(A Very Brief History) You may be hard pressed to find an individual working in healthcare unfamiliar with the name Florence Nightingale. You may find it a little more difficult to find an individual that understands her contributions to modern nursing. This snip-it certainly isn’t going to give you a deep understanding, but rather a quick “why we know her name”. She is often known as “the mother of nursing”, as she began the groundwork for what we know as modern nursing care standards.
Nightingale helped to fund the St. Thomas Hospital, after spending time in a war-torn Crimea region, which harbored the Nightingale Training School for Nurses¹. The establishment of this program soon gave rise to other nursing programs in 1873, located in New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts¹. These programs would eventually give rise to more and more programs, all basing their teachings upon that of Florence Nightingale.
Starting with these first establishments almost 150 years ago, there are numerous options for people to enter into the healthcare field. This post will focus on the nursing field for the most part. Within nursing there are still a vast array of options for education, degree level, job opportunities, etc. There are also many things to account for when choosing a school as many will give you a piece of paper, but not all will get you into a job. What I am saying is make sure your school has the appropriate accreditation before enrolling. Lots to think about, but here is my down and dirty.
MA or LPN
I am going to go ahead and clear the air a little. A medical assistant is not a nurse. Tasks performed by MA’s generally will be information gathering, vital sign checks, and other clerical duties. An LPN’s (or LVN in some areas) scope is a bit larger, will include many of the tasks an MA can perform, but can vary from state to state as each nursing board has their own scope of practice. A quick Google search gives me a total tuition cost varying from $1200-$5000. Programs can last a couple of weeks to about a year. LPN programs appear to run $10,000-$15,000 across the board and are typically a year in length. However, once out of school the median salary for a medical assistant is about $33,000 annually while the LPN can expect to bring in around $45,000 annually on average. This is a difference of approximately $6.00 an hour, if you are working a 40/hour work week.
Getting a medical assistant certificate can be a quick path to a better paying job, however, be wary of programs that will put you behind the curve substantially once you are completed. Meaning, do some research into what jobs are available, and what these facilities are paying.
LPN vs RN
With that being said, nursing is moving toward the “weeding” out of LPN’s as much as possible, at least in the acute care setting. This will likely mean our LPN’s work in the rehab, skilled nursing facilities, or the office setting. I started as a LPN, some of the hardest working nurses I know are LPN’s, but the market is getting thinner and thinner. Furthermore, the pay for an RN will be substantially higher than that of an LPN in most markets. Using an LPN license to bridge yourself to an RN degree is a good idea, as it will provide a high level of experience and resume building while going to school. Many LPN programs can be easier to enter, and with that entry into an RN bridge program is likely going to have less wait time as well. Again, do some research in your area and make sure this path is going to be a solid bet for your future.
ADN to BSN and beyond
Once you finally get through your RN program, and settle in at your place of employment the wheels may begin turning again trying to determine the “next step”. If you went into a 2-year program, your next move will be toward a 4-year degree, perhaps an RN-MSN bridge program, or maybe you hang it up and head back to that awesome barista gig at Starbucks (I have had those days too). Really the world is your oyster at this point and the hardest decision is going to be which path to choose. Nurse Practitioner, Physician Assistant, Nurse Anesthetist, or even medical school, the list is quite lengthy. All come with their own challenges, variable costs, and all have sacrifices that will need to be made. But, at this point sacrifice should slowly be becoming your middle name.