How to Become a Registered Nurse

Staff Writer
Mar 29, 2022 | 2 min read

Becoming a nurse is one of the most rewarding and validating of experiences. It means you have the grit, tenacity, and empathy needed to get through school and go on to be a part of a dynamic group of healthcare professional who dedicate their lives to helping others. Nursing school is not a walk in the park, but it is endlessly rewarding when you reach the finish line and graduate and start your career as a registered nurse.

If you have a desire to join the ranks of nurse heroes, the first step is finding the right nursing program where you’ll get the foundational training and skill development needed to succeed on day one. Here are a few important milestones every future nurse must complete before hitting the ground running.

1. Choose a Nursing Path

What type of nursing do you want to pursue? Some nursing careers require no degree, while most require an associate’s, bachelor’s, or master’s degree in nursing, or other advanced degree. As a nurse, your degree and job responsibilities greatly affect your earning power. Your location, hours, and experience also impact your salary.

Here is education, licensing requirements, and median annual wage for the following levels of nursing:

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

  • Pass a state competency exam
  • Earn a state license
  • Salary: $30,830

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

  • Complete a state-approved certificate program.
    Pass the NCLEX-PN.
  • Earn a state license.
  • Salary: $48,820


Registered Nurse (RN)

  • Complete a nursing diploma, ADN, or BSN.
  • Pass the NCLEX-RN.
  • Earn a state license.
  • Salary: $75,330

Certified Nurse Practitioner (CNP)

  • Complete an MSN.
  • Pass the NCLEX-RN and a national certification exam administered by a professional organization such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center or the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners.
  • Earn a state license.
  • Salary: $111,680

Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM)

  • Complete an MSN.
  • Pass the NCLEX-RN and a national certification exam administered by the American Midwifery Certification Board if required for licensure in your state.
  • Earn a state license.
  • Salary: $111,130

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)

  • Complete an MSN, but DNP if matriculating after 1/1/2022.
  • Pass the NCLEX-RN and the certification exam administered by the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists.
  • Earn a state license.
  • Salary: $183,580
2. Attend an Accredited Nursing Program

For new nurses, you have three programs to choose from for nursing school: Associate Degree in Nursing (ASN) program, Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program, and an accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (aBSN) program. aBSNs are designed for students who have already earned a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field and are pursuing a career in nursing. Most nursing students choose between an ASN and BSN program.

Whichever educational route you take, apply to the best nursing school for your geographical, financial, and educational needs. Look for accredited programs and weigh the costs of tuition and fees with the time it takes to graduate. Pay close attention to figures like National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) pass rates and job placement rates. Those numbers signify the quality of a school’s nursing education.

At Joyce, ASN students can complete the program in as little as 5 semesters or 20 months. Nursing students may apply for licensure and sit for NCLEX-RN after completing all prelicensure courses and be eligible for licensure as a registered nurse.

3. Get Licensed

The last hurdle between you and your RN license is to pass the NCLEX. This comprehensive exam will test the knowledge you gained in school to ensure you’re ready to become a nurse. You cannot become an RN without passing this exam.

Once you take and pass the NCLEX, along with completing all other licensure requirements, then you finally receive your nursing license. This process might vary state to state. It’s best to look into each state’s requirements individually.

4. Find Employment

Once you pass the NCLEX and receive your license, it’s time to find your first nursing job to actually do the work and embody the role. The good news is that nurses are in demand. The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) estimates employment of registered nurses is projected to grow 9 percent from 2020 to 2030, averaging 194,500 openings per year. As nurses quit or reach retirement age, hospitals, clinics, schools, and others need to fill those gaps with new nurses.

Networking with instructors, administrators, and the career services team at your nursing school helps students to learn about their partnerships and professional connections. Any school with a high job placement rate has networks to find nursing positions for their graduates. Talk to family and friends who are already nurses, and maintain connections with your supervisors from rotations.

5. Become a Lifelong Learner

Continuing your education is a critical component for a nurse. As a nurse, you will be required to keep up with your Continuing Education Units (CEUs) each year. With new technology and treatment advancements in the healthcare industry, it is necessary to keep up on current trends in nursing and other specialties. Furthermore, for a nurse to renew their RN license, they will need to fill out an application, complete a specific number of CEU hours, and pay a fee.

If you want to specialize in a certain area of nursing, you will need to earn specific certifications or more advanced degrees. Further schooling often results in senior-level employment opportunities, higher salaries, and greater responsibility. Advanced practice nurses (APRNs) have earned their master’s degree and work in healthcare as nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives, nurse anesthetists, and clinical nurse specialists. The BLS reports that MSN nursing jobs make, on average, $42,000 more than RNs. While RNs earn an average of $75,330 per year, master’s-prepared nurses who go on to pursue a specialty earn an average of $117,670.


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