A registered nurse (RN) is a healthcare professional licensed to provide care and treatment to patients under the supervision of a doctor or other healthcare provider.
Becoming a registered nurse can be a challenging career choice but also a highly rewarding one. The process includes several steps, like earning a nursing degree, passing the NCLEX exam, obtaining state licensure, seeking advanced training, and finding employment. Once you fulfill all requirements, you get to work alongside other healthcare professionals and play a crucial role in the healthcare system. Also, you’ll be well compensated for your work.
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How To Become a Registered Nurse
Becoming a registered nurse can be a rewarding and fulfilling career path. However, it requires hard work, dedication, and a commitment to learning. If you are interested in knowing the specifics of what is required to join the field and getting answers to questions such as “What education is needed to become a registered nurse?” or “How much training is needed?”, we have compiled all the essential information you need to know:
1. Complete prerequisites for an ADN or a BSN
The first step to becoming a registered nurse is to complete the prerequisites for either a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) program. These prerequisites generally include courses related to the nursing field, such as anatomy, biology, chemistry, physiology, and other similar courses.
The specific courses required may vary depending on the nursing program you are interested in. So, it’s important to research the program you are interested in and see its specific requirements.
2. Earn your nursing degree
Once you have completed the prerequisites, the following step is to finish your studies and earn a nursing degree from an accredited higher education institution. Regardless of whether you choose to pursue an ADN or a BSN program, by the end of either one, you will have obtained the necessary skills and knowledge to fulfill the requirements of an RN.
If you are interested in pursuing a career in other areas of nursing, such as management or research, then a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree might be more fitting for you. Such programs tend to provide more advanced training in such areas compared to ADN programs.
3. Pass the NCLEX Exam
Next, after obtaining your nursing degree, you must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) to become a licensed registered nurse. This standardized exam is administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) and is used to determine whether a candidate is qualified to become an RN in the United States and Canada by testing their knowledge and skills related to nursing practice.
To sit the exam, candidates must have completed an accredited nursing program as well as met any other requirements set by the state or province where they intend to practice.
4. Obtain state licensure
To begin practicing your profession, after passing the NCLEX, you must obtain licensure in the state where you plan to practice. Each state has its own requirements for licensure, so it’s important to do thorough research and check with the state board of nursing to determine the specific requirements. This way, you can prepare yourself better for the field.
5. Seek advanced training (optional)
This next step is not an essential part of the process. However, many nurses prefer to seek advanced training. So, if you want to learn more about a particular area of nursing practice, then furthering your education or obtaining certifications related to your field can be extremely rewarding. You can pursue a master’s degree or even a doctorate in nursing or obtain certificates in a specialized area of nursing practice.
There are various certification programs available through which you can learn more about areas such as critical care, oncology, pediatrics, emergency care, and so on.
6. Find employment
Naturally, the last step after having done all the preparatory work is to find employment and begin working as an RN. The profession offers flexibility in terms of healthcare settings and specialty areas. So, it is important that you explore different job opportunities and find what suits you best.
How Long Does It Take To Become a Registered Nurse?
The journey to becoming an RN can be different for everyone, mainly because there are various educational paths a person can choose. The time it takes to become a registered nurse varies depending on what degree one pursues, the mode of study, and the time needed to pass the NCLEX.
An Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) program can take 2-3 years to complete, whereas a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program typically takes four years. The exact length can also vary depending on whether the program you are pursuing is accelerated or not. Accelerated BSN programs can be completed in as little as 12-18 months.
In addition to that, it might take you a few months to prepare for, be eligible to sit and pass the NCLEX exam. The results are usually available within a few weeks. So, all in all, it can take anywhere from one to five years to become an RN, depending on the educational path you choose.
What Does a Registered Nurse Do?
As a registered nurse, your day-to-day duties may vary depending on your setting or specialization. However, some of the general responsibilities include the following:
- Conducting physical examinations
- Gathering patient medical histories
- Administering medication and treatments
- Monitoring the patient’s vital signs
- Assisting other healthcare professionals
- Helping patients and their families with their emotional needs
- Providing information to patients and their families about their medical condition and treatment
- Helping create patient-care plans
- Writing thorough medical records
- Promoting health and disease prevention
Essential Skills for Registered Nurses
There are various technical and soft skills you need to develop to succeed as an RN. For the technical side of it, you must be proficient in using medical equipment and technology and have the ability to learn and adapt to new technologies and practices quickly. Of course, it is also crucial that you have a deep knowledge of the field in general and the responsibilities you have.
On the other hand, soft skills play a significant role in ensuring you can adapt and work well with patients and other healthcare professionals.
Some of the top skills you should develop include:
- Attention to detail: You must be detail-oriented to ensure that all the patient information and medications administered are correct.
- Critical thinking: You must be able to assess, analyze, and evaluate all patient situations and make informed decisions about their care.
- Empathy and compassion: You must be able to understand and empathize with patients and their families during times of illness and stress.
- Communication: Effective communication skills are essential for collaborating with other healthcare professionals as well as for communicating with your patients and their families.
- Leadership: Depending on your position, you might have to supervise other healthcare professionals. So, you should be able to lead and delegate tasks effectively.
Where Do Registered Nurses Work?
As a registered nurse, you can work in various healthcare settings. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the largest employers of registered nurses in the United States are hospitals. State, local, and private hospitals are responsible for employing 60% of all RNs in the U.S.
Other RN work environments include:
- Ambulatory healthcare services (18%)
- Nursing and residential care facilities (6%)
- Government (6%)
- Educational services (3%)
Benefits of Becoming a Registered Nurse
There are many benefits to becoming a registered nurse. As a valuable part of the healthcare system, registered nurses are in high demand. Therefore, the job outlook and job security related to the profession are promising.
In addition, the role offers a competitive salary, especially if you further enhance your skillset through experience, education, or specialized training.
Some other advantages of being an RN include more flexibility in terms of job opportunities and work environment, as well as room for advancement. You can gradually shift from the position of an RN to a nurse practitioner, nurse educator, or nurse executive by pursuing the necessary degrees or certifications.
Salary and Job Outlook for Registered Nurses
The exact salary you can expect to earn as a registered nurse will depend on various factors such as experience, education, specialty, and location. However, data indicates that the average salary of RNs in the U.S. is quite high. Reports show that, as of April 2023, the average salary for a registered nurse is $93,602 per year. In addition, according to the BLS, the employment of RNs is projected to grow by 6% from 2021 to 2031.
If you decide to pursue a career as a registered nurse, you will have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of your patients every day. The road to becoming an RN includes:
- Completing prerequisites
- Earning a nursing degree
- Passing the NCLEX exam
- Obtaining state licensure
- Seeking advanced training
- Finding employment
Though it may seem tedious, with hard work, dedication, and passion for helping others, you can have a fulfilling career as an RN and reap all the benefits that come with it.
Nurse Luke is a CRNA who specializes in Nursing content and still enjoys a very busy career with Locum, Per Diem and Travel nursing in the greater midwest. He has over 25 years of experience in the healthcare field and received his CRNA masters degree from the Mayo Clinic School of Healthcare. He is passionate about helping nurses explore the options of becoming a travel nurse as well as spending time with his Family.