Health care headlines from Nevada tell an alarming story about critical shortages of qualified workers. The state’s primary care workforce is not growing, and there are woefully few doctors, nurses, and other medical employees to meet the needs of the population. In fact, the Silver State ranks near the bottom of the list among states in nearly every nursing category. It is 50th in the number of registered nurses (RN) for every 100,000 residents, 41st in nurse practitioners, 49th in licensed practical nurses, and 44th in nurse midwives. These numbers clearly show one thing: educating new nurses must be a state priority.
The U.S. Department of Labor predicts more than a million RNs will be needed in American communities by 2020, prompting health care leaders to develop a variety of new ideas to address the problem. One of the most promising suggestions is the development of direct entry or accelerated master’s degrees. These programs allow you to make the switch to a nursing career even if you graduated from college with a degree in a non-nursing subject. If you choose one of these degree plans, you can typically expect a quicker route to RN licensure and advanced nursing status than the traditional path.
Nevada does not currently have any colleges that offer these fast-track programs. However, direct entry programs are gaining ground at nursing institutions across the nation. In 1990, there were only 12 direct entry master’s programs nationally, but the numbers have grown to at least 65 today, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. More than 6100 students were enrolled in these master’s programs in 2012, with nearly 2100 students graduating from them that year. A year earlier, nursing schools enrolled 5980 in these programs, and 1796 students graduated from them.
Direct entry master’s programs take a variety of different forms. In many cases, your studies will be divided into several phases. In the first phase, you may be asked to complete courses leading to RN licensure and to take the National Council Licensure Examination-Registered Nurse (NCLEX) before enrolling in any clinical classes. After that, you would take more specialized master’s courses in a second phase. However, some colleges combine the initial RN phase with a slate of more specialized studies, allowing you to receive your RN designation and your master’s degree at the same time. The typical length of all of these programs is two to three years.
As an applicant for these programs, you could face stiff competition. Most of these schools require an undergraduate grade-point average (GPA) of 3.0, with some institutions asking for a slightly higher or lower base GPA. Although not every college requires the Graduate Record Examination, some nursing schools set minimum standards for these test scores as well. For most programs, you also will be asked to complete a variety of prerequisite classes. These standards vary by school, but they can include subjects like human anatomy and physiology, chemistry, microbiology, statistics, developmental psychology, ethics, and economics.
Your nursing curriculum is likely to include a wide range of topics, including health assessment, pathophysiology, and pharmacology. If you’ve chosen a master’s focus, such as nurse midwife, you can expect to take specialty classes in addition to typical core courses. Not all direct entry degree programs lead to clinical practice, but those that do will require a certain number of clinical or practicum hours.
When you enter the job market after graduation, you will find that the state’s nursing wages are slightly higher than the national norm. In 2013, a Nevada RN made an average annual salary of $78,800, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nurses with advanced training could expect even higher paychecks. For example, Nevada’s nurse practitioners made a yearly average salary of $92,130, and nurse anesthetists made an average annual wage of $221,240.
If you continue to work within the state, you will need to maintain your active license status through the Nevada State Board of Nursing. The state’s nursing licenses expire every second birthday, so you may have to renew your license in less than two years depending on when the credentials are first issued. For details about applying for a license, check out the state nursing board’s website.