How to Become a Registered Nurse (RN)

How to Become a Registered Nurse (RN)

Registered nurses are the backbone of the healthcare industry, providing essential support for both doctors and patients. While the work is challenging, it also comes with a great sense of satisfaction. If you’ve always wanted to help people and make a difference in your community, a career in nursing might be the perfect option for you.

As you decide whether or not you want to become a nurse, it’s important to know what this job entails and how to achieve your goals. With a registered nursing license, you can work in a variety of healthcare settings, and you can even travel the world, bringing essential services to the most vulnerable communities.

Nurses can make an average of $68,450 per year with a bachelor’s degree (BSN), and the job outlook indicates that job growth will continue to rise throughout the next decade. This means that there’s no better time than now to consider a career as a nurse.

Use the following guide to learn how to become a nurse, and use it as a roadmap to jumpstart your career. With the right school, degree program and career goals, you can easily enter the world of nursing.


Choose a Career Path

Not all nurses start off by going to college to get a bachelor’s degree. In fact, there are many different paths that can lead to becoming a registered nurse. For example, becoming a certified nursing assistant (CNA) can give you a preview of what a career in nursing will entail, and it can also provide you with essential skills you can use as you continue on your career path. Here are some of the entry-level options you can use to begin your nursing career

  • CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant)
  • LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse)
  • Medical Assistant

While none of these jobs require a four-year degree, they provide you with the experience you need to determine if a career in nursing is right for you. In some cases, you can even work your experience into a portfolio to earn credit hours toward a degree.


Choose a Degree Path

People hoping to become a registered nurse can typically choose between two degree paths. An associate degree can provide the basic education needed to become an RN, while a bachelor’s will provide advanced learning opportunities that can help you advance your nursing career. However, there are also other options for accelerated degrees based on your previous experience and education. Each degree path comes with its own set of requirements, so be sure you choose the option that works best for you.

  • ADN: Associate Degree in Nursing. This is typically a 2-year program, which can be completed at a community college. Credits can transfer to four-year schools if you wish to continue your education.
  • BSN: Bachelor of Science in Nursing. This is usually a 4-year program conducted at a college or university. You’ll take required nursing courses, electives, and required basic courses. Like an ADN, this program can begin once you’ve graduated from high school or obtained a GED.
  • RN to BSN: BSN designed for working nurses. An RN to BSN program can vary in length, but it lets you build on your associate degree experience to obtain your baccalaureate degree. Classes may be taught during nights and weekends or online, and you can complete an RN to BSN program in as few as 12 months.
  • Accelerated BSN: Degree for individuals with a bachelor’s degree in another field. This program is ideal for anyone who already has a four-year degree but wants to enter the field of nursing. The program can be completed in 2 years, depending on the course load and the school’s requirements. At the end of the program, you’ll sit for the RN licensing exam to become a registered nurse.

If you already have a degree, or if you’ve already taken some college courses, you may be able to earn your nursing degree faster. The school you choose should be able to transfer at least some of the credits you’ve already earned so they can be used toward your degree. Check to see which credits are transferrable before you select a school, as some may provide more options for credit transfers than others.


Select a Program

When it comes to choosing a program, you’ll want to look closely at several schools to find the one that most closely fits your needs. A great number of schools offer flexible scheduling and multiple programs to provide work-life balances while also helping you obtain your degree. As you look at schools, check out the different features that make each program unique. You’ll also want to find the learning style that works best for you. Colleges can offer the following class options for degree-seeking students:

  • In-person: classes meet on campus for one-on-one learning. This option is ideal for anyone who prefers instructor-led lectures and in-class discussions.
  • Online: classes are conducted online, making it easy for you to fit your schooling in and around your current work schedule. This option is ideal for independent learners who need little direction.
  • Hybrid Learning: The best of both worlds, hybrid learning combines online and in-person classes so you can enjoy flexible scheduling while still getting the benefits of lectures and collaborative learning.

In addition to regular courses, you may also be required to do practical rotations at medical facilities in your community and gain hands-on experience in simulated healthcare environments. If you want more information about nursing degree programs, click here to discover more about the best schools in the country.


Look for Ways to Save Money

There are many ways to save on the cost of attending nursing school. Attending a school in the state you reside in can provide access to in-state tuition fees, which can be significantly lower than out-of-state costs. Schools may also offer scholarships, tuition assistance, payment plans and financing options. Each school’s website should have a page dedicated to costs and scholarship opportunities, so use this information to begin planning how you will pay for your nursing degree. In some cases, the school’s guidance department can provide assistance with obtaining scholarships and financing. You can also apply for financial aid to help cover the cost of tuition.


Get Licensed

Once you’ve completed your degree, you’ll want to get your registered nursing license. This is how to become an RN, and it means taking the NCLEX-RN exam. Passing this exam will qualify you to receive your RN licensure. As you look at nursing schools, be sure to look at the average NCLEX-RN pass rate at each college or university. This can give you an indication of how well each program prepares its nursing students for licensure. If you are nervous about taking an exam, you can purchase test preparation materials and engage the services of a tutor to get ready for the test.

It takes around 6 hours to complete the NCLEX-RN exam, and nursing candidates are allowed two scheduled breaks during the exam. It can take approximately 6 weeks to receive your license after successfully completing the test. Your license will typically be valid in the state it was taken in. However, some states have reciprocity agreements, so you can work in more than one state. Remember that if you should choose to move at any point, you’ll need to apply for a license in the area you will be living in.


Consider Specialties

Nurses work in a variety of specialty areas, from pediatrics to geriatrics, and choosing a specialty can provide you with even more ways to advance your career. Some specialties may require additional training outside of your degree, but the rewards for this extra learning can be priceless. Here are just some of the many specialty nursing jobs you may want to consider as you work toward a degree in nursing.

  • Oncology
  • Plastic surgery
  • Hospice care
  • Pediatrics
  • Geriatrics
  • Disaster response
  • Bioterrorism research
  • Epidemic research
  • Acute care
  • Surgical
  • Psychiatric

Nurses who wish to continue their education and earn a master’s degree can go on to work in even more specialty fields. You can become a family practitioner, nurse administrator, or research expert, to name a few career options.


Get Hired

The demand for qualified, talented nurses continues to grow. This means that there are a host of job opportunities waiting for you once you get your RN license. You can work with the faculty at your school for job placement assistance, or you can work through a recruitment agency to help place you in the perfect job. In some cases, nursing students can be hired into jobs at hospitals and medical facilities that are associated with the college or university he or she attended, providing a seamless transition from school to work.


Advance Your Career

Once you’ve obtained your RN licensure, you can begin to look at advanced study options that can help you advance your career. Master’s and doctorate programs can provide the foundation you need to move into administrative and research roles. Some schools offer accelerated options, which can help you complete the program in less time, while others offer night and weekend courses to accommodate your work schedule.

Are you interested in becoming a registered nurse? Click here to find out more about how to become a registered nurse and discover schools that offer the best degree programs.

Nursing Articles