, and physician’s offices.

Doctor of Nursing

What’s required: This typically requires a three to five-year investment of time and energy. It can be a goal if your long-range objective is nursing leadership. There are four types of nursing doctorate degrees to choose from and each one is specific to a certain path in the nursing field.

• Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP): Emphasis on clinical practice-oriented leadership training.

• Doctor of Nursing (ND): Focus is on developing advanced specialist skills.

• Doctor of Nursing Science (DNSc): It’s primary focus is investigative and research skills.

• Doctor of Nursing Philosophy (PhD): Emphasizes scholarly research and inquiry.

What I can do with it: You probably will move out of hands-on nursing, although the type of doctorate you earn will factor into the work you do. For example, a Doctor of Nursing practice (DNP) might work as a nurse executive in a hospital or clinic, while a Doctor of Nursing Philosophy (Ph.D.) typically concentrates on scholarly research. In a hospital or clinic, it’s likely you will have all or some responsibility for managing other nurses and staff; taking a leadership role in providing patient care, developing policies and procedures and conducting research.

Where can I work?

Common workplaces include: general medical and surgical hospitals, public health offices, research facilities or an independent office of your own.

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