Nurse Requirements and Career Information

Aug 20, 2019

Nurses play an essential role in the assistance and treatment of patients. Discover what the requirements are for nursing, such as educational programs, training, and licensure. Find out what career options are available in this field.

If you like caring for people and are willing to put the time into training, a career in nursing may be for you. You can work toward certification and licensing for a career as a licensed practical nurse or a registered nurse. Nurses work in many different environments and in many specialized fields, which gives you the opportunity for a full and rewarding career.

Nursing Requirements

Nurses help to treat patients in health care facilities. Students can choose to become a licensed practical nurse or a registered nurse, both of which require some postsecondary education in the field and licensure. Find out how to become a nurse in the table overview and detailed requirements below.

Career Licensed Practical Nurse Registered Nurse
Required Education Postsecondary training Associate's or bachelor's degree in nursing
Other Requirements Passing NCLEX-PN, Licensure Passing NCLEX-RN, Licensure
Projected Job Growth (2016-2026)* 12% 15%
Average Salary (2018)* $46,240 $71,730

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Are the Educational Requirements for a Nurse?

After obtaining a high school diploma or a GED, a student interested in becoming a nurse will typically select from a range of educational options. Students can choose to pursue training to become licensed practical nurses (LPNs) or registered nurses (RNs). An LPN can later enroll in further classes to become an RN. Nurse training can come from college or hospital education programs that lead to a diploma, associate's degree or bachelor's degree. Diploma and associate's degree programs take less time to complete but may offer fewer job opportunities after graduation.

Nursing programs feature a combination of class lectures, hands-on laboratory work and clinical experience. Students take courses in anatomy, pathology and microbiology. During clinical instruction, students work under the supervision of professional nurses in a health care facility. Registered nurse programs typically include more in-depth study than licensed practical nurse programs.

Diploma and associate's degree programs last for about two years and are available at community colleges and vocational schools. Colleges and universities offer bachelor's degree programs in nursing and last for four years. Students with an associate's degree can often transfer credits towards a bachelor's degree in nursing.

Career Requirements for Nursing

All nurses are required to earn a state license by taking the National Council Licensure Examination offered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing ( Prospective licensed practical nurses take the NCLEX-PN test, while those looking to become registered nurses take the NCLEX-RN. Educational programs normally prepare students to take these examinations. Individual states may have additional requirements, so it's important to check with the licensing board for the state in which one is applying to work.

Registered nurses with career specializations can provide additional services and find further job opportunities. Nurses can obtain credentials in specific health areas like dermatology or pediatrics. Specializations can also come in the form of a different work environment. For example, critical care nurses work solely in critical care wards and transport nurses assist patients being transported from one area to another. Credentials are earned by enrolling in additional educational programs and on-the-job training

Career Options

Nurses generally fall into two categories: LPNs and RNs. Each provide different services to patients and medical teams.

Licensed Practical Nurse

Licensed practical nurses work under the guidance registered nurses to care for patients. LPNs may perform basic tasks such as checking and recording vital signs and assisting patients with daily tasks. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (, job opportunities for LPNs are expected to increase by 12% between 2016 and 2026, faster than the national average. LPNs made an average salary of $46,240 as of May 2018.

Registered Nurse

RNs may run tests on patients and oversee their medication. While most LPNs provide general care, registered nurses have a greater degree of specialization and career options available within their field. The BLS reports the job opportunities for RNs are projected to increase by 15% between 2016 and 2026. Nurses with a bachelor's degree in nursing typically have an easier time finding employment. RNs made an average salary of $71,730 in May 2018.

A nursing career requires completing an accredited program as well as passing an exam. Programs are available that also lead to an associate's or bachelor's degree. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports growth for nurses far surpasses the job market as a whole.

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?