How to Become a Registered Nurse (RN): A Step-by-Step Guide (2023)



How to Become a Registered Nurse (RN): A Step by Step Guide

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Registered nurses are holistic healthcare professionals who provide patients with the care they need. Learn the steps you need to follow to enter this impressive profession.

How to Become a Registered Nurse (RN): A Step-by-Step Guide (1)

Registered Nurses (RNs) provide care for patients and assist other healthcare professionals, such as physicians, to ensure they have the support they need to do the best job possible. In the coming years, the demand for health professionals is increasing. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), healthcare jobs are expected to grow by 13% between 2021 and 2031, generating about 1.9 million jobs per year during the decade [1]. Among health professionals, nurses constitute the largest group of employees in the health system [2].

If you want to embark on an impactful career in healthcare with a bright job prospect, consider a career as an RN. In this article, you'll learn what you need to do to become an RN, learn more about the profession, and explore your salary and job prospects. At the end, you'll also find suggested courses that can help you learn skills relevant to today's work.

What is a Registered Nurse (RN)?

Registered nurses provide patient care and support physicians and other medical professionals in their daily tasks. Some common tasks performed by RNs include administering prescription medications, inserting catheters, monitoringVital signs, create patient care plans, and document patient information.

Read more:What Does a Registered Nurse Do?

Where do nurses work?

RNs can work in a variety of environments such as hospitals, doctors' offices, travel clinics, nursing homes, schools and even inside airplanes. In fact, there are many different types of RNs, includingpsychiatric nurseswho specializes in mental health work,flight nurseswho work on helicopters and planes, andoncology nurseswho work specifically with cancer patients.

(Video) How to Become a Registered Nurse (RN) | Ways to Become an RN

How to Become a Registered Nurse (RN): A Step-by-Step Guide (2)

Salary and job prospects.

RNs earn above-average salaries in the United States and have a positive employment outlook for years to come.

According to the US BLS, the median annual salary for registered nurses was $77,600 per year as of May 2021. As a result, RNs earn an annual salary comfortably higher than the average for all jobs in the United States, which the US BLS set at $45,760 during the same year [3].

Like other healthcare professions, registered nurses can expect an increase in job openings over the next decade. According to the US BLS, the number of RN vacancies is expected to grow by six percent between 2021 and 2031, resulting in approximately 203,200 new vacancies each year [3].


An above-average salary and an in-demand skill set are just a few of the perks of being a Registered Nurse. Here are just a few of the other benefits you can expect as you enter this hot and highly sought after career:

  • Shift work:Nurses don't work a typical 9-to-5 workday. RNs usually work 12-hour shifts three days a week, which means you can spend your free time doing other things you love, like being with family. or enjoy a hobby.

  • Unemployment insurance:Hospitals and clinics are always hiring nurses. The expectation is that this need will increase in the coming years.

  • Flexibility:Nurses, like doctors, are needed almost everywhere. While you may not be licensed or certified in other countries, you do have a choice, and working as a travel nurse can be a lucrative career path.

  • Active lifestyle:As a nurse, you'll be on your feet often instead of sitting at a desk all day. This can be very positive for those who prefer not to sit eight hours a day.

  • Make the difference:Nursing is helping people. If you are a social person, you may be drawn to this field of work, where you can have meaningful interactions with patients every day.

How to Become a Registered Nurse (RN): A Step-by-Step Guide (3)


(Video) How To Become A Registered Nurse

A lecture on integrative nursing from the University of Minnesota Integrative Nursing Fellowship.

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How to become a Registered Nurse

RNs are highly trained healthcare professionals who are tasked with helping patients and ensuring they receive the care they need. As a result, the path to becoming a registered nurse is defined by training, certification, and specialization.

Here's what you can expect to do as you work your way into this impressive healthcare career:

1. Complete an accredited nursing program.

To qualify for your nursing certification, you will first need to apply for and complete a nursing program. Lasting two to four years, nursing programs prepare students for a career in the field, covering important topics such as chemistry, psychology,anatomy, physiology, and applied learning courses such as wound care.

In the United States, there are three types of programs you can take to qualify for the nursing exam. These programs are:

  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN):an accreditedgraduationIt is the most common title pursued to become a registered nurse today. Typically offered by colleges and universities, these programs often take up to four years to complete, but those who already have a previous nursing credential can complete them in less time. A BSN is often the most competitive degree for entry-level nursing positions and a requirement for becoming a more advanced nurse.

    (Video) HOW TO BECOME A NURSE IN CANADA (Part 1) | STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE | Pinoy IENs for Canadian Registration

  • Nursing Degree (ADN):Many technical and community colleges offer aassociate degreein nursing, which typically takes two to three years to complete.

  • diploma program:Diploma programs are the traditional way that many in the past entered the nursing profession. Although less common than BSNs and ADNs today, some hospitals still offer nursing diploma programs, which typically take two to three years to complete.

Read more:Entering Nursing School: Your Guide to Earning a Degree

2. Take (and pass) the nursing license exam.

After completing the course, you can apply for theNational Board Licensing Examination (NCLEX). Developed by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), the NCLEX is the exam used by state regulatory boards to determine whether candidates are ready for a nursing license [4].

Many future nurses take the NCLEX-RN within a month of graduation. To take the exam, candidates must meet all eligibility requirements and apply through their local nursing regulatory agency. Candidates then register on the Pearson VUE website or by phone, which generates an authorization email with test information and dates.

The NCLEX-RN costs a $200 US license registration fee, but there are fees for changing the exam type, nursing regulatory agency, or exam language. Administered on the computer, the exam requires examinees to answer a minimum of 75 (out of 205) questions and can take up to six hours to complete. Topics covered in the test include a safe and effective care environment, health promotion and maintenance, psychosocial integrity, and physiological integrity.

To prepare for this important exam, candidates may want to take apractical test, available on the NCSBN website. If you fail the NCLEX-RN exam the first time, you must wait 45 days before you can take it again.

3. Get a license where you want to practice.

After passing the NCLEX-RN exam, you will need to obtain a nursing license from the state in which you would like to practice. The exact licensing requirements vary from state to state, so be sure to check with your state's regulatory board to ensure you meet all of them. If you intend to work in multiple states (or countries), you will need to be licensed in each state.

Explore multistate licensing

In 2018, the Nursing Licensing Compact (NLC) was implemented. This legislation allows registered nurses to be licensed in multiple states, so they can practice in person or via telehealth in up to 38 (and counting) states in the US [5].

The multi-state license is particularly useful for travel nurses. On average, traveling nurses can earn $3,000 a week plus stipends [6].

How to Become a Registered Nurse (RN): A Step-by-Step Guide (5)

4. Augment your practice with a specialization or advanced degree.

Once you become a Registered Nurse, you can specialize in a specific area or earn an advanced degree. There are several ways to gain the training and qualifications you need to advance your career:

Board Certification:To qualify for board certification, RNs typically need two or more years of clinical experience in a specialty focus and passing an exam. Popular specializations include oncology, pediatrics, neonatal, gerontology, cardiac nursing, and more. Earning certifications can increase your salary and make you a more marketable nurse.

advanced degree:To become an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN), hownurseor a clinical nurse leader, you will likely need to obtain a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or aDoctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). Going the extra mile and investing more in your education can lead to a substantial increase in your paycheck, while also gaining greater satisfaction from advancing your nursing career.

Read more: Your Guide to Nursing Degrees and Certifications

Explore health with Coursera

Start a rewarding and sought-after career as a registered nurse with courses from top universities. At the University of PennsylvaniaVital signs: understanding what the body tells us, you'll explore the anatomy and physiology underlying vital signs to develop a systematic, integrated understanding of how the body works.


at the University of MinnesotaSpecialization in Integrative NursingIn the meantime, you will identify ways to implement integrative nursing at work consistent with research-based evidence and safety and quality considerations.

How to Become a Registered Nurse (RN): A Step-by-Step Guide (6)


Integrative Nursing

Patient-centered, relationship-based nursing care. By the end of this specialization, you will be able to practice a patient-centered, relationship-based approach to nursing that uses a variety of integrative healing modalities.


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This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Students are encouraged to do additional research to ensure that the courses and other credentials they earn meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

(Video) How to Apply || Become a Canadian Nurse in weeks || Step by step Guide including live application


How to Become a Registered Nurse (RN): A Step-by-Step Guide? ›

In general, nurses fall into three categories: non-degree, degree, and advanced degree. Non-degree nurses include certified nursing assistants (CNAs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs), who complete nursing education programs that don't culminate in a degree.

What are the stages of becoming a registered nurse? ›

Steps to Become a California Registered Nurse
  • Take college prep classes in high school.
  • Choose the type of nursing school you want to attend.
  • Select a college and apply for admission.
  • Apply for financial aid.
  • Obtain an RN license.

How to become a registered nurse for dummies? ›

Steps for Becoming a Nurse
  1. Choose your path to an initial nursing license (LPN or RN). ...
  2. Choose a nursing degree program. ...
  3. Obtain your nursing degree. ...
  4. Submit your application for state licensure. ...
  5. Complete a background check. ...
  6. Pass the NCLEX-PN or NCLEX-RN exam. ...
  7. Pursue employment as a nurse.

What are the three stages of a RN? ›

In general, nurses fall into three categories: non-degree, degree, and advanced degree. Non-degree nurses include certified nursing assistants (CNAs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs), who complete nursing education programs that don't culminate in a degree.

How many levels are there in RN? ›

What Are the Levels of Nursing? There are five levels of nursing: Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), Registered Nurse (RN), Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN), and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).

What are the 5 levels of nursing? ›

Benner (1984) also detailed the acquisition of nursing expertise and proposed five possible expertise levels: novice, advanced beginner, competent, proficient, and expert. Nurses at the novice stage are still in nursing school.

What is the 7 steps in the nursing process? ›

These are assessment, diagnosis, planning, implementation, and evaluation. Assessment is the first step and involves critical thinking skills and data collection; subjective and objective.

Is it hard being a registered nurse? ›

Nursing is hard work and it requires a high level of dedication to helping people, excellent communication skills, and the right emotional temperament. On top of this, nursing requires extensive education and there is a steep learning curve for the clinical knowledge and skills needed to help patients.

What is the first level of nursing? ›

Level 1 - Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

Certified nursing assistants (CNAs) are also known as nursing assistants or nursing aides. They typically work in home care and long-term care facilities and are the primary point of contact between patients and the medical staff.

What does a beginner nurse do? ›

As an entry-level nurse, you should be making rounds, administering medication as needed. If you are working in a clinic, you could be responsible for providing first aid and immunizations. You might also be responsible for inserting catheters and feeding tubes.

What does RN Level 2 mean? ›

The Registered Nurse II will demonstrate proficiency in administering the fundamentals of the nursing process, contribute to nursing assessment and the development of a nursing care plan, and participate in the evaluation of nursing care.

What are the age ranges for Nclex? ›

The adolescent which ranges from thirteen to seventeen years of age. The young adult who is from eighteen to twenty five years of age. The adult which is defined as from twenty six to sixty five years of age and, lastly, The older adult who is over sixty five years of age.

What is the highest stage of nurse? ›

What is the highest level of nursing? The highest level of nursing education is the doctoral level. Positions that require doctoral nursing degrees include certain types of advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), as well as leadership positions such as chief nursing officer or director of nursing.

What is the hardest class in RN school? ›

Pharmacology. Pharmacology, or the study of medication, can seem scary because of the sheer scope of the course. "It becomes one of the hardest classes for nursing students due to the depth and amount of knowledge needed," says Megan Lynch, RN and instructor at Pima Community College.

What is the lowest type of nurse? ›

As the name suggests, CNAs assist nurses with patient admittance and vitals. It is the lowest-level credential related to the nursing field and the quickest point of entry.

What are the 4 A's in nursing? ›

As a systematic process for change, this article offers the AACN's Model to Rise Above Moral Distress, describing four A's: ask, affirm, assess, and act. To help critical care nurses working to address moral distress, the article identifies 11 action steps they can take to develop an ethical practice environment.

Is BSN higher than RN? ›

A registered nurse is able to practice within their field with only an associates degree, but a BSN is the preferred level of education for many nurse specialties throughout the medical career landscape.

What is the difference between a nurse and a registered nurse? ›

A registered nurse (RN) is a nurse who has completed all educational and examination requirements, and has been licensed to practice nursing in their state. You will also see 'registered nurse' as a job title or position.

What are the basic nursing procedures? ›

Continue reading for a deeper dive into some of the specific duties and procedures typically performed by RNs and Advanced Nurse Practitioners.
  • Venipuncture. ...
  • Intubation. ...
  • Blood Transfusion. ...
  • Tracheostomy Care. ...
  • Lifting Patients. ...
  • Wound Care. ...
  • Splints and Casts. ...
  • Catheterization.
Nov 30, 2020

What are the 7 elements of nursing? ›

7 Critical Components of Effective Skilled Nursing
  • Highly-qualified, experienced, dedicated and professional staff. ...
  • Solid staffing practices. ...
  • Individualized, patient-centered treatment and care. ...
  • An emphasis on effective communication and efficient coordination of care. ...
  • A holistic approach to health and wellness.
Jun 28, 2017

What is the hardest thing being a nurse? ›

Here are some of the challenges nurses face in their profession:
  1. Long shifts. Nurses often work 10- or 12-hour shifts. ...
  2. Changing schedules. ...
  3. Emotional involvement. ...
  4. Physical demands. ...
  5. Exposure to illness and chemicals. ...
  6. Lack of nurses. ...
  7. Changing technology. ...
  8. Poor treatment from patients.
Mar 10, 2023

What makes nursing school so hard? ›

Why is nursing school so hard? Six reasons why it's a challenge include: the demanding schedule, the complex nursing school curriculum, an expanding comfort zone, the NCLEX, personal stress and limited free time. With hard work and motivation, though, you can overcome the challenges and succeed.

Is being a nurse easier than nursing school? ›

Being a Nurse is better than being in Nursing School

In nursing school, it's about 90% theory and lectures, and 10% skills and application. In the nursing profession, it's flipped: its 90% application and 10% theory and learning. In fact, you apply theory and think critically as you're working.

Which is higher LPN or RN? ›

LPNs will likely earn lower salaries than RNs. This is because RNs have more advanced training and can carry out more complex types of patient care. Average salaries across both professions depend largely on your education, experience and where you practice and typically do not reflect entry-level positions.

How to pass level 1 nursing? ›

  1. Time Management. To be successful in nursing school, you must manage your time appropriately. ...
  2. Get Organized. ...
  3. Use Mnemonics. ...
  4. Study Everyday. ...
  5. Complete Practice Questions. ...
  6. Participate in a Study Group. ...
  7. Focus on course objectives when studying. ...
  8. Know your learning style.

What are first year nurses called? ›

Associate in Nursing (ASN)

RNs are the first line of care in many healthcare settings, and they are in increasingly high demand as healthcare organizations strive to accommodate a growing patient population.

What's the easiest type of nurse to become? ›

An LPN or LVN program usually takes around a year to complete, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). What makes an LPN or LVN preparation program the easiest type of nursing education you can pursue is its focus on training for basic nursing services only and its quick completion time.

How do I survive my first nursing job? ›

In this blog, we'll share with you some of our tips to help you survive your first year as a nurse.
  1. Don't be afraid to ask for help. ...
  2. Listen to your patients. ...
  3. Be a team player. ...
  4. Invest in your shoes. ...
  5. Learn to prioritize. ...
  6. Remember that it gets better.
May 16, 2019

What is a level 6 RN? ›

Nurse practitioner (level six): A level six nurse is a nurse practitioner who has a master's degree in nursing and assists medical teams in an advanced clinical role.

What is the difference between RN 2 and RN 3? ›

A RN I becomes an RN 2 after having demonstrated an acceptable level of competency after a year's experience. RN 3's typically are experienced and are involved in more on the unit. For example, when I first started in the NICU, I was an RN I and then after my 1- year evaluation I became an RN 2.

What is nursing and what do nurses do? ›

Registered nurses set up plans for patient care. Registered nurses (RNs) provide and coordinate patient care, educate patients and the public about various health conditions, and provide advice and emotional support to patients and their families.

What is the NCLEX passing score? ›

While it's possible to pass the NCLEX after answering all 135, it's also possible to pass the test with a minimum of 70 questions or any number in between. Keep in mind NCLEX has a time limit of five hours. If you haven't answered enough questions correctly when the clock runs out, you will fail the test.

What disqualifies you from taking the NCLEX? ›

Immediate disqualifiers are as follows: Major misdemeanor conviction for crimes involving weapons, violence, embezzlement, dishonesty, misappropriation, fraud or sex crimes. Any felony conviction. More than one drunk driving or related conviction in the past three years.

How many times can you take the NCLEX? ›

Frequently Asked Questions About the NCLEX

According to NCSBN rules, you can take the NCLEX eight times a year with 45 days in between attempts.

What age do most nurses graduate? ›

BSN programs have an average age of early-mid 20s. Students in RN-to-BSN programs are typically in their late 30s.

What is a head nurse called? ›

The highest-ranking nurse is usually called the Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) or the Chief Nursing Executive (CNE). Their job is usually administrative and supervisory in nature, and they usually report to the CEO of the facility in which they work.

Is it common to fail nursing class? ›

Many nursing schools require a minimum grade of roughly 80% to actually pass, as well. By the time you realize you aren't doing well enough to be successful in the course, the choices can be pretty limited. Failure happens all the time. It happens every day...

What percentage of nursing students fail? ›

Nursing school is difficult and will be hard to pass. Most students pass their nursing program, so you can too. How many nursing students fail? According to the National League of Nursing, the dropout rate for nursing programs in the United States is around 20%.

Is it okay to fail a nursing class? ›

If you fail one class, you do not fail nursing school. However, you will probably have to wait a period of time to repeat the course, as it won't be available the next semester.

Which nursing degree is best? ›

The BSN is the nursing degree that most employers prefer, and it provides graduates the best career opportunities straight out of school. The minimum requirement for many nursing positions these days is a BSN.

How long is a nursing degree? ›

Approved full-time nursing degree courses last for three (or four years if taking a dual-field degree), or longer if taken on a part-time basis. Accelerated courses for graduates take two years.

What type of nurse is most common? ›

Registered Nurse (RN)

Most registered nurses work in a team with physicians and other health care specialists in various settings.

Can I still be a nurse with a low GPA? ›

Yes, getting into nursing school with a low GPA is possible. Many colleges put preference on the SAT or the ACT over GPAs. If you have a low GPA, you may want to focus on doing well on these exams. Some colleges have an open admission process, meaning they take anyone with a high school diploma or GED.

What is the highest nursing position? ›

Chief nursing officers are nursing administrators who work within the leadership team of a healthcare organization. They are considered the highest level of nursing leadership.

How to become an RN in California fast? ›

Those interested in becoming a nurse in California in the shortest amount of time should pursue an associate degree in nursing, as this can be completed within a two-year timeframe. Upon completion of the program, passing the NCLEX-RN and applying for a license can take an additional 10-12 weeks.

What is the hardest level in nursing? ›

Hardest Nursing School Classes
  • Pathophysiology. In this course, students learn how different anatomical systems work and how diseases or injuries affect these systems. ...
  • Pharmacology. ...
  • Medical Surgical 1 (also known as Adult Health 1) ...
  • Evidence-Based Practice.

What is a RN salary? ›

Should I do RN or BSN first? ›

Nurses in clinical practice tend to list their licensure first followed by degrees and then certifications. For example: RN, BSN, CCRN. Nurses who are academic educators list their academic degrees first followed by licensure and then certifications. For example: DNP, RN, CNE.

Is there a difference between a nurse and a registered nurse? ›

What is an RN? A registered nurse (RN) is a nurse who has completed all educational and examination requirements, and has been licensed to practice nursing in their state. You will also see 'registered nurse' as a job title or position.

Which state pays nurses the most? ›

In the United States overall, the average registered nurse salary is $82,750 and the median (50th percentile) is $77,600. California, with RN salaries averaging $124,000, is the highest-paying state for nurses as of May 2021 (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics).

How to make 7 figures as a nurse? ›

  1. Become a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) ...
  2. Become a Nurse Practitioner (NP) ...
  3. Become a Nurse Midwife. ...
  4. Advance in Nurse Leadership. ...
  5. Begin travel nursing assignment. ...
  6. Change Nursing specialties. ...
  7. Relocate to a higher paying state. ...
  8. Make sacrifices.

Which country pay nurses most? ›

Switzerland: Nurses in Switzerland have some of the highest salaries in the world, with an average annual salary of around $85000. Canada: Nurses in Canada earn an average annual salary of around $75000. Germany: Nurses in Germany have an average salary of around $65000.

What is the quickest RN program? ›

You can fast-track your journey to become an RN and knock two years off your study. An associate's degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor's degree in nursing (BSN) are the two most common fast-track options. Both ways do require you to pass the NCLEX-RN licensure examination post your degree.

Which state is easiest to get RN license? ›

Easiest states to become a nurse – Length of licensing process
  • Maine: 1-2 weeks.
  • Maryland: 2-3 days.
  • Missouri: 2 weeks.
  • Nevada: 1-2 weeks.
  • North Carolina: 1-2 weeks.
  • North Dakota: 1-2 weeks.
  • Texas: 2 weeks.
  • Vermont: 3-5 business days.

What is the quickest nursing certification? ›

Of all the nursing certifications, LPN or LVN programs are the quickest and most convenient options. Because training can be completed at a hospital, vocational technical school, community college and even online, LPN/LVN programs are ideal for students who work or have other obligations.


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