The Shortest Distance Between Two Points is a Straight Line

Countless people who are interested in nursing ask questions such as, "Should I work as a CNA for a few years? Would it be better to become an LPN first? Should I just go straight for the RN?" When it comes to getting an education, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. However, many people must zigzag and take indirect steps to reach their goals of becoming registered nurses.


I slowly 'stair-stepped' my way into the nursing profession.

I started out as a direct care staff member (a.k.a. uncertified caregiver) at a group home for adults with mental retardation when I was 19 years old, but only worked at this facility for a total of eight months. I went on to complete a vocational nursing (LVN) program at 24 years of age, and after working as an LVN for a few years, graduated from an LPN-to-RN bridge program at age 29.

In other words, my 'stair-step' method of becoming a registered nurse took about ten years to progress from ground zero to fully licensed RN. There were pauses and breaks along the way, of course. For instance, I was a factory worker from ages 20 to 23, and I did not attend school at all during these years because the 12-hour rotating shifts were not conducive to my educational pursuits.

My personal trek to become an RN definitely would have been faster if I had completely bypassed the caregiver gig and the LVN schooling to focus on getting admitted into a professional registered nursing program right from the start. However, life got in the way. Financial constraints, a lack of family support, and academic weaknesses laid the groundwork to a longer journey to get to the place where I wanted to be.

When it comes to attaining an education, here's a phrase that rings true: the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. In brief, the 'straight line' method of attaining an RN license would involve completing the prerequisite courses, getting admitted into a nursing program on the very first attempt, and graduating on time.

Of course, unforeseen things happen to make that straight line crooked and convoluted. Developmental (a.k.a. remedial) courses must be taken and passed by students with academic deficiencies, and these can delay entry into college-level classes by several semesters. Also, some pre-nursing students apply to multiple schools of nursing and receive those hurtful rejection letters year after year.

Instead of pursuing the straight line, I zigzagged along the way. Anytime you take a break from your educational activities to work multiple jobs, pursue a certification, start a family, or do other things, you can expect to add more years to your date of completion. Anytime you allow a spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend, parents, or friends to discourage you from meeting your goals, expect to add even more years.

Countless nursing hopefuls ask questions such as, "Should I work as a CNA for a few years to get my feet wet? Would it be better to become an LPN first? Should I just go straight for the RN?"

CNA experience is golden, and LPN experience is very valuable because they are nurses in their own right and do many of the same things that their RN counterparts do.

Here's my personal opinion. You will almost always achieve your target faster by going straight for that RN license. However, some of us will need to slowly climb the nursing stairway due to the circumstances in which we find ourselves. If you cannot dive straight into a professional registered nursing program, you do have options that can be utilized as stepping stones to meet your goals.

After all, better late than never. Good luck to you all!

TheCommuter, BSN, RN, CRRN is a longtime physical rehabilitation nurse who has varied experiences upon which to draw for her articles. She was an LPN/LVN for more than four years prior to becoming a Registered Nurse.

226 Articles   27,608 Posts

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Specializes in hospice, HH, LTC, ER,OR. Has 14 years experience.

Love your article! I am also a stair stepper starting at the LPN role. I will have my RN-ASN in one more semester and I plan to start the BSN program right away but I take life as it comes :)!

Has 18 years experience.

I stair stepped too..lvn, 8 years later adn, 6 years later bsn, next year starting grad school! wish I could have done it straight but life is what it is!


20 Posts

I am stair stepping 2 starting out with LPN school while my husband is stationed in Japan for the next 2 years with 3 little ones (1,3,5). Going straight for RN at this time is not what I need right now but eventually I will make it......thanks for the encouragement

truckinusa, LPN

356 Posts

Has 2 years experience.

I'm not sure if is a good thing or bad thing, but the majority of people pursuing nursing want that RN degree and there is so much competition to get into most RN programs. I desperately wanted to attend the LPN program where I live, but the start times and the waiting period was inconvenient. It made no sense to wait around for a whole year when I could take prerequisities and get accepted into a RN program instead. By the time I was accepted into the RN program I received my acceptance letter to the LPN program at the same time and I had to choose which one I wanted to attend. I chose the RN program beacause that is what I had spent so much time working on and it made sense to complete my full RN degree in 2 years rather than spend 16 mos on the LVN and then another year to get an ADN in nursing for the RN degree.

I really think that they should force everyone to attend an LPN program and make it shorter like maybe a year and then have everyone transition into a RN program. The schooling is so similar it makes no sense to have separate programs teaching the same thing. It irritated me I wasted three years of my life to obtain a 2 year degree. It really should be 2 years. This is especially troubling for students on FAFSA where they only pay for 6 years. It could be real easy to run out of time.


3 Articles; 82 Posts

Specializes in Labor & Delivery, Med-surg. Has 40 years experience.

Our Director of Care started as a Care Aid and he is downright amazing because he knows what life is like on the other side!! I took a 3 year hospital training before I went to university for my degree. It worked well for me as I am a practical learner. University programs weren't that practical in those days (1970s) and many with my learning style never worked in nursing after grad. I like the idea of the ladder approach although where I live the wait is long to get admitted from the LVN to RN program, in spite of the supposed "nursing shortage".


286 Posts

I went straight from working in retail to being an RN charge nurse. It was hard at first, but now I'm making much more money than I was! Just make sure you remember your roots. I've seen new RNs treat their CNAs like slaves, instead of like people.

One of the best nurses/teachers I have had was a stair stepper. Started off as a CNA, then lpn, then rn, then her MSN. She did not forget where she came from and she is my nursing hero!! If I can be half the nurse she is, I'd be happy.


74 Posts

I don't think that you "stair-stepped" at all! Any and all jobs and life experience fits into being a nurse, and how you travelled your path does not matter; matter of fact, you have been enriched. Well done!

CT Pixie, BSN, RN

3,723 Posts

Has 10 years experience.

Stair stepper her. Started as a CNA at the age of 16. Did that for years. Got out and moved into the health insurance arena. In 2007 I decided it was time to start/finish something I had always wanted to do and become..a nurse. Got my LPN in June 2008, started at the LTC facility that I am currently at the day after I graduated LPN school. Went back and did the LPN to RN bridge (associates program) and will be graduating in May!

And yet it won't end there, I am currently taking courses to put toward my RN to BSN program and will continue to do so until I graduate with my BSN. (shooting for 2014).

jalyc RN

50 Posts

Specializes in L&D, CCU, ICU, PCU, RICU, PCICU, & LTC.. Has 40+ years experience.

Personally I think EVERYONE should be a stair stepper. I worked the summer of my LPN school as a nursing assistant (1972). In the 70's I worked mostly primary nursing facilities, in which one nurse does everything for just a few patients (10) as compared to team nursing a lot of patients (25) like in the 80's. In 1982 I became an AD RN.

I have seen too many RN's who think if the doctor is God's right hand, then they must be His left hand. :no: People who have "Been there, done that." are much better team players and leaders.


32 Posts

Stair stepper here, too, and I'm 47! After many years doing other things I decided to return to my first love - the idea of nursing. I got my CNA and was fortunate enough to get a job on a rehab floor of a hospital to get my feet wet; from there went to a progressive step down type unit with lots of very sick and long term patients. I learned SO much there! I then got a job at a hospital I had long wanted to be at as a tech in ICU. The census was low and they told me to look around at other positions so I could keep my full time employment. I ended up as a Unit Secretary where I read chart after chart after chart - again, learning SO much. I also teched on the floor occasionally and then was offered a class in reading telemetry. I jumped on that quickly and began doing relief shifts in the monitor room. The entire time I have been doing this I've been taking two prereq's at a time and am finally ready to start full time nursing school. It's been a slow, steady pace and I realize there were other ways to do it, but I'm so glad that I've been able to learn so much along the way. It definitely helped me when I got into API and APII because so much was already familiar. I am trusting that in some small ways it will help me as I work towards that R.N. behind my name!