A Step by Step Career Guide

Learn How to Become a Nurse

Starting a career in nursing can be attractive for a number of reasons. Even during challenging economic times, the aging population and increasing demand for qualified healthcare personnel creates a wealth of opportunity for aspiring nurses. Steady wage growth and abundant employment opportunities make nursing an attractive career choice. This guide will walk you through the training process and explain how to become an RN in 5 easy steps.

What is an RN?

The designation of Registered Nurse (RN) is given to a medical professional who has successfully completed an accredited nursing school program and passed the NCLEX-RN exam. Registered nurses play a key role in providing direct patient care as well as education and advice to both patients and their families. The scope of practice includes responsibilities such as treating patients for a wide variety of medical conditions, tracking and recording patients’ charts and symptoms, conducting medical diagnostics, and working with physicians to provide appropriate medication and treatment plans.

Prerequisites to Becoming an RN

Depending on which educational path you decide to take and the school you enroll in, the specific prerequisites will vary to some degree. The absolute minimum requirements for acceptance into an accredited nursing program include a high school diploma or GED. Background coursework in science, biology, and anatomy are helpful and can make a candidate more attractive. The competitive nature of this field allows nursing schools to be somewhat selective of which candidates they accept so a focus on maintaining top academic performance is essential.

Each state has a Board of Nursing that dictates the specific requirements that must be met before licensure can be granted so candidates are advised to review state-specific license application processes. In most states, a criminal background check is part of the application process and while it does not strictly prevent you from becoming an RN, a criminal conviction does make it considerably more difficult.

Education and Training

The first step you will need to complete is to select and enroll in a state-approved nursing school. Individuals interested in pursuing a career as a registered nurse can choose from three generally accepted educational paths. The most well-known option is the traditional bachelor of science degree in nursing (BSN). This path takes an average of 4 years to complete through an accredited college or university and provides students with a combination of classroom-based learning and live clinical experience under the supervision of experienced professionals.

In addition to teaching core nursing competencies, a BSN program also focuses on training in key disciplines such as leadership, communication and decision making. This option is ideal for students who plan to advance to a master’s degree program or aspire to eventually hold an administration or management position.

Nursing candidates may also want to consider an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) program. These programs are typically offered through community colleges and specialty schools. Just like a BSN, an ADN prepares students to take the NCLEX-RN exam to become a registered nurse but can usually be completed in 2-3 years. The biggest advantage to this path is that students can graduate faster and qualify for entry level nursing positions. This can lead to a substantial amount of savings in tuition expenses and may help to keep student loan debt manageable for students on a tight budget. Nurses who choose this option will often opt for an online RN to BSN bridge program to create advancement opportunities after gaining some valuable experience.

Last but not least, a nursing diploma program will also prepare aspiring nurses for a successful career. While there are fewer of these programs available, they remain a viable training option. They are hospital based schools and training can be completed within three years. Graduates are provided with a Diploma in Nursing and are eligible to take the NCLEX-RN exam.

Be sure to apply to your program of choice early! Schools fill up fast and courses can hit capacity long before a semester starts. The sooner you request information from nursing schools of interest and submit your application the better.