Steps to Becoming a Nurse

Apr 27, 2020

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

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Should I Become a Nurse?

Nurses have a variety of job duties that include treating common injuries and illnesses, assisting doctors during examinations and administering medications. They work in various environments, including hospitals, doctors' offices, nursing homes and public schools. These professionals may work on their feet for extended periods of time and sometimes might need to lift or move patients.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Varies by level of position
Degree Field Nursing
Licensure/Certification State licensing required; optional certifications available
Experience Entry level
Key Skills Strong verbal communication and critical thinking skills; emotional stability; attention to detail; compassion; use of Microsoft Excel, accounting, and medical software; ability to measure vital signs, track patients' progress, and use various types of medical equipment
Median Salary (2019) $47,480 (for licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses)
$73,300 (for registered nurses)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Nurses may have a variety of degrees, including diplomas, associate's degrees and bachelor's degrees in nursing. All nurses are required to have state licenses, and optional certifications are available in areas of specialization. Key skills include strong verbal communication skills; emotional stability; attention to detail; critical thinking skills; compassion; ability to use medical software; and ability to measure vital signs, track patients' progress and use various types of medical equipment. As of 2019, the median annual salary was $73,300 for registered nurses and $47,480 for licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses.

Steps to Becoming a Nurse

Step 1: Determine Career Path

Education requirements are directly related to the type of nursing a person will pursue. Licensed practical nurses (LPNs), also known as licensed vocational nurses (LVNs), perform basic patient care and some administrative tasks under the supervision of registered nurses (RNs) and doctors. Registered nurses are qualified to provide a greater range of patient care and may even focus on a specialty area, such as nephrology, cardiology or neonatology.

Success Tip:

  • Prepare in high school. High school courses in biology, chemistry, English and math can help prepare students for nursing degree program coursework.

Step 2: Choose an Education Program

With a career path in mind, students can choose an appropriate nursing program. LPNs complete an approximately 12-month program. These programs are available through community and technical colleges that meet state requirements. Aspiring RNs can earn a 2-year Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a 4-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) at an accredited university or college. Most nursing education programs combine classroom teaching with labs and hands-on clinical experiences in a healthcare environment. Courses in nursing, chemistry, anatomy, physiology and psychology are commonly found in nursing education programs.

Step 3: Get Licensed

All states require nurses to obtain licensure before starting a job, though specifics vary for each state. Students who have completed a state-approved nursing program must pass the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX) for either practical nurses or registered nurses. Some states and hospitals may also require continued education to maintain a license.

Success Tip:

  • Earn certification. Nurses may become credentialed in many specialties, a few of which are pediatrics, gerontology or ambulatory care. Certification is usually voluntary, but some employers may require it.

Step 4: Consider Opportunities for Career Advancement

Once a person is licensed as a vocational nurse, he or she may want to pursue a more advanced position. With proper experience, vocational nurses can complete an LPN-to-RN program in which they become registered nurses. Likewise, registered nurses can consider enrolling in nursing master's degree programs to prepare for positions as clinical nurse specialists or nurse practitioners.

Hopeful nurses should begin by determining their specific career path and choosing an education program, then obtaining a license and, after working in the field, they might consider opportunities for career advancement.

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