The hierarchy of nursing degrees is, in order from lowest to highest, associate, bachelor's, master's and doctorate. To become a nurse, a minimum requirement is the completion of a 2-year program that leads to the associate of science nursing degree. A community college or vocational school typically offer these types of programs.
A registered nurse usually has a bachelor of science degree in nursing that can take 4 years to complete at a college or university. In the United States, there are state requirements that registered nurses be licensed to practice in hospitals or medical institutions. To become licensed, nursing students with a bachelor's degree need to take an exam.
Registered nurses, who want to be administrators or specialize in a particular area, need to have a master of science degree in nursing that can require up to 24 months to complete. The degree prepares registered nurses for careers as advanced practice registered nurse (APN). An APN can work as a nurse education or family nurse practitioner.
Nurses with master degrees can also go on to do post-graduate work in different areas. Nurses, wishing to work in research or teach, can go through a program that leads to a Ph.D. Another advanced degree for nurses is the Doctor of Nursing Practice. This degree is for nurse interested in clinical practice positions at a hospital or other medical institution.
Although a licensed practical nurse (LPN) also works in the nursing field, the requirements for this career may be a certificate that can take 1 year to complete and having a license. LPNs work under the supervision of an RN and perform basic types of patient care duties.