How to Become a Registered Nurse

How to become a registered nurse

Many nurses go into the healthcare profession because they want to make a difference. Once you decide that nursing is the right fit for you, there are several options for beginning – and advancing – your career.

Deciding to become an RN allows you to have a direct impact on patient outcomes. In just two to four years, you can graduate from an accredited nursing program and sit for the NCLEX-RN exam in order to obtain RN licensure. Here is a breakdown of what you must do to become a registered nurse and approximately how long it will take.

In this article, we will explore:

  • What does an RN do?
  • What are the basic steps for becoming an RN?
  • Where do RNs work?
  • What is the fastest way to become an RN?
  • What is the job & salary outlook for RNs?

What does an RN do?

The beauty of becoming an RN is that your job duties vary from one employer to the next. Depending on your department and your nursing specialty, you may supervise other nurses and oversee patient care, or serve as a direct caretaker for patients. Here are some of the most common duties for RNs:

  • Administer medications and prescribed treatments
  • Assist with medical procedures as part of a healthcare team
  • Create patient care plans
  • Draw blood and collect lab work
  • Educate patients and their families and answer questions about conditions and care plans
  • Monitor and record patient vitals and progress
  • Perform wound and skin care

Some RNs may have additional duties, such as administrative work or assisting during surgical procedures. The sky’s the limit when you work as an RN.

What are the basic steps for becoming an RN?

Step 1: Education

Attend an accredited nursing school to earn either an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). An ADN will take between 18 and 24 months to complete, while you can expect to spend roughly four years to earn a BSN. If you already have an ADN, there is an ADN to BSN bridge program that allows you to earn a BSN in 12-18 months. There is also an RN to BSN bridge which takes three semesters of nursing courses to be completed in one year. These programs will save you time and money. The more education you have, the better your chances of landing your dream job.

Step 2: Licensing

When you are six weeks away from graduation, you can apply to sit for the NCLEX-RN exam. There are 15 pretest questions and a max of 145 questions on the NCLEX-RN with a five-hour time limit for completion. If you do not pass the NCLEX-RN on your first attempt, you must wait 45 days before you can try again.

The NCLEX includes questions on the following topics to test nursing candidates’ knowledge:

  1. Safe and effective care environment
  2. Health promotion and maintenance
  3. Psychosocial integrity
  4. Physiological integrity

Step 3: Experience

This step in the process is to gain hands-on experience. This will provide you with invaluable opportunities to work with patients making you attractive to future employers.

Step 4: Certification for Career Advancement

Obtain certifications to advance in specific areas to advance your career. Requirements for earning a certification vary so it is important to check with the governing body for information.

Where do registered nurses work?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the majority of RNs (61%) work in some sort of hospital setting. Meanwhile, 18% work in an ambulatory or outpatient setting. Of the remaining nurses, some other work environments include residential care facilities, government, and education.

Once you pass the NCLEX-RN and receive your RN licensure, you can work in a variety of settings. If you did not work in nursing before earning your RN, you may want to start in a position that includes bedside care, so you gain valuable patient care experience. If you previously worked in nursing while working toward your RN licensure, you can skip bedside and apply for non-bedside roles. RNs with previous bedside or critical care experience can work in triage, case management, or quality review.

While working on obtaining your RN licensure you may have found a nursing specialty you would like to pursue, you could work in the following positions:


“Not sure if a registered nurse is the right role for you? Join Incredible Health’s Nurse Community for input from RNs of all specialties.”
-Jami, RN & nurse advocate @Incredible Health

What is the fastest way to become an RN?

While earning an associate’s degree is the quickest way to become an RN, one may want to consider obtaining a bachelor’s degree in order to assist in their career advancement down the line. According to data from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), 43% of hospitals and other healthcare employers now require new hires to have BSNs, with 82% expressing a strong preference for BSNs over ADNs.

What are the salary and career outlooks for RNs?

Like other nurses with advanced degrees, RNs are in high demand. RNs earn an average base salary of $82,750 a year. The profession is expected to grow by 9% between 2020 and 2030.

Interested in comparing nursing salaries in your preferred locations? You can use the Incredible Health Nurse Salary Estimator tool to get a free personalized salary estimate. Create your free Incredible Health account to see what other nurses just like you are getting paid. 

Original piece appeared on Incrediblehealth

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