Becoming a Registered Nurse: Education and Career Roadmap

Research the requirements to become a registered nurse. Learn about the job description and duties, and read the step-by-step process to start a career as a healthcare professional. View article »

View Popular Schools

Find the perfect school

Video Transcript

Should I Become a Registered Nurse?

Registered nurses (RNs) work in many different healthcare environments and perform a large variety of healthcare tasks that are pivotal to patient care and recovery. They can administer medicine, set up patient care plans, and use important medical equipment. They might work at hospitals, physician offices, nursing care facilities, schools, or health clinics, among other places of employment. RNs usually spend most of their shift on their feet and may need to work overnight hours at many facilities.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Varying options, including diploma, associate's degree. or bachelor's degree in nursing
Licensure/Certification Must earn state licensure (requirements vary by state) and pass the NCLEX-RN
Experience Entry-level
Key Skills Good communication and critical thinking skills; emotional stability and patience; computer skills such as proficiency with medical software, Microsoft Excel, and accounting software; clinical skills including measuring vital signs and using various types of medical equipment
Median Salary (2015)* $32.45/hour or $67,490/year

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **ONET Online

Steps to Become a Registered Nurse

Step 1: Explore Educational Options

Students interested in becoming registered nurses have many different educational options to choose from. Diploma programs that prepare registered nurses for work are available exclusively through hospitals and can take up to two years to complete. An associate's degree program in nursing can typically be completed in two years and includes general education courses in addition to nursing courses. A bachelor's degree in nursing program can be completed in four years and prepares students to lead healthcare teams, collaborate with other health professionals, and make resourceful nursing decisions. Other educational paths include completion programs, such as an RN-to-BSN program; combined bachelor and master's programs; master's degree programs; and programs for aspiring nurses who hold a bachelor's degree in another field. Aspiring registered nurses should take courses in chemistry, biology, and anatomy while in high school to help prepare for the curriculum in nursing programs.

Step 2: Complete a Postsecondary Program

Nursing programs seek to provide a balance of classroom lectures, hands-on training and clinical experiences. Clinical exercises are designed to help students develop technical skills, critical thinking ability, and effective communication skills. Nursing students may receive clinical training in hospital departments, home health agencies, public health facilities, and medical clinics. Some nursing programs offer NCLEX-RN review classes, which are aimed to provide students with test-taking strategies to prepare for the exam.

Step 3: Obtain a State Nursing License

In order to begin practicing as a registered nurse, individuals must successfully pass the NCLEX-RN, which is a computerized exam. This exam measures the competencies, knowledge, and skills that new nurses need to perform their jobs safely and effectively. Some states and hospitals may also require continued education to maintain a license.

Nurses may become credentialed in specialty areas such as, but not limited to, cardiology, gerontology, and pediatrics. A variety of professional organizations offer certification.

Step 4: Continue Nursing Education

This is an optional step for RNs who wish to continue learning and expand their education in order to advance in their professional roles. A nurse who has completed an associate degree program may choose to go on to complete a bachelor's degree program in order to move into counseling, educational, or administrative positions. An individual with a bachelor's degree may choose to complete a Master of Science in Nursing program in order to become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). An APRN can work in one of four professional roles: clinical nurse specialist, certified nurse-midwife, certified registered nurse anesthetist, and certified nurse practitioner.

Registered nurses may want to consider joining a professional organization such as the American Society of Registered Nurses or the American Nursing Association. These types of organizations offer benefits such as grants and scholarships for those who want to pursue further education, as well as educational conferences and journals.

Aspiring registered nurses can complete a diploma, an associate, or a bachelor's degree in nursing, and they must pass the NCLEX-RN and obtain state licensure.

Next: View Schools

Popular Schools

The listings below may include sponsored content but are popular choices among our users.

Find your perfect school

What is your highest level of education?