how to become a registered nurse

How to Become a Registered Nurse: A Step-by-Step Guide

Becoming a registered nurse is a challenging yet rewarding career choice that requires significant dedication, education, and licensure. If you are passionate about helping others and have a desire to make a meaningful impact on people’s lives, nursing may be the right career for you. In this section, we will provide a step-by-step guide to becoming a registered nurse, including the necessary education and licensing requirements, career paths, and potential job opportunities.

Key Takeaways:

  • Becoming a registered nurse requires completing specific education requirements and passing a national licensure examination.
  • Nursing offers various career paths and specialties such as pediatric nursing, critical care nursing, and oncology nursing.
  • Continuing education and professional development are crucial for career progression and staying up-to-date with the latest advancements in healthcare.

Understanding the Role of a Registered Nurse

Registered nurses (RNs) play a critical role in healthcare, working alongside physicians and other healthcare professionals to provide direct patient care. RNs are responsible for assessing and treating patients, administering medication and treatment plans, and educating patients and their families on managing their health.

Registered nurses can work in various settings, including hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, schools, and home healthcare services. Many RNs specialize in specific areas of healthcare, such as pediatrics, critical care, or oncology.

As a registered nurse, you will have the opportunity to make a significant impact on patients’ lives and contribute to the healthcare system’s overall well-being.

Education Requirements for Registered Nurses

To become a registered nurse, you will need to fulfill specific education requirements. These requirements may vary depending on the nursing program you choose and the state where you intend to practice. Below are the different educational paths available for aspiring registered nurses:

Diploma Programs

Designed for students who wish to complete a nursing program in a short amount of time, diploma programs typically take two to three years to complete. These programs are offered by hospitals and other healthcare facilities and focus on practical, hands-on training. However, diploma programs may not provide as much theoretical knowledge as other nursing education programs.

Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)

Associate degree in nursing (ADN) programs typically take two years to complete and provide students with the knowledge and skills necessary to become registered nurses. These programs are offered by community colleges and technical schools and generally include both theoretical and practical training.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Programs

Bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) programs typically take four years to complete and provide a more comprehensive education in nursing than diploma programs or ADN programs. BSN programs are offered by universities and colleges and include theoretical courses in nursing and other sciences, as well as practical training in hospitals and other healthcare facilities.

Admission requirements for nursing schools may vary depending on the program and the school. However, most nursing programs require applicants to have a high school diploma or equivalent and to pass the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS) or another standardized test. Some nursing programs may also require applicants to have completed certain prerequisite courses, such as biology and chemistry.

Choosing the Right Nursing Program

With various nursing programs available, it’s essential to choose the right one that aligns with your career goals. The following are some factors you should consider when choosing a nursing program:

  • Program Format: Do you prefer a traditional classroom setting or an online program?
  • Program Length: How long does the program take to complete?
  • Program Cost: How much does the program cost, including tuition, fees, books, and other expenses?
  • Accreditation: Is the program accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)?
  • Program Specializations: Does the program offer specializations in areas such as pediatrics, cardiology, or critical care?

It’s important to note that some employers prefer or require nurses to have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), which typically takes four years to complete. However, you can also become a registered nurse through a diploma program or an associate degree in nursing (ADN) program, which generally takes two to three years to complete.

Once you’ve selected a nursing program, ensure that you meet the admission requirements. The requirements may vary depending on the program and the school, but typically include:

  • A high school diploma or equivalent
  • Transcripts from previous education
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Personal statement or essay
  • Health clearance and immunization records
  • Background check and drug screening

Completing Nursing Education and Training

After being admitted to a nursing program, you will undergo extensive education and training to acquire the necessary skills and knowledge to become a registered nurse. Your coursework will cover a wide range of subjects such as anatomy, pharmacology, patient care, and ethics in nursing, among others.

You will also participate in clinical rotations, where you will work under the supervision of experienced nurses to gain hands-on experience in caring for patients. Clinical rotations will provide you with essential exposure to different healthcare settings and patients, including pediatrics, surgery, and maternity care.

In addition to clinical rotations, you may be required to complete practical experiences in healthcare facilities or community settings. These experiences will allow you to apply your theoretical knowledge in real-life situations and further develop your professional skills.

Passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN)

After completing your nursing education, you need to pass the NCLEX-RN examination to obtain your nursing license. This comprehensive exam is designed to test your competency in various areas of nursing, including safe and effective care environments, health promotion and maintenance, psychosocial integrity, and physiological integrity.

The NCLEX-RN exam consists of multiple-choice questions that are either standalone or part of a scenario-based format. To pass the exam, you need to score above the minimum passing standard that is adjusted every three years.

The importance of passing the NCLEX-RN exam cannot be overstated. It is the final hurdle you need to clear before you can become a registered nurse. Preparation is key to success, and you should plan your study schedule well in advance.

“The NCLEX-RN exam is a rigorous assessment of your nursing knowledge and skills. It’s important to take it seriously and dedicate sufficient time and effort for preparation,” advises Jane Smith, a registered nurse with over a decade of experience.”

Several resources are available to help you prepare for the exam, including review courses, study guides, and practice tests. You can also use online resources, such as discussion forums and webinars, to supplement your preparation.

Remember, passing the NCLEX-RN exam is the gateway to your career as a registered nurse. By putting in the necessary effort, you can ace the exam and begin your journey towards a fulfilling career in nursing.

Obtaining State Licensure as a Registered Nurse

Upon passing the NCLEX-RN exam, aspiring registered nurses must obtain state licensure in the state where they intend to practice. Licensure requirements may vary from state to state, so it is essential to research the specific requirements in the state where you plan to work.

Generally, the requirements for state licensure include submitting an application and fee, completing a criminal background check, and providing proof of graduation from an approved nursing program. Some states may also require additional exams or certifications.

It is important to note that licensure requirements may change, and registered nurses are responsible for staying up-to-date with these changes. Maintaining an active and valid nursing license is crucial for employment in the field.

Exploring Career Opportunities for Registered Nurses

Registered nurses have an abundance of career opportunities available to them, with the ability to specialize in a specific area of healthcare or work in a variety of settings. Let’s explore some of the potential career paths and specialties for registered nurses:

Specialized Nursing

Specialized nursing allows registered nurses to focus on a specific area of healthcare. Some of the most popular specialties include:

Specialty Description
Pediatric Nursing Working with children, from infants to teenagers, in a variety of healthcare settings, including hospitals, clinics, and schools.
Critical Care Nursing Working with critically ill patients in emergency departments, intensive care units, and other specialized units.
Oncology Nursing Working with cancer patients in a variety of healthcare settings, including hospitals, clinics, and hospice care.

Career Paths and Settings

Registered nurses can choose from a variety of career paths and work settings, including:

  • Staff Nurse: Working in hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare settings
  • Travel Nurse: Working as a temporary nurse in various locations across the country
  • Home Health Nurse: Providing care to patients in their homes
  • Telemetry Nurse: Monitoring patients’ vital signs and telemetry data in hospitals and other medical facilities
  • School Nurse: Providing healthcare services to students in schools and universities

Regardless of the specialty or career path chosen, registered nurses make a significant impact on patient care and play a vital role in the healthcare system.

Continuing Education and Professional Development

As a registered nurse, it’s essential to engage in ongoing professional development to stay current with the latest advancements in healthcare. Continuing education can also enhance your career prospects and open up new opportunities for advancement.

Advanced nursing degrees, such as a master’s degree in nursing (MSN) or a doctor of nursing practice (DNP), can provide you with specialized knowledge and skills in a particular area of nursing. These degrees can lead to leadership and management roles, as well as higher salaries.

Additionally, obtaining certifications in a specific nursing specialty can demonstrate your expertise and commitment to your profession. Some certifications include the Certified Pediatric Nurse (CPN), Certified Critical Care Nurse (CCRN), and Oncology Certified Nurse (OCN).

Job Outlook and Salary for Registered Nurses

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of registered nurses is projected to grow 7% from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average for all occupations. This growth is expected due to an increased emphasis on preventive care, growing rates of chronic conditions, such as diabetes and obesity, and an aging population that requires more healthcare services.

The average salary for registered nurses is $77,460 per year, according to the BLS. However, salaries vary depending on factors such as experience, location, and specialization. For example, registered nurses working in government and educational settings tend to earn higher salaries than those working in hospitals or outpatient care centers.

Additionally, registered nurses with specialized certifications and advanced degrees may earn higher salaries and have more job opportunities. Certification options include critical care nursing, pediatric nursing, and oncology nursing, among others. Advanced degrees, such as a master of science in nursing (MSN) or doctor of nursing practice (DNP), can lead to careers in advanced practice nursing and healthcare administration.


Becoming a registered nurse requires dedication and hard work, but it’s a rewarding career with many opportunities to make a difference in people’s lives. By following the step-by-step guide outlined in this article, you can fulfill the educational requirements and obtain the necessary licensure to begin your journey as a registered nurse.

Continued Professional Development

It’s important to note that nursing is a constantly evolving field, and it’s essential to engage in ongoing professional development to stay updated with the latest advancements in healthcare. Pursuing advanced nursing degrees and certifications can enhance your career prospects and provide opportunities for growth and specialization.

Job Outlook and Salary

The job outlook for registered nurses is positive, with significant projected growth in the field. The average salary range for registered nurses varies based on experience, location, and specialization, but it can be a lucrative profession with many opportunities for advancement.

By staying committed to continuous learning and professional growth, you can enjoy a fulfilling and impactful career as a registered nurse.


Q: How long does it take to become a registered nurse?

A: The time it takes to become a registered nurse depends on the educational path you choose. Diploma programs typically take around 2-3 years, associate degree programs take 2-3 years, and bachelor’s degree programs take 4 years to complete.

Q: What are the admission requirements for nursing schools?

A: Admission requirements for nursing schools vary, but commonly include a high school diploma or GED, completion of prerequisite courses such as biology and chemistry, and a satisfactory GPA. Some programs may also require entrance exams and interviews.

Q: How do I choose the right nursing program?

A: When selecting a nursing program, consider factors such as accreditation, program specialization options, location, cost, and reputation. It’s important to choose a program that aligns with your career goals and offers the education and training you need.

Q: What is the NCLEX-RN examination?

A: The NCLEX-RN examination is a national licensure exam that aspiring registered nurses must pass to obtain their nursing license. It tests the knowledge and skills necessary to safely and effectively practice as a registered nurse.

Q: How can I prepare for the NCLEX-RN exam?

A: To prepare for the NCLEX-RN exam, it’s recommended to utilize study materials such as review books, practice tests, and online resources. Creating a study schedule, seeking guidance from experienced nurses or educators, and participating in review courses can also be beneficial.

Q: How do I obtain state licensure as a registered nurse?

A: In addition to passing the NCLEX-RN exam, you will need to apply for state licensure in the specific state where you plan to practice as a registered nurse. The requirements for state licensure may vary, but typically involve submitting an application, providing proof of education and passing the background check.

Q: What are the different career opportunities for registered nurses?

A: Registered nurses have diverse career opportunities, including specialties like pediatric nursing, critical care nursing, and oncology nursing. They can work in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, schools, and other healthcare settings. Career advancement options include becoming a nurse practitioner, nurse educator, or nurse manager.

Q: What is the average salary range for registered nurses?

A: The average salary range for registered nurses varies based on factors such as experience, location, and specialization. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for registered nurses was $75,330 in May 2020.

Q: How important is continuing education for registered nurses?

A: Continuing education is crucial for registered nurses to stay updated with advancements in healthcare and enhance their career prospects. Pursuing advanced nursing degrees, attending conferences, obtaining certifications, and participating in professional development programs are all valuable ways to expand knowledge and skills.

Similar Posts