How to Become a Registered Nurse
Health care is one of the fastest-growing industries in the U.S., with registered nurses (RNs) projected to grow 19% between 2012 and 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That's much faster than the growth of all jobs nationwide. And with technology on our side it's even easier to get information on how to become a registered nurse online.
How to become a registered nurse
For many people, becoming a registered nurse is just a first step to entering the medical field. There are a number of requirements that must be met before becoming an RN. According to the BLS, students can typically start with one of the following educational paths:
- A bachelor's of science degree in nursing (usually takes 4 years)
- An associate's degree in nursing (usually takes 2 years)
- A diploma from an approved nursing program (usually takes 2-3 years)
These degree programs teach students the general knowledge required to practice as a health care professional, offering courses in nursing, anatomy, nutrition, physiology, chemistry, microbiology and psychology. Most schools offer or require students to gain clinical experience in different medical settings, such as hospitals and doctor's offices.
Registered nurses must also become licensed in all American states, which requires passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) and graduating from an approved nursing program. Any additional requirements will vary by state.
Some RNs also choose to become certified in specialty areas, such as ambulatory care, gerontology and pediatrics. Certification is typically voluntary for nurses, although some employers may require it. Additionally, RNs who wish to advance in their career and work in advanced practice registered nurse roles must earn specialty certifications.
Registered nurse career details
Most RNs begin their career as staff nurses in a large medical facility like a hospital or physician's office. Some may end up working odd hours, as the facilities must care for patients 24 hours a day. Nurses will learn their technical skills in school, but the BLS also lists a few personal skills that are essential to becoming a nurse, including critical thinking, compassion, organization and speaking skills. RNs must also show emotional stability, and learn how to cope with difficult situations.
Promotion or advancement as a registered nurse can take place in a lot of different ways. Here are a few roles that registered nurses typically advance to once they reach the experience level and continuing education required:
- Nurse anesthetists
- Nurse midwives
- Nurse practitioners
Advanced roles in nursing often require further education, such as a master's degree. Many advanced fields also require specialty certifications and ongoing education to keep the certifications up to date.
Explore nursing resources
A number of nursing websites, online resources and other websites can help registered nurses, or those looking to become registered nurses, stay informed about their profession. It's even possible to take nursing courses online through certain schools. Most health care professionals are required to take continuing education throughout the course of their career, both to enhance their skills and stay up to date on the latest technologies and procedures. These continuing education credits are often earned through online courses and exams.
Becoming a registered nurse has many steps, from earning degrees and acquiring skills to learning knowledge and gaining real-world work experience. These websites, and many more, can help kickstart the process. Once the requirements have been met, though, it can be a rewarding career, helping patients get better and making the world a better place. Who wouldn't want to do that?
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Registered Nurses, May 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Healthcare/Registered-nurses.htm#tab-1
- American Nursing Association, The Nursing Process, http://www.nursingworld.org/EspeciallyForYou/What-is-Nursing/Tools-You-Need/Thenursingprocess.html