As Baby Boomer nurses age, a shortage of Registered Nurses will intensify even more in the next 10 to 11 years. This attrition of baby boomer nurses will continue to add pressure on the medical workforce as the need for health care rises. “The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) is working with schools, policy makers, nursing organizations, and the media to bring attention to this healthcare concern” (AACN, 2014).

There are various factors that impact the nursing shortage and nursing school enrollment is not growing fast enough to meet the projected demand for nurses and nursing care services during the critical years. You can be part of the solution as you think about a promising career path. With the extreme need for nursing jobs in the years to come, you will be making sound decision regarding your education that will boost your nursing career and this will open doors to success.

This guide will help you understand where to begin and/or how to grow in the nursing profession with the wide variety of nursing degrees and certifications available for you!

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What Is the Difference between Nursing Credentials, Degrees, and Certifications?

A degree is an academic title conferred to honor distinguished achievement or service (Merriam-Webster Inc., 2014). This academic degree is a college or university diploma that you generally obtain in recognition of your satisfactory completion of a course of study. There are two common degrees awarded such as associate degree and bachelor’s degree. Further studies usually award the master’s and doctoral degrees.

Credential, on the other hand, refers to a quality, skill, or experience that makes a person suited to do a job (Merriam-Webster Inc., 2014). Academic degrees and certifications are examples of credentials. Publications such as scientific papers, books, and journals can be used as credentials.

Certification is an official approval to do something professionally or legally (Merriam-Webster Inc., 2014). You can obtain certifications or qualifications from a recognized professional society or agency, from universities, accredited agencies, private certifiers, or from national or international professional organizations. Some certifications are valid only for a certain period of time and must be renewed periodically, others are for a lifetime without the need for renewal. Earning a continuing education unit (CEU) in the nursing profession is needed as part of the renewal of certifications.

What Are the Different Types of Nursing Degrees?

The nursing degrees available for you include associate degree, Bachelor of Science in Nursing, Bachelor of Arts in Nursing, Master of Science in Nursing, Master of Arts in Nursing, Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing (PhD), and Doctor of Education (EdD).These different nursing degrees can help prepare you for nursing licensure. Advanced nursing degrees such as the DNP, PhD and EdD can help you advance your career in the profession.

Associate Degree

Associate Nursing DegreeOffered by various community or junior colleges, this is also known as associate of science in nursing or (ASN) or associate of arts in nursing (AAN). This degree takes about two years to complete and prepares you for the RN licensure exam.

The Organization for Associate Degree Nursing promotes Associate Degree Nursing through collaboration, advocacy, and education to ensure excellence in the future of health care and professional nursing practice.


Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

BSN DegreeA college or university with a nursing curriculum offers this undergraduate baccalaureate degree which usually takes four years to complete given a full-time course load. The BSN degree prepares you for the licensure exam so you can work as an RN and this also gives you opportunity for further higher education.

The National Student Nurses’ Association mentor students to prepare them for initial licensure as registered nurses, and convey the standards, ethics, and skills that students will need as responsible and accountable leaders and members of the profession.

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

MSN DegreeThis degree prepares you to become an expert in advanced nursing practice and/or management for leadership roles. You can become a nurse practitioner, a nurse anesthetist, clinical nurse specialist, nurse educator, or a nurse researcher after completing a master’s program in a university for about two years with full-time course load. A research dissertation is usually required before graduation.

The American Nurses Association advances the nursing profession to improve health for all through fostering high standards of nursing practice, leadership and governance, research and nursing education.

Master of Arts in Nursing (MAN)

MAN DegreeThe Master of Arts in Nursing (MAN) Program prepares nurses for leadership positions in the areas of clinical practice, administration, education, and research. The MAN typically prepares you for a career in education or administrative leadership.

In order to build a strong and diverse nursing workforce that would continue to advance the global health, the National League for Nursing promotes excellence in nursing education.


Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)

DNP DegreeThe decision made by the member schools affiliated with the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) on October 25, 2004 led to the movement of the current level of preparation for advanced nursing practice from the master’s degree to the doctorate level by the year 2015.

The DNP is a graduate degree designed for nurses who are willing to go for a terminal degree in nursing practice that offers an alternative to a research-focused doctoral degree like the PhD. The DNP focuses on clinical nursing practice and usually does not require a dissertation. However, a scholarly project is required in the completion of the course which can take two to three years to complete.

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

PhD in NursingThe PhD in Nursing degree prepares nurses to facilitate the development of theory-based nursing care practices. It is geared towards the advancement of research-based education and practice-based nursing. Nurses who obtain the PhD degree are equipped to conduct research, become professors in universities, or be high-level administrators or policy developers. This degree require a dissertation and can take about two or three years to complete.


Doctor of Education (EdD)

EdD in NursingThe EdD prepares nurses to conduct research and become professors in universities.  The requirements of this program and the duration are typically similar to a PhD program.

This is a promising career opportunity for nurses who wish to become future educators in nursing considering the nursing faculty shortage in the US. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) is doing its best to secure federal funding for faculty development programs to minimize the impact of faculty shortages on the nation’s nursing shortage.

What Are the Various Nursing Credentials?

The nursing credentials that you can choose from include Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) or Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN), Registered Nurse (RN), and Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) among others.

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) or Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN)

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) or Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN)

What LPN or LVN do: LPNs or LVNs are responsible for obtaining the patient’s vital signs such as the heart rate, respiratory rate, temperature, and blood pressure. They collect blood samples and assist with feeding, dressing, providing basic nursing care to patients. They work in clinics or private home settings.

Registered Nurse (RN)

Registered Nurse (RN)What RNs do: Registered nurses (RNs) take care of patients by assisting them in their needs, planning and coordinating patient care, providing patients with health teachings, advice and emotional support including their family.

Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN)

Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN)What APRNs do: Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) are nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners who provide and coordinate primary and specialty nursing care to patients and their family. Their scope of practice varies from state to state.

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What Are Nursing Certifications Available out There?

CNA Certified Nursing AssistantCertified Nursing Assistant

They are also called nursing aides or orderly. To become one, you must complete a state-approved education program and must pass the competency exam. At least a high school diploma is needed for entry-level education.


LPN/LVN: Licensed Practical Nurse/Licensed Vocational NurseLicensed Practical Nurse/Licensed Vocational Nurse

To become an LPN/LVN, you must complete a state-approved educational program from a vocational/technical school or community college, which typically takes about 1 year to complete. You must also be licensed.


RN: Registered NurseRegistered Nurse

To become an RN, you can either take one of three education paths: a bachelor’s degree in nursing, an associate’s degree in nursing, or a diploma from an approved nursing program. Registered nurses must also be licensed.


Other various nursing certifications include Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN), Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA), Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM), Certified Occupational Health Nurse (COHN), Nurse Practitioner (NP), and Nurse Researcher (NR).

There’a great number of various nursing degrees but which of them is the one for you? Take your time and be ready to dive into the world on medicine!