It is hardly an exaggeration to say that nurses are the backbone of the healthcare industry. While physicians and surgeons often receive all of the accolades for performing medical miracles, it is the nurses who provide the first line of defense.
They check vitals and collect a patient’s medical history. They discuss any concerns the patient may have about an impending procedure or medical issue. They assist in surgery, treat the injured until a doctor can arrive on the scene and are responsible for helping patients and their families during the recovery process.

As former U.N. Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold described it, “constant attention by a good nurse may be just as important as a major operation by a surgeon.”


There are a variety of nursing programs available to those who wish to pursue a career in this profession. Regardless of the level of degree earned, all nursing students are expected to complete core courses in anatomy and physiology, nursing, microbiology, chemistry, nutrition and the behavioral sciences.

There are three kinds of nursing degrees that can be earned. An associate degree program in nursing is the most common, and can be completed in roughly two years. Bachelor degree programs require four years to complete and will include advanced training in the physical and social sciences. Nurses who wish to work in an administrative capacity are required to possess a bachelor’s degree.

Master’s degree programs are available for nursing, but are not required to work in the field. Nurses who wish to use their education to teach other nurses or to work in an executive position within the nursing industry will be required to possess a master’s degree.
Due to the nature of nursing, the majority of programs are offered in traditional classroom settings. Some prerequisites for nursing school are able to be completed online, but because of the clinical nature of nursing training, a completely online degree program is not available.
In addition to formal training, nursing candidates also are required to pass the National League of Nursing, or NLN, exam. The NLN is designed to test the basic knowledge taught during the first year of a nursing program to determine if the student should be admitted into the second year of the program.

Grade point averages, in addition to the raw NLN score, are used by most nursing programs to determine whether a student should be allowed to advance in their nursing studies. Failure to pass the NLN will result in students postponing their nursing education for up to a year, as the NLN is administered only once annually, and those who fail to pass it cannot continue in the nursing program until they do.

Following the successful completion of a degree program, nurses will be required to obtain licensing in order to practice in their profession. Each state is permitted to set its own guidelines for licensing, so nurse candidates are advised to check the licensing requirements for the state in which they plan to practice. Most quality nursing programs will provide this information to students upon enrollment.

A program called the Nurse Licensure Compact is effective in 26 states. Nurses are able to apply for licensure through this agency, which then applies to practicing their profession in any of the 26 states included in the compact. Those who opt to take the exam will be required to pay a fee to do so, and are required to renew their license through the compact every two years.

Salary and Job Outlook

As with other healthcare professions, nurses continue to be in high demand. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the need for qualified nurses will increase by 26 percent between now and 2020. That is more than double the increase in growth for other professions during the same time period.

The average annual salary for registered nurses, also known as RNs, is $64, 690.

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