Learn How to Become a Nurse and Launch Your Career
In all states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories, students must graduate from an approved nursing program and pass a national licensing examination known as the National Council Licensure Examination or NCLEX-RN in order to obtain a nursing license. Other eligibility requirements for licensure vary by state. For specific state requirements on how to become an RN, contact your state’s board of nursing for details.
There are three typical educational paths to registered nursing, a bachelor’s of science degree in nursing (BSN), an associate degree in nursing (ADN), and a diploma. BSN programs, offered by colleges and universities, take about 4 years to complete. ADN programs, offered by community and junior colleges, take about 2 to 3 years to complete.
Diploma programs, administered in hospitals, last approximately 3 years. Generally, licensed graduates of any of the three types of educational programs qualify for entry-level positions as a staff nurse. There are hundreds of registered nursing programs that result in an ADN or BSN; however, there are relatively few diploma programs.
Individuals considering a career in nursing should carefully weigh the advantages and disadvantages of enrolling in each type of educational program. Advancement opportunities may be more limited for ADN and diploma holders compared to RNs who obtain a BSN or higher. Individuals who complete a bachelor’s degree receive more training in areas such as communication, leadership, and critical thinking, all of which are becoming more important as nursing practice becomes more complex. Additionally, bachelor’s degree programs offer more clinical experience in non-hospital settings and graduates typically have a bright career outlook. A bachelor’s or higher degree is often necessary for administrative positions, research, consulting, and teaching.
Many RNs with an ADN or diploma later enter bachelor’s degree programs to prepare for a broader scope of nursing practice. Often, they can find an entry-level position and then take advantage of tuition reimbursement benefits to work toward a BSN by completing an RN-to-BSN program. Accelerated master’s degree in nursing (MSN) programs are also available. They typically take 3-4 years to complete for a full time student and result in the award of both the BSN and MSN.
How to Become a Nurse if You Already Have a College Degree
There are education programs available for people interested in switching from an existing career field outside of the healthcare industry to a career in nursing as well. Individuals who already hold a bachelor’s degree in another field may enroll in an accelerated BSN program. Admission requirements vary by school but those with a good track record and the appropriate credits are good candidates for this type of program. Accelerated BSN programs last 12 to 18 months and provide the fastest route to a BSN for individuals who already hold a college degree. MSN programs also are available for individuals who hold a bachelor’s or higher degree in another field; master’s degree programs usually last 2 years.
All nursing education programs include classroom instruction and supervised clinical experience in hospitals and other healthcare facilities. Students take courses in anatomy, physiology, microbiology, chemistry, nutrition, psychology and other behavioral sciences, and nursing. Nursing programs fill up quickly and can be competitive at times so having a solid background in these areas before you apply for nursing school can provide students with an advantage. Coursework also includes the liberal arts for ADN and BSN students.
Supervised clinical experience is provided in hospital departments such as pediatrics, psychiatry, maternity, and surgery. A number of programs include clinical experience in nursing care facilities, public health departments, home health agencies, and ambulatory clinics.
There are a number of other qualifications that can be helpful in launching a successful nursing career. Nurses should be caring, sympathetic, responsible, and detail oriented. They must be able to direct or supervise others, correctly assess patients’ conditions, and determine when consultation is required. They need emotional stability to cope with human suffering, emergencies, and other stresses.
Now that you know how to become a nurse, you will need to follow these steps to get started:
1. Make sure you have the proper prerequisites to apply for nursing school
2. Enroll in and complete a state-approved nursing program
3. Study for and pass the appropriate NCLEX licensing exam
4. Once you have completed the above, you will be eligible for an entry-level position