There are approximately four million registered nurses (RNs) in the United States, and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, around three million RNs are active in the workforce. If you’re interested in this career, you might be wondering, “How can I become a registered nurse?”
Below is a quick overview of how to become a registered nurse (RN).
How to Become a Registered Nurse
If you want to become a registered nurse, you must first complete your high school diploma or obtain a GED equivalent. If you are still in high school, here are a few things you can do to prepare for your nursing career.
- Take health science electives. When I was in high school, I took every health science course I could take, such as “Medical Terminology” and other similar courses with a nursing focus. You’ll also want to speak with your guidance counselor to ensure that you’re taking all of the necessary science, English, and math courses in high school.
- Join a health science club. There are many great clubs you can join in high school. I was a member of HOSA (Health Occupations Students of America). These clubs are great for helping you network and learn more about your future profession, and it looks great on a nursing school application or job application.
- Shadow or work part time at a hospital. In addition, you can contact local hospitals and see if there are ways for you to shadow or work part time during summers. This is another great way to network, get experience, and build your resume and nursing school application.
Choose a Nursing Program
Next, you must decide which option you want to choose to become an RN. There are three general ways to become a licensed registered nurse, and you’ll want to make sure that the program you choose meets the educational requirements set forth by the Board of Nursing in your state:
1. Associate Degree Programs
The first method is also one of the fastest ways to become an RN. You can choose one of several associate degree programs. Some schools offer an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN). Others offer an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN), while still others offer an Associate of Applied Science in Nursing (AAS).
These programs may offer slightly different courses, and they typically take around 2-3 years to complete. The exact time it takes to complete can depend on a few factors. For example, if you score poorly on an entrance exam, you might be required to take a few remedial courses. Also, you might have to take some prerequisite courses before you complete the actual nursing courses and clinicals, which could push the time it takes closer to three years.
Nevertheless, most associate degree programs will take around 2-3 years on average.
2. Diploma or Certificate Programs
Another option is to obtain a diploma or certificate in nursing to become an RN. These RN programs are typically offered by hospitals. Like the associate degree programs, they also take around 2-3 years to complete.
However, these programs are not offered in all areas and can be difficult to find compared to the other programs available.
3. Bachelor Degree Programs
Finally, you can earn a bachelor degree in nursing (BSN). This is the path I chose to become an RN. This degree type works like most traditional college degrees, and takes about 4 years to complete on average. For example, I graduated high school, and four years later, I was graduating from my BSN degree program.
Most colleges will divide the program so that the first two years are filled with general education courses and the last two years are more focused on nursing courses and clinicals. My first two years were spent taking these general courses such as history, mathematics, writing/English, etc., as well as nursing prerequisite courses such as Anatomy 1 & 2.
My last two years of the BSN program consisted mostly of nursing courses and clinical rotations.
Accelerated Nursing Programs
If you’ve already earned a bachelor degree in another field, you can always look for accelerated nursing programs. These programs apply the credits you’ve earned toward the nursing program, and help you earn a BSN in less time than taking the entire 4-year BSN program. The time it takes can vary, depending on the type of courses you took for your other degree.
In addition, some students want to become a registered nurse as quickly as possible, so they will complete an associate degree program in nursing (ADN) first, and then they’ll take an accelerated program called “RN-to-BSN” program, which will help them earn a BSN degree while working as an RN.
Apply to Nursing School
Once you decide which program is best for you, you’ll want to apply to the nursing program of your choice and meet their specific requirements. Each nursing school is different in their admissions requirements. Some things that might be required include:
- Entrance exams (similar to ACT/SAT)
- Vaccination records
- Nursing school application
- Nursing school interview
- GPA requirements
Pass Proficiency Exams
Once you’re accepted into a nursing program, most will require you to take proficiency exams at certain intervals (each semester or yearly). These exams (such as ATI or HESI) test the student’s knowledge to see if they are learning the material in their nursing courses.
In most cases, students will have to pass these exams in order to advance to the next semester, and prior to graduation, many programs will require you to pass an exit exam, which will be similar to the NCLEX exam, prior to graduation. In fact, many of these exit exams try to predict your likelihood of passing the NCLEX exam based on your score.
Nursing School Graduation and NCLEX
Once you graduate from a nursing program approved by the Board of Nursing, it’s time to celebrate your achievement as a nursing school graduate! However, there is still one important step you must take to become a licensed registered nurse, and that is passing the NCLEX-RN exam.
Once you pass the NCLEX-RN exam, you will be licensed and can begin practicing as a new nurse!
However, before you pass the NCLEX, some employers will hire you on as a nurse intern or graduate nurse, and they will begin training you while you wait to take (or pass) NCLEX. However, you will be limited on your scope of practice until you successfully pass the NCLEX-RN exam.