You took the job as a nursing assistant because you needed to get out of your parent’s house, buy a decent car and some new clothes. You’ve been at it for a year or two and you’re wondering if the “job” can turn into a real career—with more money, prestige and better working conditions.
Due to the staffing shortage in your hospital, several nursing assistants you know feel overworked and underpaid. They’ve decided to leave nursing altogether. You, on the other hand, think the field may be right for you, despite the heavy workload. You enjoy helping people. So how do you turn your job into the career you hope is waiting for you?
Go Back to College. Complete an associate's degree in nursing (ASN). These programs typically take two to three years to complete. If you can, earn a bachelor's degree in nursing (BSN), which usually requires a four-year commitment. Bachelor's programs will include more training in social sciences than other nursing programs. Some states are pushing nurses to earn a BSN degree. New York’s "BSN in 10" initiative is backed by nursing associations and major health policy organizations and would mandate a BSN degree for licensure. Most BSN degrees include courses in sociology, communications, leadership, and critical thinking.
Complete a Vocational Nursing Program. If formal college training is out of reach or won’t fit your schedule, take an accredited vocational nursing program. These programs vary in length, depending on which institution you choose. While most RNs complete a BSN or an ASN, an accredited vocational program will currently make you eligible for licensure.
Take the National Council Licensure Examination-RN. This nationally recognized licensing exam is required for all registered nurses. You will need to have an ASN, BSN or vocational certificate before you can be eligible to take this examination.
Hone a Nurse’s Skillset. It’s not just about formal education and licensing. A good nurse needs strong communication skills, compassion, openness to diversity, and the ability to perform under stressful situations. As you’ve already seen in your job, patients are often frightened and in pain, so they need care, comfort, and reassurance. They look to you to help them stay positive and fight through their illnesses. You’ll also need to improve your team-working skills--with doctors, receptionists, and other staff members.
Stay Current. Even after you've earned all your degrees and certifications, you should continue to read medical journals, attend conferences and seminars, and stay up to date on the policies of your hospital. You may have to take additional courses in medicine and medical technologies.
Once you’ve completed all the above requirements, you should schedule an appointment with the HR manager of your current employer to discuss your career goals. Show them your updated resume and inquire about any openings in your department or other departments. Keep in regular contact with your HR manager through informal meetings and emails.
If there are no openings for nurses in your hospital, check out the American Nurses Association’s career center. You should also explore membership opportunities in the ANA and sign up for ANA eNewsletters.
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