How to Become a Registered Nurse (RN) Online

Nov 25, 2019

Registered nurses must meet several educational and licensure requirements. Learn more about how you can become a nurse, including which steps of the process you can complete online.

Information About Registered Nurses

Registered nurses generally interact with patients by assessing their conditions and symptoms, recording their medical histories, and administering some treatments and medications. As such, all registered nurses need to be able to communicate clearly to doctors and patients, critically assess patients, and have the emotional and physical capacity for a demanding work environment. It's possible to complete most of the educational requirements for becoming a nurse online, and the chart that follows illustrates job growth and salary data for the registered nursing profession.

Required Skills Communication and critical-thinking skills, emotional and physical stamina
Job Growth (2018-2028)* 12%
Median Salary (2018)* $71,730

Source *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Steps to Becoming a Registered Nurse (RN) Online

While it is possible to complete some of the steps of becoming a registered nurse online, these online steps also include some hands-on experience requirements. Also, obtaining your nursing license is not a step that can be completed online.

Step 1: Earn an Online Associate Degree in Nursing

There are two educational pathways to becoming a registered nurse. First, you could earn an online associate degree in the field of nursing (ADN), which is a good choice for those who want to quickly move into the field of nursing, as these programs are designed to give you the educational foundation you need to meet licensure requirements. ADN programs consist of online coursework as well as real-world components, such as clinical or lab hours, which means you can complete most of this step online.

Step 2: Earn an Online Bachelor of Science in Nursing

Your other educational option for becoming a registered nurse is earning an online Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. These types of nursing degree programs are for individuals who've already completed some undergraduate general education coursework and typically feature online classes in such subjects as pharmacology for nurses, pediatric nursing, mental health nursing, and the foundations of nursing. Online BSN programs also require some real-world components, such as clinical rotations and on-campus skills sessions, and these requirements cannot be completed online. If you plan on working in a hospital, want to achieve an administrative nursing role, or want to pursue a graduate education in nursing, then it's recommended that you earn an BSN.

BSN programs take about four years to complete compared to two years for an ADN. However, after you earn your online ADN and become a registered nurse, it's possible to then go on to earn an online bachelor's degree through a RN-BSN program, which is usually an accelerated program that allows you to keep working as nurse as you earn a BSN.

Step 3: Obtain a Nursing License and Certification

In every state in the US, registered nurses must obtain a nursing license. The two major licensure requirements you must meet include attending and graduating from an approved nursing education program and taking and passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). It's important to know that the NCLEX-RN cannot be taken online; however, you can find practice exams and materials online that can help you study for the exam.

Other licensure requirements vary by individual state and could include passing a background check. In addition, you may need to obtain certification in certain nursing areas, such as pediatrics or ambulatory care, if your employer requires it. Lastly, some registered nursing jobs may require that you become certified in CPR, cardiac life support, and/or basic life support. These certifications cannot be earned online and are administrated by professional associations.

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