RN Diploma, Certification and Certificate Program Information

There are various education options available for becoming a registered nurse, as well as for maintaining nursing licensure and securing nursing certification. Individuals interested in obtaining a registered nurse (RN) diploma or certificate can enroll in hospital programs and in college programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Essential Information

RN diploma and certificate curricula are sometimes entry-level programs; other programs are structured as continuing education or transitional tracks for individuals with a nursing background. Graduates of an RN certificate or diploma program are qualified to take the RN national licensing exam.

  • Program Levels in Registered Nursing: Certificate program; Diploma program
  • Prerequisites: Must be licensed practical nurse (LPN-to-RN); Orientation (LPN-to-RN); Nursing license (certificate); CPR certification (certificate); Liability insurance (certificate); Bachelor's degree (certificate)
  • Online Availability: Diploma program may be offered online
  • Some Program Specialization: Cardiology; Pediatrics; Obstetrics; Psychiatric nursing
  • Program Length: 30 credit hours (LPN-to-RN); Two to three years (diploma)

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) to Registered Nurse (RN) Certificate Program

RNs are responsible for evaluating and caring for the ill and documenting patient symptoms, medications and reactions. They often supervise LPNs or Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) and communicate with treating physicians. An LPN-to-RN certificate program generally requires 30 credits for completion. These certificate programs make students qualified to take the RN national licensing exam.

LPN-to-RN students gain practical nursing skills and learn to treat varying conditions in patients of all ages. At the certificate level, RN students take foundational science classes and participate in lab work and a clinical practicum. Topics of study include:

  • Foundations in nursing
  • Trends in nursing
  • Nursing the mentally ill
  • Pediatric patient care
  • Nursing the elderly
  • Surgical nursing

Registered Nurse Diploma Program

RN diploma programs, which take 2-3 years to complete, are generally offered through hospitals. Some students specialize in an area of study, such as cardiology, pediatrics, obstetrics, or psychiatric nursing. RN diploma programs are occasionally offered online, with students completing clinical practices at a local facility. Graduates of an RN diploma program are prepared to take the NCLEX-RN exam. Diploma program students participate in hands-on lab experiences and lectures. Students also take general education classes and specific nursing topics in:

  • Nursing principles
  • Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Injection procedures
  • Medical nursing
  • CPR and first aid

Graduate Certificate for Registered Nurses (RN)

The graduate certificate is continuing education training geared toward individuals who may not want to pursue a master of science in nursing degree program but desire advanced RN training. RN graduate certificate programs are research-intensive. Students delve deeper into nursing topics, such as:

  • Patient assessments
  • Critical care nursing trends
  • Health and nutrition
  • Statistics
  • Diseases and the body

Popular Career Options

Individuals who have earned an RN graduate certificate may be eligible for positions with greater responsibility. Specific job titles include:

  • Head nurse
  • Assistant unit supervisor
  • Home health aide nurse trainer
  • Travel nurse
  • RN case manager

Graduates of nursing diploma programs are qualified for RN positions in outpatient and inpatient facilities. Specific job titles include:

  • Home health care nurse
  • Staff nurse
  • Nurse-midwife
  • Pediatric nurse
  • Ambulatory care nurse

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

Employment of RNs was predicted to increase 19% beginning in 2012 and continuing through 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics ( The BLS also noted that in 2014, RNs averaged $69,790 annually.

Continuing Education

All states require that RNs be licensed, which requires that they graduate from accredited RN programs. Further, all states require the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX-RN). Some states have additional requirements. Voluntary specialty-area certifications are available from the American Nursing Credentialing Center.

Graduates of RN diploma programs may decide to continue their education toward a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Graduates of more advanced RN programs may be eligible for management positions.

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