Nursing is a job that will likely never disappear, although it is constantly changing due to advancements in science and technology. One way it has changed some is that there are more ways to get into the field.  It is no longer necessary that you attend nursing school for years. Through vocational nursing, anyone who is willing and dedicated to hard work can finish a course in about a year and become certified to be a vocational nurse, also called licensed practical nurses. Vocational nurses must work under the supervision of registered nurses, but with experience can begin supervising nurse aides on their own. Registered nurses usually have longer education times or more experience, so they also have more responsibilities than vocational nurses.

A vocational nurse often helps with simpler tasks so that registered nurses can deal with more critical issues. For that same reason, vocational nurses have to be able to think quickly and independently.  While the registered nurses may be busy, the vocational nurse must decide if the issues the other patients are dealing with require the registered nurse’s attention or not.

Vocational nurses take vitals, dress wounds, and help patients bathe, move and dress. They can work in hospitals, doctor’s offices, clinics or nursing homes. The majority of jobs for vocational nurses are full time positions, and in certain settings can often go longer than 40 hours in a week if a patient requires special attention.

How to get started

In California, the easiest way to get licensed as a vocational nurse is to first take a state approved program, and then pass a licensing exam and completing an application. The minimum requirement to get into a vocational program is a high school diploma or a GED. Most of the programs include clinical hours in the year long programs.

In California, the Board of Vocational Nursing and Psychiatric Technicians is in charge of licensing graduates, and approving the school programs. When the exam is processed through your school, results can be expected in four to five weeks. Your fingerprints must be on file with the Board as part of the licensing process. Your school may require the fingerprints before the program begins.

What do I get out of it?

Many vocational nurses find it rewarding to help patients, and are sometimes unwilling or unable to dedicate more time before getting into the career. Besides getting into a job sooner, many programs offer flexibility that allows students to work while in the programs.

After you get a job as a vocational nurse, you can expect to earn annually at a national average of $39,030, according to the bureau of labor statistics. In the San Francisco Bay area the average annual wage was higher at $58,689 in December 2009.

For their two to four years of study, registered nurses make a little more than vocational nurses, averaging nationally more than $62,000 in May 2008, according to the bureau of labor statistics.  Even if your goal is to become a registered nurse, starting out as a vocational nurse and gaining both classroom and job experience may be a smart way to make sure that nursing is the right field for you before committing to additional years of education.

If you’re interested in nursing programs – both vocational and RN – view our list of schools in California offering nursing programs.