How to become a registered nurse

Are you considering becoming a nurse, but not exactly sure how to do it? We’ve got you covered with this complete guide on what education is needed to become a Registered Nurse.

This walks you through the steps to become a nurse from earning your RN to Bachelor’s to your nursing Master’s degree, to becoming CNL certified.

Are You an RN and Looking to Advance your Nursing Career?

More opportunities can become available to you when you further your education.  As a first step, it’s important you work towards becoming an RN or Registered Nurse. Next, you can complete your Bachelor’s or even your Master’s opens additional nursing career opportunities.

To take the opportunities even further, become a certified Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL). Achieving a Bachelor’s or an advanced degree in nursing can help to make you more marketable. Read on to learn more.

RN-to-BSN

If you’re already an RN, you might be considering earning your Bachelor’s degree. Many colleges offer an RN-to-BSN program.

Most BSN colleges require you to have your RN license as well as an Associate’s in Nursing. For this program, you need to have a strong skill set to further advance your way into the medical world.

RN-to-BSN Program Focuses on Three Core Areas:

    • Professional Development
    • Skill-Building
    • Cultural Awareness

There are multiple RN-to-BSN programs throughout the United States. Each is unique but will have the same core classes and areas of study. You will be receiving a lot of hands-on experience during the program. These training sessions can be held at a hospital, clinic, or medical facility. It is important you find a program that fits your lifestyle and long-term goals. Does the school offer career assistance? Does the school have flexible class schedules?

Why Pursue Your RN-BSN Degree and How Best to Do It:

Here’s a breakdown of why to achieve a BSN:

  • You’re one step closer to graduate school and receiving your CNL
  • Bachelor-holding nurses are in high-demand
  • There are convenient RN-to-BSN programs
  • Better job opportunities

If you’re ready to achieve your BSN, you can apply for nursing school.

Find an accredited four-year university and start your application. Some RN-BSN programs require an associate’s in nursing and your RN license, while others may not. It’s important you find a reputable program that will best fit your needs. If you have your heart set on a certain hospital system, find out if they prefer to hire BSN from a certain school. This might give you a leg up in the hiring process.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing

Earning a Bachelor’s in Nursing (or BSN) teaches you more in-depth medical topics: anatomy, physiology, microbiology, nutrition, and psychology. You’ll also have more opportunities to train in a clinical environment with supervision.

When you achieve a Bachelor’s, you open yourself to more opportunities and better salary. 37% of employers look for nurses who hold a Bachelor’s degree.

With a BSN, increases your chances of moving up to an administrative role, if that is something you are interested in.

If becoming CNL certified is your goal, you’ll need to continue your education to earn your MSN (Master of Science in Nursing) since a CNL requires a graduate degree.

1. Hearing the calling

Deciding to Become a Nurse

Nursing isn’t an easy career. Difficult patients, 12-hour shifts, and work that demands every bit of your mental, emotional, and physical focus requires a special — and resilient — kind of person. The schedule and responsibilities of nursing school can be even more difficult. It can’t be a career choice you make on a whim. Most feel a calling to become a nurse.

For some nurses, their careers seemed inevitable: From a young age, they knew they wanted to don scrubs and save lives. Others watched a nurse care for one of their family members and thought, I could do that. Sometimes the calling is quieter, a sense that you need more fulfillment in your work, that you need to be challenged, that you need a career that puts all of your gifts and talents to use.

Nursing attracts many different people many ways. However you hear your calling, be sure you do, because you’ll need to hold on to that ambition as the stress and challenges mount.

2. Deciding your educational route

Different Paths to Become a Nurse

There are almost as many paths to become a nurse as there are callings. You know by now you need to graduate from a nursing program, but that universal requirement can mean many different things. As the demand for nurses has risen, more nursing schools have emerged to educate and prepare a new generation of students for the future of nursing. Before you apply to nursing school, you need to decide your educational route.

For new nurses, you have three main choices for nursing school: an ADN program awarding an associate’s degree, a four-year college with a BSN program, and an accelerated BS program. The last of these is a rarer program, designed for students who already earned a bachelor’s degree, worked in a related field, and fulfilled many technical prerequisites. Most nursing students choose between an ADN and BSN program.

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As more hospitals prefer to see nurses with a BSN degree, earning your bachelor’s from the start has its benefits. But earning your associate’s degree first allows you to become a nurse much sooner. Some nursing programs, like Ameritech’s in Draper, Utah, allow you to graduate and get to work in less than two years, earning money as a registered nurse and often receiving tuition assistance to complete your BSN later.

There’s no right or wrong choice, but there’s often a better choice for your goals of becoming a nurse.

Related Resource: 7 Questions to Ask When Choosing a Nursing Program

3. Applying to the best nursing school

Applying to Nursing School

Whichever educational route you take, you need to apply to the best nursing school for your geographical, financial, and educational needs. If you live in Salt Lake City and need to stay in your home state, narrow your search for nursing schools in Utah — or Nevada, or wherever you are. Look for accredited programs, weigh the costs of tuition and fees with the time it takes to graduate, and pay close attention to figures like NCLEX pass rates and job placement rates.

Those numbers, often more than history or name recognition, signify the quality of a school’s nursing education. You need to graduate prepared to become a nurse right away. The best nursing school will prepare you with great clinical placements and a curriculum that support your mastery of the material.

4. Fulfilling nursing school prerequisites

Requirements for Nursing School

Though every calling to become a nurse is unique, you need to know there are many other prospective nurses in the same position as you. Every nursing school will be competitive, because the demand for nursing programs outpaces the availability of nursing instructors. It’s common for many schools to put qualified applicants on wait lists, though Ameritech doesn’t.

When you apply, be mindful of this competition. Begin practicing the diligence and excellence you’ll need as a nurse while you fill out your nursing school applications, and prepare for the interviews to make the best impression possible. If you have the calling, and already possess the qualities of a great nurse, make sure both are apparent as you fulfill the requirements and prerequisites of the nursing school you’ve chosen.

Related Resource: Common Mistakes Students Make on Their Nursing School Applications

5. Graduating from your program

Graduating from Nursing School

This is an obvious, inevitable step, but because it’s one of the hardest in the processing of becoming a registered nurse, it’s worth noting.

When you’re accepted into nursing school, you may feel like the journey is almost complete. That joy and elation is natural, and good, but the reality is that the process has barely begun. Nursing school is hard — often cited as the hardest thing nurses have done in their lives. You will struggle with complex material, a relentless schedule, and some feelings of isolation from your family and friends. Many times you’ll feel like dropping out, but in those moments you need to remember your calling and hold fast to the very attainable goal of graduating and working as a nurse.

As difficult as nursing school will be, it’s also gratifying, and you’ll find yourself laughing as often as you feel overwhelmed. Fellow students in your cohort can become lifelong friends, and every challenging project and rotation will build a strong foundation in your future nursing career. No nursing program is easy, but it’s worth every drop of sweat and moment of exasperation. Once you graduate, you’re nearly done.

Related Resource: 5 Things to Know Before Your First Semester in Nursing School

6. Applying for your RN license

New nurse filling out her application for her nursing license

Harken back to the days of applying for your driver’s license: oh, the possibilities and freedom! Well, applying for your RN license is even better. If you’re a brand-new nurse in Utah, for example, you can apply for your nursing license during the last semester of school to ensure it’s in your hot little hands as soon possible. To do so, you’ll need to pay some fees, fill out some light paperwork, and complete the following requirements set forth by the Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing:

  • Complete a qualifying questionnaire;
  • Complete a medical qualifying questionnaire;
  • Provide official transcripts documenting completion of a nursing program accredited by the SCEN, CCNE, or COA (to be submitted once you graduate);
  • Provide two sets of fingerprints for a background check through the Utah BCI and FBI; and
  • Register for the NCLEX. (You must be registered for the NCLEX prior to submitting your application for licensure.)

Once you take and pass the NCLEX, along with completing all other licensure requirements, you can expect to receive your license within a few weeks. This process might vary state to state, and if you’re applying for an out-of-state license, so it’s best to look into the each state’s requirements individually.

7. Passing the NCLEX

How to Pass the NCLEX

The last main hurdle between you and your registered nursing license is the National Council Licensure Examination, the NCLEX. This comprehensive exam will test the knowledge you gained in school to ensure you’re ready to become a nurse. Its scope is expansive, and studying can be arduous, but if you’ve chosen the right nursing program you should graduate prepared and with a study plan to pass with flying colors.

Related Resource: Proven Strategies to Conquer the NCLEX

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8. Finding your first nursing job

Your First Nursing Job

Technically, once you pass the NCLEX and receive your license, you’re already a registered nurse. The journey is complete, but you still need to find your first nursing job to actually do the work and embody the role. The good news is, nurses are in demand just about anywhere. As more and more older nurses reach retirement age, hospitals, clinics, schools, corporations, and everything in between need to fill those gaps with new nurses.

Talk with instructors, administrators, and the career services team at your nursing school to learn about their partnerships and professional connections. Any school with a high job placement rate has networks to find nursing positions for their graduates. Talk to family and friends who are already nurses, and maintain connections with your supervisors from rotations. In most states, open nursing positions abound, so keep your eye out.

Your first nursing job is rarely your last, but all the same, you want to work in a good healthcare system and with caring, mentoring management. Once you land your first nursing position, you can take your career anywhere.

Related Resource: 5 Things to Emphasize During Your First Nursing Job Interview

If you’re interested in learning more about the requirements and challenges of nursing school, and how we at Ameritech prepare our students for their future careers, we’d love to talk with you!

Career Overview

The majority of RNs work directly with patients as staff nurses in hospitals, nursing care facilities, or work for home health care services.  Others work as nurse educators, healthcare consultants, public policy advisors, researchers, hospital administrators, salespeople for pharmaceutical and medical supply companies, and medical writers.  Career advancement for RNs includes nursing management and administrative positions.

Depending on the facility, the work schedule for registered nurses can be quite challenging.  Caring for patients in hospitals and nursing care facilities is an around the clock job, seven days a week, 365 days a year.  RNs who work in these settings typically work an 8, 10 or 12 hour shift including every other weekend, and rotating holidays.  Rosita Padilla, an Acute Care Trauma Services Nurse says, “Be sure that becoming a Registered Nurse is absolutely the career choice for you, because it does require a lot of time and energy not only to learn all that is required, but to actually do the work as well.”

For those working in doctor’s offices a regular Monday through Friday, 8am-5pm schedule with weekends and holidays off can be expected.

Registered nurses spend a considerable amount of time walking and standing. In addition the job of an RN requires the ability to cope well with stress and pressure, be compassionate, have excellent communication and critical thinking skills, exhibit patience and emotional stability, and be very detail oriented.

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The daily duties of a registered nurse typically include the following:

  • Record the medical history and symptoms of patients
  • Perform diagnostic tests and analyze results
  • Administer treatment and medication
  • Operate and monitor medical equipment
  • Help with patient follow-up and rehabilitation

Additionally, RNs teach patients and their families how to manage their illness or injury.  They explain post-treatment home care needs such as diet, nutrition, and exercise programs and self-administration of medication and physical therapy.

Salary Information

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), RNs earned an average of $64,690 annually in 2010.  More recent salary data found on Salary.com has RNs earning $67,694 annually.  The median annual salaries for select major cities in Florida, according to Salary.com, fall right around the national average.

Fort Lauderdale $65,663
Tampa $63,632
Orlando $62,211
Tallahassee $61,872
Miami $66,408

Career Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment of RNs is expected to grow at a rate of about 22 percent annually through 2018, which represents a much faster rate of growth than the average of most other occupations.

According to the BLS, the areas where the greatest growth will be seen are:

  • Private Physician offices: 48%
  • Home Health Care:  33%
  • Nursing Care Facilities:  25%
  • Employment Services:  24%

Education/Training

As per the California Board of Registered Nurses (CBRN) all candidates interested in becoming RNs in the state must possess a minimum of a high school diploma or general equivalency diploma and graduate from a program of study accredited by the California State Board and the National League of Nursing Accreditation Commission (NLNAC).  The NLNAC is the agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as the official accreditation agency of RN training programs. Accreditation provides verification that the school has met strict standards set by the NLNAC and the CBRN with regard to curriculum, faculty background, practicum experiences, support services and job placement.

There are 3 educational pathways to become an RN in California. From the Web site of the CBRN these pathways include:

  • Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) – Takes 2-3 years. Offered at many community colleges. Prepares you to provide registered nursing care in numerous settings.
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) – Takes 4 years. Also referred to as Baccalaureate degree. Offered at many California State Universities and some private colleges. Prepares you to provide registered nursing care in numerous settings and to move to administrative and leadership positions.
  • Masters Entry Level Program in Nursing – Designed for adults who have a baccalaureate degree in another field and wish to become registered nurses. Takes 1-2 years depending on how many nursing course prerequisites you have already completed. Graduate receives a master’s degree.
  • LVN 30 Unit Option – Designed as a career ladder for California Licensed Vocational Nurses wishing to become registered nurses. Takes approximately 18-24 months. No degree is granted upon completion. Most other states do not recognize California’s LVN 30 Unit Option and will not issue RN licenses to these LVNs. Some LVNs prefer to complete an ADN program in order to obtain a degree and to have the flexibility to get an RN license in other states. Most ADN programs will give LVNs credit for some of the coursework they completed to become an LVN.

View a list of nursing programs in California >>

Licensure

To work as an RN in California, candidates must obtain a license from the CBRN. To be licensed, candidates must meet the educational requirements as stated above, pass a national licensing examination, as well as a criminal background check.

NCLEX-RN Exam

Candidates for RN licensure are required to pass the National Council Licensure Examination for RNs (NCLEX-RN).

The NLEX is a national, standard multiple-choice type examination for entry-level RN candidates. The test was developed by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) and places greater emphasis on nursing practice than theoretical knowledge. Specifically, the test focuses on those duties that are expected to be carried out entry-level staff nurses and assesses competency in terms of patient care and medical knowledge.

Salary of RNs

The following present the median earnings of entry-level nurses in select regions of California. Figures as per Salary.com January 2012.

Beverly Hills $59,841
Lost Angeles $59,841
Oakland $61,967
San Diego $57,661
San Francisco $65,400

View a list of nursing programs in California >>

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