Registered nurses are pivotal in providing quality patient care and promoting positive health outcomes. They also serve as the primary contact for patients, offering them support and reassurance in their most vulnerable moments. The demand for registered nurses has surged in recent years due to factors such as the aging population and expanded healthcare services and roles. The BLS estimates a 6% increase in the employment of registered nurses, with about 193,100 openings each year from 2022 to 2032. Another benefit to becoming a registered nurse is their increasingly diverse role, with opportunities to specialize in areas such as oncology, pediatrics, mental health, and geriatrics. 

If you’re passionate and driven about making a difference in the lives of patients and the healthcare system overall, join us as we give you a step-by-step guide on what are the education requirements for a nurse, how to become a nurse, how long does it take to become a registered nurse, and more. 

What Is a Registered Nurse (RN)?

Registered nurses are essential in patient care as they provide and coordinate patient care and communicate with patients and their families about their progress. Registered nurses can work in any setting that provides healthcare, such as: 

  • Nursing and residential care facilities;
  • Government;
  • Educational services (local, private, and state);
  • Hospitals (local, private, and state);
  • Ambulatory healthcare services;
  • Private practices;
  • Outpatient care centers. 

What Does a Registered Nurse Do?

Besides duties in direct patient care, nurses also serve as liaisons between patients and other healthcare providers, facilitating effective communication and coordination of care. The duties and responsibilities of RNs depend on where they work and the patients they work with. For example, a pediatric oncology nurse takes care of children and teens who have cancer, whereas a geriatric nurse works with elderly patients. That said, some of the general duties of RNs include:

  • Recording patients’ medical histories and symptoms;
  • Performing diagnostic tests and analyzing the results;
  • Operating and monitoring medical equipment;
  • Educating patients and their families on how to manage injuries or illnesses;
  • Cooperating with medical professionals to provide the best care for their patients;
  • Administering patients’ medications and treatments. 

How to Become a Nurse: Education Requirements

Here is a step-by-step guide on the reading journey towards becoming a registered nurse and positively impacting the lives of patients.

1. Get your high school diploma or GED

To enroll in a nursing program and begin your journey toward a career in nursing, you’ll need to earn a high school diploma or GED. While prerequisite courses aren’t always required, high school courses that will prepare you for the coursework of nursing programs are biology, chemistry, and college-preparatory math.

2. Complete a practical nursing (PN) education program

Completing a practical nursing education program is a foundational step for an aspiring nurse. PN programs provide fundamental nursing skills and knowledge that prepare you for entry-level nursing roles and lay the groundwork for further career advancement. Practical nursing curricula cover essential topics in nursing, such as pharmacology, anatomy, physiology, psychology, medical and surgical nursing care, etc. 

3. Enroll in an accredited nursing program

There are several pathways available for aspiring RNs, depending on your career goals and timeline:

  • Nursing diploma program: a traditional program that prepares you for entry-level nursing practice;
  • Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN): offered by the community and technical colleges, this program encompasses nursing courses and clinical experience;
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN): recognized as the most competitive accomplishment for securing entry-level nursing positions. 

Before enrolling in a registered nursing program, make sure you research the different types of nursing programs, fulfill any prerequisites, and submit applications to the programs that pique your interest. 

4.Pass the NCLEX exam

The NCLEX-RN exam is a pivotal step in becoming a registered nurse, as passing the exam is required for obtaining an RN’s license. To best prepare for the NCLEX exam, make sure to:

5. Get certification and license

Certification and licensing are crucial in nursing as they ensure that you meet established standards of competency, professionalism, and ethical conduct. The requirements vary by role and state in which you intend to practice. So, research the specific process and requirements, which can include fulfilling a certain number of clinical hours, continuing education units, etc. 

To obtain certification, you must pass certification exams administered by professional nursing organizations, such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). Meanwhile, to acquire a license, you must pass the NCLEX-RN and meet state-specific requirements. 

6. Seek advanced training

Seeking advanced training and specialization in nursing offers many benefits, such as career advancement into high-level roles, expanded scope of practice, and expertise in specific areas of healthcare, such as oncology, trauma, adult-gerontology, psychiatric mental health, pediatrics, critical care, and many more. Besides seeking certification in specialized patient care areas, you can pursue a master’s degree in nursing (MSN) or a doctoral degree. 

7. Gain nursing experience

Gaining experience in nursing is a crucial step on your journey to becoming an RN, as it helps you develop the knowledge, skills, and confidence to excel in the field. Moreover, you learn to apply theoretical knowledge to real-life scenarios, thus advancing your understanding of patient care practices. You can gain nursing experience through clinical rotations opportunities, which are incorporated into the nursing program curriculum. Moreover, you have the option to apply for internships at hospitals and clinics, which are specifically designed for nursing students and new graduates.

Essential Skills of a Registered Nurse

As a nurse, you’ll get to care for patients of diverse cultural backgrounds suffering from a wide range of ailments, injuries, or diseases. Therefore, it’s crucial for your success as an RN to possess comprehensive technical and interpersonal skill sets, including:

  • Leadership;
  • Compassion and empathy;
  • Attention to detail;
  • Critical thinking;
  • Flexibility;
  • Emotional stability;
  • Collaboration and teamwork;
  • Ensuring patient safety;
  • Monitoring vital signs;
  • Administering medication;
  • Basic care skills;
  • Comfort with technology;
  • Working well under pressure;
  • Physical stamina.
Essential Skills of a Registered Nurse

How Long Does It Take to Become a Registered Nurse?

Although the actual length depends on the program you choose and your specific circumstances, the timeline for becoming an RN can look like this:

  • High School Diploma or Equivalent: four years;
  • Practical Nursing Program: can take about 12 months to complete;
  • Nursing Program: can take 16 months to four years to complete (a nursing diploma program can take 16 months to two years, an ADN can take 20 to 24 months, and a BSN can take four years) 
  • Clinical Experience: RN-BSN programs generally require 50 to 100 clinical hours, whereas BSN programs require roughly 600 nursing clinical hours; 
  • NCLEX Preparation and Exam: the preparation time for the NCLEX can range from one to three months, with the results taking around six weeks to arrive. 

In total, the time it takes to become a registered nurse can range from 18 months to four years after high school. Additionally, the timeline can be extended if you want to pursue further education and advance your knowledge and skills. An MSN can take around two to three years, whereas a doctoral degree in nursing can take three to six years. 

Applying for jobs

The last step in your journey to becoming an RN is applying for jobs and finding employment. Start your job search by exploring openings for RN positions in your area on popular job boards or contacting local healthcare settings such as hospitals, clinics, or nursing homes. Network and connect with other healthcare professionals by attending conventions, social media, or taking additional classes. Most importantly, create a compelling nursing resume that details your skills, experiences, and accomplishments. Ensure that nursing license credentials, professional affiliations, honors or awards, and certifications are included.

The Bottom Line

As crucial members of the healthcare system, RNs promote the health and well-being of individuals and communities. On your journey to becoming an RN, you must pursue education from an accredited program and build a strong foundation. You must obtain licensure and certification, and you can further advance in your training and specialize in different patient care areas. While this journey may seem daunting, remember that each step in the way brings you closer to your dream of becoming an RN and fulfilling your call to help others. So, embrace the challenges and opportunities and take the first step into a rewarding future. 

Frequently Asked Questions:

What qualifications do I need to become a nurse?

To become a nurse, you need to complete an accredited nursing education program, which means earning an ADN or BSN degree, pass the NCLEX-RN exam, and obtain licensure in the state you want to practice. You can also become certified in a specific area of patient care, such as pediatrics, gerontology, or ambulatory care. 

What is the difference between a BSN and a RN?

The key difference between a BSN and an RN is that a BSN is an educational degree rather than a job title or licensure. In contrast, an RN refers to a registered nurse who has completed all educational and examination requirements to practice nursing. So, an RN is also a job title or licensure. 

What is the highest nursing degree?

The highest level of nursing is a doctoral degree. You can pursue either a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) or a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Nursing. A DNP is a practice-focused doctoral degree, whereas a Ph.D. in Nursing is research-focused.