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RN: Educational Requirements to Become a Registered Nurse

Registered nurses (RNs) care for patients and educate them on health issues to prevent future illnesses. Along with technical skills necessary for the medical profession, registered nurses must have people skills to work closely with patients and their families. Becoming a RN entails formal education from a state-approved nursing school and state licensure.

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Education Requirements for an RN

There are generally three educational approaches to becoming a registered nurse. Registered nurses usually train by completing a bachelor's or associate's degree program in nursing. Less commonly, registered nurses prepare for the occupation by earning a diploma in nursing. Graduates of any of these programs are generally eligible for licensure and entry-level employment as registered nurses.

Bachelor's Degree

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), RNs who graduate from Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) programs may see greater advancement opportunities than associate's degree or diploma holders ( These 4-year degree programs are generally more comprehensive, focusing on human development and behavioral sciences applicable to the profession.

BSN program curricula are typically divided into two parts. The initial two years focus on general science instruction, such as courses in physiology, organic chemistry and psychology. In the final two years, students gain instruction in nursing practice and may study pediatrics, chronic disease and mental health nursing. Students also gain supervised clinical experience in healthcare facilities during the last two years of study.

Associate's Degree

Some registered nurses hold Associate's Degrees in Nursing (ADNs). Associate's degree programs are designed to last two years; however, the American Nurses Association (ANA) reports that many programs took students three or more years to complete ( ADN programs focus on technical applications of nursing, and instruction takes place in both classrooms and clinical settings. While these degree programs are the most widely available training programs, the ANA states that many registered nurses who hold ADNs return to school to earn at least bachelor's degrees.


Another education option is the Diploma in Nursing program. These programs are the least common of all nurse training programs and are administered in healthcare facilities. They consist of three or more years of classroom and clinical instruction. As with ADN degree holders, many registered nurses with diplomas eventually pursue undergraduate degrees in nursing.

Licensure for an RN

All states require registered nurses to obtain licensure after completion of an approved nursing program. Licensing requirements vary by state, but all licensing boards require registered nurses to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) before practicing in the profession. Developed by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, the NCLEX-RN covers four basic categories, including psychosocial and physiological integrity, healthcare environment safety and health promotion ( Some states and employers require RNs to participate in continuing education.

Salary and Career Information

The BLS estimated a faster than average employment growth for RNs in the years 2010-2020. The BLS also reported that RNs earned a median annual wage of $65,470 in May 2012.

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