The demand for registered nurses is skyrocketing, there’s never been a better time to become an RN. You can be out of the classroom in just 24 months and earn the same professional license as a bachelor’s-educated colleague. It’s the ideal way to gain valuable experience and make money while you continue learning.
Can You Become an RN in Two Years?
Healthcare is complicated, so the push is on for more nurses to have degrees. But the truth is, universities can’t graduate enough students to meet the growing need, so nurses with associate’s degrees continue to play an invaluable role in the healthcare system.
Both bachelor’s and associate degree programs cover the same material required by state boards of nursing, the license exam is identical for all graduates. But while two-year programs focus on practical skills, four-year programs include courses that better prepare students for leadership positions.
Associate degree nurses will also qualify for supervisory roles with experience, but select opportunities require a four-year education. The good news for associate degree nurses is that it is easier than ever to find a lifetime career without having to crack another book or get a bachelor’s degree without spending four full years in school. With a two-year RN degree, you can work in the field and take classes, while you bring home a paycheck.
What Does an RN do?
RNs plan, provide and coordinate nursing care. They create care plans, manage medical services and collaborate with other professionals to ensure patients’ needs are met. Job responsibilities for nurses with associate degrees are similar to those of their bachelor’s-prepared colleagues and depend on the setting.
Hospitals are fast-paced, and patients are medically complex. Still, an RN with an associate degree will:
- Create nursing care plans.
- Assess for changes in patient condition.
- Administer medications.
- Start IVs.
- Perform blood transfusions.
- Dress wounds
- Insert urinary catheters.
- Measure intake and output
- Collect biological samples for testing.
- Manage ventilators.
- Monitor pain and vital signs.
- Assist patients with activities of daily living.
- Communicate with collaborating healthcare professionals.
- Supervise practical nurses and paraprofessional staff.
- Educate patients and their families.
- Provide emergency care.
Supervisory and leadership positions are typically reserved for RNs with bachelor’s or master’s degrees.
Because nursing facilities care for seriously ill but medically stable patients, registered nurses with associate’s degrees are often in supervisory and even leadership roles.
Their responsibilities include:
- Monitoring residents for changes in condition
- Administering medications and treatments
- Performing tube feedings
- Managing long-term urinary catheters
- Testing fingerstick blood sugar levels
- Collecting biological samples for off-site lab testing
- Assisting with mobility and personal care
- Managing outside appointments with physicians
- Providing companionship and emotional support
- Supporting family members
- Addressing psychosocial needs
- Supervising nursing assistants, dietary aides
Medical assistants now do many of the clinical tasks once assigned to nurses. Today, an RN working in doctor’s offices has responsibilities more commensurate with their training, such as:
- Triaging ill patients
- Client outreach
- Patient education
- Managing complex referrals
- Wound care
- Clinical staff supervision
Any RN has the education necessary to work independently in a client’s home. Less expensive than services provided in a long-term care facility, home care is becoming a popular money-saving alternative.
A home care RN’s duties include:
- Monitoring changes in clients’ physical condition
- Assessing home safety
- Assisting with bathing, dressing and personal care
- Administering medications and treatments
- Managing medical equipment such as oxygen tanks, ventilators, CPAP machines and feeding pumps
- Supervising home-care aides
The pandemic underscores the need for more nurses in public health. Working with a local or regional office, an RN provides direct care and helps the government craft health policy. It’s a crucial role.
Entry-level positions with the following responsibilities are available:
- Analyzing health trends among specific demographic groups
- Planning disaster relief
- Managing disease prevention campaigns
- Advocating for at-risk populations
- Promoting public safety
- Encouraging vaccination and disease testing
What Do You Learn in an RN program?
State boards of nursing mandate what material vocational school programs must cover. Expect the following courses in the curriculum:
Microbiology is the study of microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses and fungi. It’s a critical topic for nursing students because it’s the foundation of infection control. Microorganisms cause many disorders, so nurses need to know what they are, where they live, how they spread and how to eradicate them. As researchers learn more about the beneficial role of bacteria in the body, it’s also important to know how to work with them.
Anatomy and Physiology
Anatomy is how the body is made, its structure and composition from blood to bones. Physiology is how it functions. In an anatomy and physiology class, you’ll learn in detail about the 12 body systems and how they relate to each other. Nurses need a broad base of clinical knowledge to troubleshoot the endless variety of problems patients experience, beginning with a thorough understanding of how the body works.
Diet can often be the best medicine. As a nurse, a nutrition class will help you educate patients about healthy eating. You’ll learn about the essential vitamins, minerals and macro-nutrients the body needs and how to adjust them as part of a therapeutic diet for people with chronic illnesses from diabetes to heart disease.
Pathophysiology is the study of disease processes. This course takes what you’ll learn about the body in anatomy and physiology a step further by covering both normal and abnormal function. By the end of the course, you’ll be able to describe the functional changes that occur with disease and the treatments used to alleviate them.
Pharmacology courses cover the actions, uses and effects of drugs. You’ll learn about the dozens of general pharmaceutical categories, how they work and what types of interactions and side effects to expect. On the job, you’ll use this knowledge to safely administer medications from antivirals to laxatives while helping patients understand their regimen.
Nurses work with a broad spectrum of patients, so it’s crucial to understand what people need at various stages of development from infancy to late adulthood. Human development courses break each life stage down into their distinct characteristics, making it easier to adjust treatment to patients’ needs. Most vocational school clinical rotations include time with each demographic.
What Skills Do You Gain During an RN Program?
RN programs teach a host of clinical and soft skills. Among the most valuable skills include communication, critical thinking, assertiveness, and time management.
Skill #1: Communication Skills
As liaisons between patients, families and physicians, nurses are expected to have exceptional communication skills. But people have different ways of communicating, so it’s not always easy.
In nursing school, you’ll learn a proven method for establishing rapport with patients. Called “therapeutic communication,” it involves techniques like active listening, body language observation and reflection to understand what patients are trying to get across.
You’ll also learn to speak and write clearly, succinctly and accurately. The volume of data in healthcare is huge, so it’s essential to document meaningfully but in as few words as possible. It’s also critical to transcribe data, including doctor’s orders, with the utmost caution.
Skill #2: Critical Thinking Skills
Critical thinking is how nurses evaluate facts and come to rational conclusions. It’s how an RN interprets data to make quick but effective clinical decisions, such as deciding if the patient with chest pain needs help before a woman in labor.
While critical thinking comes naturally to some, it’s more challenging for others. Thankfully, it’s a process that can be learned and cultivated through experience. Vocational schools offer a comprehensive range of classroom and off-site clinical experiences to bolster your decision-making confidence.
Skill #3: Assertiveness
A nurse’s primary responsibility is to serve as a patient advocate, being assertive is something they must do for themselves and their patients. An RN who suspects child abuse, for example, is a mandated reporter despite the conflict it may cause between healthcare providers and the child’s family. It’s their professional duty.
Assertiveness can be a difficult skill to master. Sometimes confused for aggressiveness, it’s an approach some people avoid, to prevent friction between colleagues, patients and other providers. But while being assertive can feel uncomfortable emotionally, it enhances self-esteem, boosts confidence and keeps therapeutic relationships honest. It’s a respectful and constructive way to ensure everyone’s rights are mutually respected, and no one feels bullied.
If you’re not naturally assertive, is it a skill you can learn? You can, and nursing school will teach you. It takes practice, but seasoned instructors will help you express yourself effectively.
Skill #4: Time Management Skills
Everything a nurse does, from administering medications to documentation, is time-sensitive; planning, prioritization and delegation are a must. Making the most of every minute keeps busy days from becoming overwhelming and ensures you’re ready at a moment’s notice for eventual emergencies.
The good news about time management skills is that while they’re not second nature for everyone, they’re less of an innate ability as a habit. In nursing school, you’ll learn about the many organizational tools available for nurses, plus tips and strategies for managing time productively.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, our communities will need nearly a quarter-million new RNs to meet demand through 2029. Few careers that require just two short years to train for are as secure, meaningful and professionally rewarding.
Ready to become an RN in just two years? The Associate of Science in Nursing degree program at Gwinnett College provides training to prepare college graduates to enter the nursing profession as a registered nurse. Classroom theory, challenging assignments, skill labs, simulations, and clinical experiences help to prepare college graduates for an entry-level nursing position.
Upon successful completion of the program and demonstrated nursing competence, the college graduates will be eligible to apply to take the NCLEX-RN licensure examination.* Upon graduation and licensure, college graduates will be eligible to seek employment in hospitals, clinics, private duty, urgent and acute care centers, and various other medical or business facilities requiring the services of registered nurses.
*While Gwinnett Institute provides test preparation and review assistance to college students, it cannot guarantee any college student will be able to take or pass any type of licensure exam. College students must be mindful throughout their entire training program that licensure is a pre-requisite for employment as a nurse and to diligently prepare themselves to meet this important requirement.
Contact us today to learn more about becoming an RN at Gwinnett College.