How to Become a Registered Nurse?

Registered Nurses (RNs) are among the healthcare industry’s most vital members, with demand for their services increasing continuously. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for registered nurses is expected to be bright in the coming years, thanks to the rapidly expanding healthcare industry.

If you intend to become a part of this highly rewarding career, the following guide on how to become a registered nurse has all the information you need, including details on salary and job outlook.

What Does a Registered Nurse Do?

Registered nurses (RNs) perform a variety of medical tasks in different healthcare settings. Their typical duties include providing direct care to patients, educating and guiding family members, assisting physicians in medical procedures and educating communities about public health. Registered nurses may also administer medicines and operate medical equipment. In addition to that, these professionals help perform diagnostic tests and analyze the test results.

RNs who have a specialization in a particular field of medicine might have additional duties. Specialization options could include medical fields such as pediatrics, geriatrics, neonatal, surgical or emergency care. Most registered nurses work as part of a team of physicians or healthcare professionals. Some nurses at this level may also be responsible for overseeing the work of licensed practical nurses, home health aides or nursing assistants.

Where do Registered Nurses Work?

Registered nurses may be able to find work in a variety of healthcare settings. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the largest employers of registered nurses were state, local and private hospitals with 60% of nurses working in this sector. This was followed by ambulatory healthcare services, with 18% of nurses working in this field. Registered nurses also worked in nursing and residential care facilities, physician’s offices and outpatient care centers.

Registered nurses typically work in shifts round the clock. These shifts may be rotating or permanent. RNs have busy schedules, and may work nights, holidays and weekends as well. However, registered nurses who work in offices or schools are likely to work regular business hours and fixed schedules.

Steps to Become a Registered Nurse

In order to become a registered nurse, students must complete a series of steps that include fulfilling certain education and experience requirements. Let’s have a look at these steps.

Step 1 : Complete Prerequisites for a BSN or an ADN Degree

Students who intend to enter the field of nursing either enroll in an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). In order to qualify for admissions, most institutes would require the completion of certain coursework as prerequisites. This would include courses like liberal arts, science and math courses at the high school level.

Step 2 : Complete a BSN or ADN Degree

Both these programs can be completed to enter the field of nursing. An Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) is a 2-year long degree that covers basic principles in nursing and offers a quick option to become a registered nurse. On the other hand, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree is a four-year long program that offers an in-depth understanding of the field of nursing and has significantly better job prospects.

Step 3 : Clear the NCLEX-RN Exam

Before aspiring nurses can begin practicing, they need to clear the NCLEX-RN exam. Students can register for this exam six weeks before graduating. The NCLEX-RN is a computerized exam that requires students to complete at least 75 questions in up to six hours.

Step 4 : Look for a Job

Students may be able to find jobs in a variety of settings such as hospitals, home health centers or offices of physicians. No matter what career path you intend to take, it is always a good idea to network well with potential employers and make a good impression during clinical rotations.

Step 5 : Get Certified

Even though getting certified is not a mandatory requirement to practice as a registered nurse, it is highly recommended for those who want greater recognition and financial gain in their careers. To qualify, RNs require two or more years of clinical experience in a specialized field of study and also need to pass an exam.

How Much Can I Earn as a Registered Nurse?

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, registered nurses made an annual median income of $75,330 in May 2020. The top paying industry for this profession was Business Support Services, which paid an annual mean wage of $106,670 in 2020. Other high paying industries include the Pharmaceutical and Medicine Manufacturing ($92,110) industry and Office Administrative Services ($89,490).

In addition to industry, the salary potential for registered nurses also varied according to location. As per data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the highest paying state for registered nurses was California, paying an annual mean income of $120,560, followed by Hawaii, which paid an annual mean income of $104,830, Massachusetts, which paid an annual mean income of $96,250, Oregon, which paid an annual mean income of $96,230 and Alaska, which paid an annual mean income of $95,270 in May 2020.

Job Outlook for a Registered Nurse

The job outlook for registered nurses is quite bright, as the healthcare industry continues to expand exponentially. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for registered nurses was 7%, which is faster than the average for all occupations. Growth in this sector can be attributed to several factors, such as the increase in demand for healthcare for older population demographics. Nurses will also be needed to educate people with chronic health conditions like dementia, arthritis, obesity and diabetes.

Educational Paths for Registered Nurses

Students who want to become registered nurses can expect to invest 2 to 4 years of their time in nursing education. The exact timeline and degree completion requirements would depend on the program you choose. There are two main program levels to choose from – Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) and Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Let’s compare these two degrees in detail to allow aspiring nurses to make an informed decision.

ADN Degree

An ADN degree provides the quickest path to becoming a registered nurse in the US. However, this degree may have limited career prospects as most employers require or prefer at least a BSN degree.

  • Admission Requirements: In order to enroll in an ADN program, students need to have at least a high school diploma or a GED certificate. Other requirements may include personal statements, transcripts and SAT scores.
  • Program Curriculum: Common coursework covered in an ADN program would be pharmacology, healthcare administration, nutrition, medical issues related to aging etc. Students will also have to complete a certain number of clinical hours.
  • Degree length: The amount of time required to complete an ADN program is 2 years.

BSN Degree

Becoming a registered nurse through a BSN degree would take longer than an ADN. However, a BSN is a much more comprehensive program and prepares RNs to take on more advanced and enriching roles in the healthcare industry.

  • Admission Requirements: Students can get into a BSN program directly after completing high school or after completing an ADN program. In either case, they would be required to submit SAT or ACT scores, have a minimum GPA of 3.0 and letters of recommendation.
  • Program Curriculum: Typical coursework in a BSN degree would include emergency care, anatomy, physiology, basic pharmacology, public health, microbiology and chemistry. Course structure would vary from institute to institute.
  • Degree length: On average, a BSN degree would take 4 years to complete. Nursing students who have an ADN or college credits that are transferable, may be able to complete this degree in 2 to 3 years.

Certification and Continuing Education

Even though practicing as a registered nurse does not require any specific certifications, getting additional credentials can create better opportunities for professional growth. The American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN) offers certifications for registered nurses. In order to become certified, registered nurses would have to meet certain requirements and clear a certification exam. The AACN offers certifications for nurses in subject areas like acute care, progressive care and cardiac medicine.

Besides certifications, registered nurses will be required to complete a certain number of continuing education credits to keep their license current. Please note that this is not a requirement in all states, however, many states have made this mandatory. The courses you complete will depend on the kind of nursing job you are employed in.

Why Become a Registered Nurse?

  • Nurses are high in demand: Nursing is currently one of the most in-demand professions and this demand is likely to remain high in the coming years as well.
  • Nurses earn good money: Registered Nurses made a higher annual median income ($75,330) than the average wage for healthcare practitioners and technical occupations, which as $69,870 in May 2020.
  • Numerous specialization options: Nurses professionals can choose to specialize in a vast variety of concentrations, depending on personal preferences. Potential certification options include ambulatory care nursing, pediatric nursing, public health nursing, neonatal pediatric transport, acute care nurse practitioner and gerontology nursing, among others.
  • Rewarding Career: A career in nursing can be highly rewarding, both intrinsically and financially.