Can You Be a Nurse Without a Degree?

June 22, 2023
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
feature image

Nursing is a fantastic career choice for anyone looking for an always-in-demand job that involves genuinely helping people daily. It is also a path people can enter with comparatively less schooling than many other medical fields. This leads many people to ask if it is possible to become a nurse without earning a full four-year degree.

The answer to this question largely depends on what type of nurse you want to become and the hiring requirements of your prospective employers. To better understand nursing, the educational requirements of becoming a nurse, how long it takes to become a nurse, and how to get started without a degree, we’re sharing the following guide.

What is a nurse?

A nurse is a health care professional trained to deliver direct care and support for people with all illnesses, injuries, and other health conditions at all stages of life. A nurse can work in nearly any medical specialty and any location providing health services. Nurses often work with physicians to assess, diagnose, and treat patients, but they also work independently in many settings and situations.

Tasks and skills performed by nurses every day include:

  • Patient intake and gathering basic health information
  • Reading and recording vital signs
  • Performing or assisting with diagnostic testing and examinations
  • Communicating with patients about their diagnosis and care plan
  • Administering medication
  • Charting patient health information and working with electronic medical records
  • Communicating information to physicians and other health providers

The level of education required and the scope of responsibility as a nurse largely depends on the education and training you receive.

Types of Nurses and Educational Requirements

In the US, there are three main categories of nurses with different educational requirements:

  • Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN): An LPN is a nurse who provides basic patient care and usually works under the supervision of an RN. To become an LPN, you must have a high school diploma or GED, complete an LPN program within an accredited program, and pass the licensing examination for LPNs, called the NCLEX-LPN. Most LPN programs require a one-year certification, although programs offering a two-year associate’s degree exist.
  • Registered Nurse (RN): An RN is trained to provide a broader range of care, working more closely with doctors to create and administer care plans. RNs may also work in a supervisory role, directing LPNs and medical aides in the care process. To become an RN, students must receive a two-year associate’s degree or four-year bachelor’s degree from an accredited program and pass the NCLEX-RN.
  • Advanced Practice Nurse: This category encompasses nurse practitioners and certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) who receive advanced post-graduate education and training. An APN’s scope of practice includes many of the duties and responsibilities of a physician, and educational requirements are typically at the master’s degree level or equivalent.

All nurses must receive and maintain a license from the nursing board in their state to hold a job and practice as a nurse. This means passing the licensing examination, meeting continuing education requirements, and other standards.

Tips for Starting a Nursing Career Without a Degree

In general, becoming a nurse without a degree means becoming an LPN. This can be a great way to enter into a part of the nursing field with plenty of jobs, great earning opportunities, and an even better way to learn critical skills for advancement.

Here are some tips for becoming an LPN and finding success:

  • Research the LPN programs you are interested in thoroughly and ensure they are accredited. Check whether the program is a certification or a two-year degree, and pick the one that is right for you.
  • Study hard and focus. LPN programs may have fewer educational requirements than RN programs, but they are still rigorous and require plenty of hard work and dedication.
  • Consider working in an entry-level position, such as a nursing assistant or technician during school. This can help you gain key skills and experience while getting a feel for health care.
  • After passing the board and receiving your license, check employers’ educational and experience requirements. Many LPNs start in hospitals and nursing facilities, but many settings and niches exist in the current healthcare job market.

One specialty that offers an excellent opportunity for LPNs is home health nursing. For nurses with the right mix of skills and experience, home health gives nurses flexible schedules, one-on-one patient care opportunities, and independent and engaging work environments. It can also offer the potential for great benefits and work-life balance, depending on the employer.

Join The Care Options For Kids Team!

Are you ready for meaningful work that comes with benefits and not burnout? Join the compassionate care team that helps children and families live their best lives. Our clinicians provide best-in-class pediatric nursing, therapy, and school-based services. We bring individualized care to children where they live, work, and play. We have opportunities in homes, schools, and clinics across the country.

Apply at Care Options for Kids now. We make it easy to get started, so you can begin making a difference as soon as possible.