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What Are the Qualifications to Become an RN?

Nov 19, 2019

Find out about the education and training needed to become a registered nurse (RN). A summary of these nursing requirements and information about the job role and licensure are provided here to help you decide whether this is a good career for you.

Registered nurses (RNs) perform a vitally important healthcare role. The key RN qualifications are completion of an approved nursing program and state licensure; these are described in more detail below, alongside details about the main job duties of an RN.

Key Information about Registered Nurses

RNs work in hospitals, clinics and other healthcare settings where they provide a range of care to patients. They are highly trained professionals who assist doctors with tasks such as administering medical tests, dispensing medication, and operating and monitoring medical equipment.

Education Required Diploma, associate's degree, or bachelor's degree
Licensing or Certification Registered nursing license
Job Growth (2018-2028) 12%*
Median Salary (2018) $71,730*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Registered Nurses Qualifications

High School Diploma

The first thing an aspiring nurse should is do is to earn his or her high school diploma or GED so that they can apply to a nursing program at a college or medical organization. Classes in biology, chemistry, math and psychology will prove to be particularly useful. After high school, nursing hopefuls can get even more tailored preparation for nursing school by completing some prerequisite courses in an online pre-nursing program.

Nursing Diploma or Degree

Once a prospective RN has finished high school, they generally have three educational pathways open to them. They can obtain a diploma from an approved nursing program, complete an associate's degree in nursing (ADN) or obtain a bachelor's degree in nursing (BSN). All three of these RN programs prepare students for the licensing exam and, subsequently, entry-level nursing positions in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and other healthcare facilities. Such programs require students to take courses which cover some of the following subject areas:

  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Nutrition
  • Chemistry
  • Psychology

Nursing diploma and ADN programs typically take 18 months to three years to complete, but BSN programs are four years in length. The extra length of a BSN program can allow time for nursing students to obtain more hands-on training in a clinical setting and also learn more about leadership and communication.

Diploma programs may be administered and hosted by hospitals or medical centers, whereas ADN and BSN programs are run by higher education institutes and are more common. Given this, it is important to consider that holders of an ADN can apply their credits to a BSN program should they wish to 'top-up' their RN qualifications by obtaining a bachelor's degree.

Nursing License

Upon completion of an approved nursing program, candidates become eligible to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) ,which they must pass in order to be able to apply for their nursing license from their state board of nursing. The exam lasts six hours and tests candidates' understanding of key topics such as basic care, preventative treatment abilities, health promotion and care management. The exam fee is $200. There may be other license application requirements depending on the state.

Nursing Salaries and Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), RNs held 3.1 million jobs in 2018. At that same time, 60% of them were employed by hospitals; however, RNs could also work ambulatory services, residential care homes and in government.

As of 2018, the BLS reports that the median salary for RNs was $71,730, and the field is predicted to grow by 12% between 2018 and 2028, which is significantly above the national average.

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