How Can I Become a Nurse?

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a nurse. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about schooling, job duties and licensure to find out if this is the career for you. View article »

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  • 0:01 Should I Become a Nurse?
  • 0:55 Step 1: Graduate from…
  • 1:38 Step 2: Gain Clinical…
  • 1:57 Step 3: Get Licensed
  • 2:23 Advance in the Field

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Video Transcript

Should I Become a Nurse?

This article focuses on the requirements for becoming a registered nurse, or RN. (There are other types of nurses, but RNs work in hospitals, community health centers, doctors' offices, and other healthcare settings. They work with and instruct patients about diseases and illnesses.

Some of their job duties may include performing diagnostic tests, following up with patients, administering medication, and running health screenings. RNs usually hold an associate's or bachelor's degree, and nursing programs typically include clinical experience in the curricula. Graduates must take examinations to obtain RN licensure in their state.

Licensure and Certification Licensure required in every state
Median Annual Salary (May 2015) $67,490 (registered nurses)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Graduate from a Degree or Diploma Program

Three options exist for individuals looking for entry-level positions as nurses. One option is an associate's degree, which takes generally two to three years and includes nursing and healthcare-related coursework and clinical practice. A bachelor's degree, which is becoming more of the norm, is another option. A bachelor's degree program takes four years to complete. Students study science, healthcare, and nursing in addition to their core liberal arts courses. Clinical work takes place during students' junior or senior year. The last option is a diploma, offered at a few U.S. hospitals. This option takes two to three years and also combines clinical experience and nursing-related coursework.

Find schools that offer these popular programs

  • Clinical Nursing
  • Critical Care Nursing
  • Direct-Entry Midwifery - LM, CPM
  • Licensed Vocational Nurse Training
  • Mental Health Nursing
  • Neonatal Nursing
  • Nurse Anesthetist
  • Nurse Assistant or Patient Care Assistant
  • Nurse Midwife
  • Nurse Practitioner or Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Nursing Administration
  • Nursing for Adults and Seniors
  • Nursing Science
  • Occupational Health Nursing
  • Operating Room and Surgical Nursing
  • Pediatric Nursing
  • Public Health Nurse or Community Nurse
  • Registered Nurse

Step 2: Gain Clinical Experience

Nursing degree and diploma programs require a certain number of hours working in a hospital. This experience allows nursing students to work alongside registered nurses, dealing with patients, doctors, families, and other healthcare workers. Students learn how to administer medicine to patients and deal with healthcare technology.

Step 3: Get Licensed

Licensing requirements vary by state, but all nursing candidates are required to take and pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) before beginning work in the field. Some exam topics include mental exam basics, patient rights, stages of labor, metabolism, types of burns, sexually transmitted diseases, and language development.

Step 4: Advance in the Field

Nurses can move into a specialization within the registered nursing field, or they can move up to a management position with additional schooling and extensive experience. Nurses can specialize in critical care, ambulatory care, holistic health, and emergency care as well as particular ailments, organs, or body systems. A specialization usually requires a master's degree in nursing or in a particular subfield of nursing.

Becoming a nurse requires at least an associate's degree and a license. Advancement into a specialization is possible with additional schooling.

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