nurse in lab coat with stethoscope next to graphic text overlay how to become a registered nurse

How to Become a Registered Nurse

Staff Writer
Reviewed by Dr. Doug Turner
Jan 17, 2023

As the demand for nurses has risen, more nursing schools have emerged to educate and prepare a new generation for the future of nursing. Before you apply to nursing school, you need to decide your educational path. The path you choose determines what nursing degree to pursue and the amount of time you will spend in school.

While choosing a program, determine how nursing school will fit into your life. Nursing degrees can be earned in-person or online, with clinical requirements completed in a healthcare setting. At Joyce, our nursing programs blend online learning with campus-based instruction to maximize flexibility, helping balance academic responsibilities with everyday life. Here are five steps to becoming a registered nurse.

1. Choose a Nursing Path

What type of nursing do you want to pursue? While nursing assistant careers don’t require a college degree, all licensed nurses must complete an associate, bachelor, master, or doctoral degree in nursing to practice. As a nurse, your degree and your job responsibilities greatly affect your earning power. Your location, hours, experience, and responsibilities also impact your salary. If you’re looking for a quick entry to the field of nursing, you can earn your Associate of Science in Nursing degree and qualify for RN licensure in as little as little as 20 months. If leadership or advanced practice positions are more in line with your career goals, you can pursue a BSN or MSN degree which will open a range of job opportunities and salary potential.

Related Resource: 5 Reasons You Need Your BSN Degree

2. Attend an Accredited Nursing Program

Whichever educational route you take, apply to the best nursing school for your geographical, financial, and educational needs. Look for accredited programs to determine if it is meeting specific state and national standards. The three nursing accreditation bodies in the United States are The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN), The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), and The Commission on Nursing Education Accreditation (CNEA). 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.

Related Resource: What is an Accredited College?

3. Obtain Registered Nurse License

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 will vary state to state. It’s best to investigate each state’s requirements individually.

Related Resource: How the NCLEX-RN Works

4. Find Your First Nurse Job

Once you pass the NCLEX and receive your license, it’s time to find your first nursing job so you can practice as a nurse. The good news is that nurses are in high demand. The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) estimates employment of registered nurses is projected to grow rapidly. As nurses quit or reach retirement age, hospitals, clinics, schools, and others need to fill those gaps with new nurses.

Networking with faculty, administrators, and the career services team helps students learn about options available to support you as you seek your first job as an RN. Any school with a high job placement rate has developed networks that will help graduates find nursing positions. Talk to family and friends who are already nurses and maintain connections with your supervisors from practicum rotations while completing your degree requirements.

Related Resource: Nursing Interview Tips for Your First Nursing Job

5. Become a Lifelong Learner

Continuing your education is a critical component for every nurse. As a nurse, you are required to complete Continuing Education Units (CEUs) each year. With new technology and treatment advancements in the healthcare industry, it is necessary to keep up with 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 in many states, and pay a fee.

If you want to specialize in a certain area of nursing, you will need to earn specific certifications or an advanced practice degree. Further education increases employment opportunities, improves salaries, and can increase responsibility. Advanced practice nurses (APRNs) have earned a master’s degree and work in healthcare as nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives, nurse anesthetists (doctoral degree required), and clinical nurse specialists. The BLS reports that MSN nursing jobs make, on average, $46,000 more than RNs. While RNs earn an average of $77,600 per year, master’s-prepared nurses who go on to pursue a specialty earn an average of $123,780.

Related Resource: 15 Highest Paying Nursing Jobs


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