How to Become a Registered Nurse: Your Step-by-Step Guide
Becoming a nurse may seem difficult and daunting when you have other things on your plate. Between working, having kids and general life events, going back to school seems like yet another obstacle. You won’t commit to anything you’re unsure of, and nursing school looms like an ominous figure in the mist.
And while nursing school is a big commitment, once you’ve learned the details and gathered the facts, it’s a choice that you can feel confident and sure about. You don’t want to waste time, so we’ve helped make it easy for you. Knowing how to become a registered nurse (RN) is the first step of the process. This guide will help you figure out each step you need to take so you can earn your degree faster and begin the RN career you’re seeking.
5 Steps to become a registered nurse
1. Research nursing program options
Before committing to a Nursing school, you will want to think about your nursing goals. Since there are two major paths you can take to become an RN, you will need to decide what the best fit is for your schedule and long-term plans.
For those that would rather zoom through school and get out on the floor quicker, there is the Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) route. You can earn an ADN in as few as 18–24 months at a career-focused college, saving you time and money.*
However, while the short-term route may seem an appealing option, if you are planning on working in a hospital, you may eventually have to go back to school to acquire a BSN as a result of a mandate pushing for 80 percent of hospital nurses to have a BSN by 2020.
While that may seem like a deterrent, some hospitals will help pay for ADN nurses to get their BSNs. In addition, colleges are starting to increase offerings of RN to BSN programs, which are offered online and can be completed in as few as 18–24 months.*
The other option to become a registered nurse is to complete a four-year Bachelor’s degree program. At the end, you will receive a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). RNs who hold BSNs are qualified for more jobs than nurses with ADNs, including jobs in research, consulting or administrative positions. The trade-off here is the longer time spent in school.
In the end, both of these degrees lead to a career as a registered nurse. Neither is necessarily better or worse than the other. Your decision simply depends on what’s best for you—how much time you want to spend in school and what your career goals are. One thing to keep in mind is nursing is a profession with a plethora of opportunities, so you can always go back to school to advance your career even more.
2. Enroll in nursing school
Once you’ve decided on which degree you’d like, it’s time to find a Nursing school that aligns with your goals and enroll in a Nursing program. We’ve covered how to get into nursing school, but here’s a quick summary: After graduating high school, you’ll need to research programs, find a school, fill out an application, take the TEAS test and prepare for your entrance interview.
Sound like a lot? It is, but when you break each step down, it’s easy to see your path starting to take shape. Each step takes time and effort, but each is equally important to successfully getting into Nursing school.
3. Complete nursing coursework and clinicals
Once you’ve been accepted into Nursing school, your work isn’t over. For the next 18–48 months, you will take Nursing courses in areas such as chemistry, biology, anatomy, nutrition and more.*
You will also have to complete a series of clinicals to help you gain hands-on experience and see what it’s really like being a registered nurse. You will rotate through several areas of nursing, getting hands-on experience and learning essential real-life skills.
Your main goal in school is to focus on your studies. Don’t worry about choosing a specialty until you’ve graduated. School may seem hard—or even impossible—at times, but you are not alone and graduating with a degree in Nursing will be immensely rewarding.
4. Graduate and pass the NCLEX
At this point, you’re almost done on your journey to become a nurse. Things will start looking up as you cross the finish line, degree in hand. The only thing separating you from a rewarding career as a registered nurse is the NCLEX.
The NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination) is a required exam for any prospective nurse. With either an ADN or BSN, you would be qualified to sit for the NCLEX-RN. All nurses must pass the NCLEX to be a licensed registered nurse.
The NCLEX-RN contains 75–265 questions that test all areas of nursing, though critical thinking and memorization are key. Expect to spend some time preparing and prepping for this exam, as it’s one of the more important tests you’ll take. Don’t panic though—you will learn everything you need to in your degree program.
5. Find a nursing job
With the NCLEX down and a nursing license in hand, you’re ready to find your first job as a registered nurse. You’re in luck too—registered nursing jobs are expected to grow by 15 percent from 2016–2026. As the population ages, more nurses like you will be needed. So now it’s time to make more decisions: What type of nurse do you want to be? Where do you want to work?
If you went the BSN route, you have a range of specialties you can choose from, from critical care nursing to nursing informatics. Nurses who have ADNs can still specialize, but may be more limited to non-hospital jobs. No fear, as registered nurses are needed in almost every healthcare location—outpatient clinics, physician’s offices, day surgery and much more.
Once you decide what type of nurse you’d like to be and find an opening—apply! Let your resume shine and speak for itself. Before you know it, you’ll be out on the floor and working as a registered nurse.
Which path will you choose?
Now that you know how to become a registered nurse, it’s time to decide how you’ll get there. When you want to earn a degree as quickly as possible, you can’t waste time. Having all the facts at hand will help you make the smart decisions that will lead you on the right path, whether that’s obtaining an ADN or a BSN.
You have all the information you need about Nursing degrees. Now it’s time to move on to finding the right college. Gain the insight you need about earning your nursing degree by checking out “10 Facts You Didn’t Know About the Rasmussen College Nursing Program.”
*Completion time depends on the number of transfer credits accepted and courses completed each term.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally April 2015. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2017.