Registered Nurse Certificate and Diploma Programs

There are 1-year certificate and 1- to 3-year diploma programs for students who wish to become registered nurses (RNs). These programs offer students differing avenues to achieve the same goal.

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Essential Information

To be admitted to an RN certificate or diploma program, students might need to hold a license as a practical nurse. Once they've graduated, prospective RNs must earn state licensure, which requires passing the national examination for RNs. Curricula typically highlight human anatomy and physiology, as well as core topics like nursing fundamentals and medical-surgical nursing. To gain practice working as an RN, students supplement their classroom training with clinical opportunities, which are often required for graduation. High school diploma or equivalent is often needed for lengthier programs.

Registered Nurse Certificate

Registered nurse certificate programs can be completed in as little as a year. These are shortened programs which provide nursing education for students who already understand core nursing competencies and have completed previous nursing education. Incoming students are already usually licensed practical nurses (LPNs). Courses in these programs may provide college credit, but completing a certificate program will not result in an associate degree in nursing. Courses, such as psychology and health assessment, have already been completed by incoming students. Certificate programs for registered nursing students feature classroom work mixed with clinical experiences. Common courses include:

  • Physiology
  • Anatomy
  • Medical-surgical nursing
  • Specialized needs nursing
  • Nursing practices and fundamentals
  • Nutrition

Registered Nurse Diploma

Registered nurse diploma programs can be completed in 1-3 years. Diploma programs focus on providing students the skills to enter the nursing field as well as prepare them for successfully passing the NCLEX-RN. Diploma programs should be accredited through the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission. Accelerated diploma programs can require the completion of courses in anatomy or mathematics, or may require that applicants are licensed practical nurses.

Registered nurse diploma programs combine clinical experiences with laboratory and classroom studies. Common courses include:

  • Psychology
  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Nutrition
  • Medical-surgical nursing
  • Pharmacology

Career Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) stated that registered nurse employment was expected to grow at a rate of 16% from 2014 to 2024 ( An increase in outpatient services and continually advancing technology will aid in the growth of RNs in the industry.

According to the BLS, RNs earned a mean annual salary of $71,000 in 2015. Registered nurses in the bottom ten percent of earnings made $46,360 or less per annum and RNs in the top ten percent made $101,630 or more annually.

Continuing Education Information

All students who have completed a registered nurse education program must pass the National Council Licensing Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) in order to be eligible to legally work in the field. The NCLEX-RN is offered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, a governing body that also requires RNs to complete continuing education every few years in order to maintain licensure. Additional licensing may be required within individual states.

RNs may choose to pursue further training through a number of advanced education programs in nursing, such as Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree programs or Master of Science in Nursing degree programs. Completing additional education can lead to greater income, greater specialization, more responsibilities and enhanced career opportunities.

RN certificate and diploma programs offer a combination of classroom work mixed with clinical experiences. Advanced programs offer more specified coursework. All students must pass the National Council Licensing Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) toy work in the field.

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