How to Become a Registered Nurse (RN)

Depending on where you are at with your education and career, there are a few routes you can take to become a nurse and the requirements will vary. With the current nursing shortage reaching critical levels, there has not been a better time to become a nurse. The pay has been steadily increasing each year, the flexible work schedules at many hospitals can be dictated by you, and benefits packages for RNs have become more and more attractive and sign-on bonuses are common practice at many hospitals for new nurse hires. You have taken the first step toward a challenging and extremely rewarding career as a nurse by getting here. Once you have read about the different paths to becoming a registered nurse below, click on your state to the right and find a nursing school that will help you reach your goals. Now, start researching the educational path below that fits your profile and needs.

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High School Student

High school students should consult with their guidance/career counselors regarding courses that should be taken, volunteer work and nursing schools that fit the students career interests. Most nursing schools require a high school diploma and a number of classes as prerequisites to admission. Make sure you and your counselor research the nursing schools you are interested in for their pre-requisites prior to applying.

As a rule of thumb, getting top grades in all of your high school classes, especially science and math, is a good place to start. Nursing schools have become increasingly competitive across the United States and in many cases have wait lists up to two years long. High g.p.a. and test scores along with health care and nursing related volunteer work won’t hurt your chances for acceptance to a nursing school.

You will also need to take the SAT or ACT and depending on the nursing school you choose, you may be required to take the National League for Nursing Pre-Admission Exam.

High School Graduate or Holding a GED

High school graduates with a diploma or those with a GED have a few different options for becoming a nurse. The following educational paths are in no particular order and no one path is recommended over the other.

1) Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) or Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN): Licensed practical nurses and licensed vocational nurses (or vocational nurses) are the same position. The majority of states call the career licensed practical nurse. In California and a couple other states they are known as licensed vocational nurse. The LPN or LVN programs are usually 1 year and are offered at vocational colleges or community colleges. There is a licensing test to sit for when you graduate that allows you to practice as an LPN or LVN. LVN and LPN paths to nursing are popular because many nursing schools allow LPNs or LVNs to challenge nursing school courses so that they can apply their prior LPN/LVN education toward credit for these course. Most often the LPN/LVN position is flexible enough that you will be able to continue working while attending nursing school. Read more about LPN/LVN schools and request information today.

2) Associate’s Degrees in Nursing (ADN) are two-year nursing programs usually offered at the community college level. The associate’s degree in nursing is a very popular route for individuals with a high school diploma or GED looking to become a registered nurse in a short amount of time. These degrees primarily focus on the practical components of nursing and aim to prepare students to sit for the National Council Licensing Examination (NCLEX). The NCLEX is the nationally recognized board exam that awards the registered nurse (RN) designation and license to practice nursing. Once you pass the NCLEX and become a registered nurse you are ready to begin practicing.

3) Baccalaureate nursing degree programs (BSN): ADN programs have been giving way to BSNs recently, due primarily to two factors. One, BSNs are, in some cases, paid more than those with an ADN and two, earning a BSN opens up many more advanced nursing career and education paths that those in possession of an ADN will not qualify for. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) and the American Nurses Association (ANA) have released statements to the effect, that they recognize the BSN as the minimum education needed for professional nursing practice. This is something to consider as the field of nursing moves toward this stance. In fact, the percentage of registered nurses with a baccalaureate degree has increased continually over the last five years as the percentage of registered nurses with an associate’s degree has declined nationally.

Nursing schools offering BSN programs will require students to take the SAT or ACT and often require the National League for Nursing Pre-Admission Exam prior to admission. BSN programs are four-year nursing programs that teach practical nursing but also explore nursing theory, providing students with a well rounded curriculum that will prepare them for more advanced nursing paths in research, teaching and clinical practice. BSN programs, like ADN programs, prepare students to sit for the NCLEX.

4) Medical Assisting has become a popular entry to nursing. Becoming a medical assistant will afford you insight to what a career as a nurse would be like. Medical assistants do everything a registered nurse would do in medical office settings, including drawing blood. Medical assistants are paid well for what they do. Medical assisting programs take 6 months to 1 year to complete through an online college, at a community college or vocational college. Most medical assistants cap out their pay at around 4 years and know that registered nurses earn significantly better incomes, so many choose to head back to ADN or BSN nursing programs around their second year as a medical assistant. It is common for people to become a medical assistant first to support themselves while attending nursing school. The great thing about becoming a medical assistant first is that you will have already experienced much of what is taught in a nursing program and many courses will not require you to dedicate so much time to learning new material. Also, you will be able to continue working (earning money) in the medical field while completing your ADN or BSN and network for job opportunities as a registered nurse once you graduate and pass the NCLEX. Learn more about Online Medical Assisting Programs.

5) CNA to RN: Many people choose to become a CNA due to the fact that the training time can be very short and the pay is pretty good. CNAs frequently attend nursing school while they continue there work as a CNA. The experience gained and professional contacts made as a CNA prove invaluable when applying to nursing school and finding work after graduation. Samantha Reed, a CNA in Wisconsin, shares her experiences as a CNA and why she chose to go to nursing school in this interview: CNA to RN

College Graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in Another Field

1) Second Degree BSN programs are designed for those professionals or recent college graduates who have completed a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts and have decided to pursue a career in nursing. These degree programs usually take two years to complete and will prepare you to sit for the NCLEX. Second degree nursing programs teach practical nursing as well as nursing theory and once you graduate you will have your BSN and be eligible to pursue advanced education such as an MSN or PhD track. Check out the Second Degree Nursing Programs.

2) Accelerated BSN degree programs are similar to a second degree nursing programs as far as background and requirements go, but are completed in just about 12 months. These programs will prepare you to sit for the NCLEX and earn your BSN. Find an Accelerated BSN Degree Program.

3) Direct Entry Master of Science in Nursing programs are designed for those that have a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts, are not currently nurses and would like to pursue an advanced nursing career in a clinical, research or faculty environment. This program combines preparation for nursing licensure with advanced nursing education. The BSN completion takes about one year and the master’s component, most often, will take another two years to complete.

Nursing Schools in Your State

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