What Education is Needed to Become a Registered Nurse?
You might be wondering, 'How long does it take to become a nurse?' For many entry-level registered nursing jobs, applicants need at least a diploma from a 2-3 year registered nurse training program accredited by the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC). However, many employers prefer applicants with an associate's or bachelor's degree in nursing, along with state licenses to practice as an RN. Some RNs may specialize in an area such as pediatrics, labor and delivery, oncology or surgery.
Associate's Degree in Nursing
Associate's degree programs in nursing often span 2-3 years and are typically offered by community and junior colleges. Graduates of associate's degree programs can apply to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) for RN licensure. Courses might include:
- Client care
- Nursing skills
- Nursing jurisprudence
Bachelor's Degree in Nursing
As part of their mandatory nurse training requirements, students generally spend time in clinical settings during the last two years of a 4-year nursing program, where they apply their knowledge. These programs provide on-the-job training for registered nurses, allowing them to demonstrate effective communications skills with patients and physicians, and also to develop effective nursing interventions. Students enrolled in a bachelor's degree program take courses in:
- Medical equipment use and maintenance
- Medical terminology
- Patient care techniques
Continuing Education and Training for Registered Nurses
As part of one's registered nurse training requirements, all states require registered nurses to graduate from an approved nursing program and pass the NCLEX-RN. Aspiring RNs should check with their state's board of nursing to determine other requirements. With experience and, in some cases, additional education, RNs can pursue a number of specialty certifications from nursing organizations ranging from the American Board of Neuroscience Nursing to the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing.
While working for health care facilities, registered nurses often attend workshops or conferences to stay current on nursing trends and improve patient care. These RN meetings generally occur at places of employment, resorts or convention centers. Day-long workshops sponsored by hospitals often feature guest speakers who discuss ways to communicate better with patients and resolve nursing issues. Some workshops qualify for continuing education credits. Professional nursing organizations, such as the American Nurses Association, typically sponsor 2- to 3-day annual conferences, where registered nurses can network with their peers. Conferences generally are held at resort locations or convention facilities. These gatherings often focus on leadership and personal development or on a specific area of nursing, such as trauma, brain injuries or strokes.
Some form of continuing education generally is required for license renewal or continued employment. RNs who aspire to positions as nurse practitioners, midwives, clinical nurse specialists, nurse anesthetists or nursing administrators might benefit from completing a master's degree program in nursing. Doctorate programs also are available, with some focusing on clinical aspects of nursing and others geared toward nurses who desire positions in research or academia.
Registered nurses should be detail-oriented, patient, sympathetic and emotionally stable. Because they're likely to come in contact with infectious diseases, they must observe strict health and safety guidelines to prevent contamination. They also should be able to administer CPR. Some RNs are expected to work irregular hours since hospitals and nursing care facilities operate 24 hours a day.
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that registered nurses made a median annual salary of $71,730, as of 2018. The employment for these nurses is expected to grow 15% from 2016-2026, which is much faster than the national average.
Diploma, associate's and bachelor's degree programs in nursing can provide prospective nurses with the medical knowledge, patient care skills and clinical experience needed to take the NCLEX-RN certification exam and become a registered nurses.