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

The demand or need for healthcare workers is ever on the rise due to perpetual challenges in human health. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BSL) projects that hiring in the healthcare sector will rise by 16% from 2020-2030, adding roughly 2,600,000 new jobs. 

More specifically, the labor organ forecasts that hiring RNs (Registered Nurses) will grow by 9% from 2020 to 2030. Therefore, if you want to enroll and train as a registered nurse, rest assured that you are joining a high-demand sector. 

Let’s explore the entire process of becoming a registered nurse.

Who is a Registered Nurse? 

This educated, qualified, licensed healthcare professional assesses and identifies a patient’s needs to provide the necessary care and treatment according to the doctor’s plan. 

Depending on one’s qualification, a nurse can serve in diverse medical and community settings, whether in a hospital or a different health facility. 

Specific Work Settings for RNs 

While most registered nurses primarily serve in hospitals, surgical clinics, and physician’s offices, they also offer services in government or military institutions, large corporations, schools, patient homes, and assisted living facilities. 

Besides working for diverse patient populations, a Registered Nurse may also opt to work within different specializations. These include family medicine, operations, radiology, rehabilitation, ambulatory care, geriatric care, oncology, pediatrics, and more. 

Comprehensive Guide to Becoming a Registered Nurse

This section will answer some of your questions, including how to become a registered nurse, how long it takes to qualify, and what you can or should expect in this practice. 

Step 1: Be sure that you are indeed cut for a career in nursing

Before we dig in, it helps to clarify that being a registered nurse is not a walk in the park. Besides the long hours you should spare for studying, the competition is also high. 

What’s more, the job is challenging and demanding, as you have to devote many hours to working day and night. Sometimes you will attend to emergency or critical cases that leave no margin for negligence or error. 

To start, therefore, you may want to answer the following questions;

  • Am I into this to answer a professional calling or just for a salary to keep me going? 
  • Can I stay on my feet for long working hours and remain composed under pressure?
  • Do I enjoy regularly interacting with individuals of diverse backgrounds and experiences? 
  • Am I psychologically ready to assist patients who may be contending with serious health challenges? 

If you said “Yes” to most of these questions, you might move on to the next step. 

Step 2: Establish the Type of Registered Nurse You Would like to Become

Registered nurses are required in most settings that offer health care services. These include hospitals, outpatient clinics, physicians’ offices, nursing care facilities, and institutions. 

Therefore, knowing your preferred care setting early provides good grounds for choosing the relevant, additional courses that complement your mandatory degree certifications. 

Remember, as a Registered Nurse, you are also free to specialize and provide your services in a department or population that you like the most. For instance, you can acquire additional certifications to offer ambulatory, cardiovascular, and oncological care. 

Step 3: What Type and Level of Education Do You Need? 

As mentioned earlier, you must be educated, qualified, and licensed to become a Registered Nurse. In this regard, you need several degree certificates to serve at different levels in the nursing career.

Prerequisites to Apply for a Nursing Program 

To join a nursing school, however, you must fulfill the specified academic prerequisites. Ideally, you need GED (General Educational Development) or a high school diploma to apply for a nursing degree program.

Some colleges admit students with a GPA of 2.0 -2.5, while others take a 3.0 or higher. It goes without saying that the most sought-after schools ask for the highest GPAs 

An Associate Degree in Nursing

Typically, this program takes 2-3 years to complete, mainly focusing on the clinical wing of nursing. Unfortunately, it doesn’t cover research, leadership, and management as in higher nursing programs. 

The ADN program provides entry-level technical skills and knowledge about patients’ basic health needs. 

Most aspiring nurses prefer it for several reasons. First, it is more affordable and takes a shorter period to complete. It is also ideal for students with busy lifestyles because you can complete an Associate Degree in Nursing while working. 

After completing your ADN, you may get a job and arrange for your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) to be paid for by your employing hospital. The only major challenge with this certificate is that some employers will only consider BSN degree holders, possibly keeping with Magnet status and accreditation rules. 

 A Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing (BSN)

This degree typically takes 3-4 years to complete. A Bachelor of Science degree in nursing assumes the gold standard among nursing degrees because most employers appreciate it readily. 

What You Learn 

You take different courses, including clinical experiences, nursing, and core curriculum classes, i.e., Community Health Nursing, Anatomy & Physiology, Applied Nutrition, and others. 

Benefits of earning a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing

  1. You stand a better chance of being hired by the Magnet compliant hospitals
  2. BSN programs include management skills and leadership that aren’t offered under ADN programs
  3. BSN- ready nurses, enjoy more career opportunities 
  4. It is a prerequisite to immediate higher graduate programs like the MSN and PhD

A Master of Science Degree in Nursing (MSN)

After earning your BSN, you may proceed to enroll for a Master of Science in Nursing, which is a necessary qualification for becoming an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN)

Other advantages of holding an MSN are leadership opportunities, scholarship opportunities, higher pay, teaching opportunities, and more. 

 Accelerated BSN (ABSN) Programs

If you hold a bachelor’s degree in a different field and aspire to become a Registered Nurse, then this degree program is for you. Accelerated BSN programs take 1-2 years, depending on the structure and intensity of the program. 

The following institutions offer some of the best Accelerated BSN (ABSN) programs. 

  • The University of Pennsylvania, whose NCLEX Pass Rate stands at 90% (traditional BSN program inclusive)
  • Duke University with a 99% NCLEX pass rate (traditional BSN program inclusive)
  • Villanova University boasts a 94% NCLEX pass rate (traditional BSN program inclusive)

Ideally, many nursing-specific courses under this program are condensed to fit the shorter course duration. 

Since the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a 9% job outlook in the nursing field, many people are settling for nursing as their second career choice, making the accelerated programs more popular.

Take and pass the NCLEX exam.  

We just discussed the required degree certificates to become or serve in the different capacities as a Registered Nurse. These are the ADN, BSN, MSN, and the Accelerated BSN (ABSN) Programs. The Nursing Diploma is the less common option that would be worth mentioning without discussion.

With all these degree certificates under your belt, you still have to take the mandatory National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) to be tested for competency as a nursing graduate. 

The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) issues the exam to assess and determine your overall preparedness for entry-level nursing. During the test, you are presented with at least 75 questions, but you may handle up to 265 questions if you haven’t hit the pass mark after the first round.   

The questions mainly cover topics like;

  1. Basic care and comfort 
  2. Disease prevention and detection 
  3. Coping and adaptation
  4. Pharmacological therapies 

Sample tests can be found online and in books. Alternatively, you may identify the various companies and schools that offer the NCLEX prep course. The fact is, you must pass the NCLEX-RN exam to become a licensed Registered Nurse. 

Get a Registered Nurse’s (RN) License 

Once the NCLEX exam results are out, and you’ve passed, the next step is to apply for RN licensure in your state or where you are looking to work. 

At this stage, you will have to do some little research to establish the fees and how long it takes to have the license because the requirements are unique to each state. 

If you want to pursue a travel nursing career within the United States, consider the Nurse Licensure Compact ( NLC ). This arrangement allows, Registered Nurses to acquire a multi-state license and work in any alliance member state. The body currently constituted (now eNLC) has thirty-nine member states

Keep Advancing Your Nursing Career 

For a Registered Nurse, passing the NCLEX exam and being licensed isn’t the end of the road. To maintain your license, you should take a mandatory number of CEUs or Continuing Education Units yearly.

However, enthusiastic nurses take classes beyond the CEU threshold to improve their skills and offer the best possible patient care.

“For nurses, continuing education is a lifestyle.” Says Beth Hawkes, columnist for 

Another way to enhance your career is to take a Doctor of Nursing Degree (DNP). With this degree, you can transition to levels where you can take on bigger roles and influence healthcare policy. 

Ideally, The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) renews nurses’ certifications after every five years for proof of sustained competence and expansion of professional knowledge. 

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