Thanks to everyone for the advice. To answer Disabled's question about the Nurse Anethesia program, that is at least a couple years away for me because you have to have to be an RN with at least a year of full-time ER/Med surg/ICU-type experience before they will even consider letting you into the program. Also, the program isn't cheap, even as a florida resident I'll be paying about $20,000 a year in tuition/fees/books and that's at a public university (FIU).
The program lasts 6-7 semesters and it looks to be very difficult. Like med school you have to commit to it on a full-time basis, which means you won't have much of a life for a few years. It isn't very competitive to get into the program once you meet the basic prequisites because the cost and the amount of time it takes I guess discourages a lot of people. But, the payoff is worth it, considering that even NA's fresh out of grad school are making more money than some family practice MDs.
I've been checking into some of the financial aid you mentioned. Most of the loan forgiveness programs apply only to people who are majoring in education and who plan to teach after they graduate. I don't qualify for any federal or state grant money because I already received that aid when I did my first bachelor's degree. Most of what I qualify for is loans, and I'm trying to save as much as possible to pay as much as I can out of pocket. I also checked into some of the scholarship
programs that the hospitals are offering, but their deal is a bit shady: they're mostly interested in RNs (because they can't find any to hire) and they'll pay for your tuition, books, etc. for the generic RN program but rarely anything above that level (not even a BSN), then they want you to sign a contract that says you will come work for them for at least 3 years for entry level wages after you finish the program. This may look attractive to some people because it's free money. But, it really is a waste of time. Anyone would do better to take a student loan at 6% interest, because it costs about $7,000 to complete the generic RN program at most community colleges, and that can be paid off in less than 3 years. At least, you won't have to spend 3 years giving your labor away for low wages.
I agree with you that a lot of people are entering the nursing profession, but according to the Dept. of Labor stats a far greater number are retiring or transitioning to other professions, and nursing school enrolment is down 20%. That's kinda scary, because I've been in clinicals with people who are making some silly and very serious mistakes while handling the patients...and these are the nurses of tomorrow!!! Hopefully we'll still be able to afford Prof liab insurance when all the malpractice lawsuits start coming.