How to Become a Nurse

A Registered Nurse sets up a patient care plan
A nurse sets up a patient care plan

Interested in how to become a nurse? Here's a starting point for the wide array of choices available in the nursing field. Take a look at this information, then consider filling out some information to help us match you with the right nursing school and degree.

Nursing & RN Roadmap

Career Path to Becoming a Nurse

The career path for becoming a nurse could look something like this: CNA --> LPN --> RN --> APRN

CNA

A great way to start out in the nursing field is to become a certified nursing assistant (CNA). As a CNA, you'll work along side nurses to provide daily care to patients in a variety of settings. CNAs are the eyes and ears of a nurse, and often report to nurses regarding a patient's status. As a CNA, you'll take vital signs, assist with bathing, and dressing. Most CNA programs can be completed in as little as a few months through a private company or community college.

LPN or LVN

The next step up from CNA is to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or licensed vocational nurse (LVN). These programs are usually a year long and prepare you to work under an RN doing more advanced care. The scope of practice for LPNs and LVNs varies by state, but your duties may include things like enemas, passing meds, suctioning, feeding tubes, wound care and catheters.

RN

The next progression is to become an registered nurse (RN). The education requirements for RNs vary by state, but give RNs a full scope of practice and more responsibility, as they oversee CNAs and LPNs.

APRN

Lastly, there are advanced practice nurses (APRN), which include nurse nurse anesthetist, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners. These generally require a masters degree, or some form of graduate study in the area of specialty. Read about the difference between a nurse versus nurse practitioner or take a look at our Nurse Practitioner Requirements by state.

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10 Steps to Become a Nurse

  • Step 1 - Learn about the field of nursing. Talk to nurses and consider becoming a CNA to get first hand experience.
  • Step 2 - Research the education and state licensing requirements for becoming a nurse.
  • Step 3 - Research schools and nursing programs that meet the education and licensing requirements you need to become a nurse.
  • Step 4 - Get into the school of your choice
  • Step 5 - Study hard, learn your nursing skills, and survive nursing school
  • Step 6 - Choose a nursing specialty
  • Step 7 - Take the National Council Licensure Examination-Registered Nurse (NCLEX-RN)
  • Step 8 - Search for and apply to nursing jobs. Understand your long term goals and what that means in terms of the experience you need to further your career as a nurse.
  • Step 9 - Get on the job experience and training as well as further specialization.
  • Step 10 - Work toward and consider becoming a nurse practitioner.

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Education Requirements

A minimum of an associates degree in nursing is required to be eligible to take an examination to become an RN. Many of the types of nursing listed below require additional training or certification. Advance practice nurses require a masters degree in nursing. This includes nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives and nurse practitioners.

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Licensing Requirements

Once you acquire the appropriate level of education to become a nurse, you'll want to get licensed as a Registered Nurse (RN). Nurse licensing requirements vary by state. In most cases, you'll need to take the NCLEX Examination through the National Council of State Boards of Nursing and pass a background check.

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Nursing Areas

As a nurse, you can work in a variety of settings. These may include:

  • Family practice clinic
  • Urgent care
  • Surgery center
  • Birthing centers
  • Hospitals
    • Emergency Room
    • Critical Care Unit
    • Minor Injuries
    • Labor and delivery
    • Diagnostics
    • Outpatients
    • Day Surgery
    • General Wards
    • Pathology
    • M.R.I. Unit
    • Administration Block
  • Pediatrician's office
  • Community health centers
  • Rehabilitation centers

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Nursing Specialties

There are a number of nursing specialty certifications. Each is offered through a nursing organization which determines the requirements for earning the specialty. Nursing specialties include:

  • Ambulatory Care Nursing
  • Cardiac Rehabilitation Nursing
  • Cardiac-Vascular Nursing
  • Certified Vascular Nurse
  • College Health Nursing
  • Community Health Nursing
  • Diabetes Management - Advanced
  • Faith Community Nursing
  • Forensic Nursing - Advanced
  • General Nursing Practice
  • Gerontological Nursing
  • High-Risk Perinatal Nursing
  • Home Health Nursing
  • Informatics Nursing
  • Medical-Surgical Nursing
  • Nurse Executive
  • Nurse Executive, Advanced
  • Nursing Case Management
  • Nursing Professional Development
  • Pain Management Nursing
  • Pediatric Nursing
  • Perinatal Nursing
  • Psychiatric–Mental Health Nursing
  • Public Health Nursing - Advanced
  • School Nursing

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Nursing Organizations

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Nursing Salary

Your nursing salary will depend on the type of nurse you choose to be, the area of nursing you work in and our education level and years of experience. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2010 median salary for nurses was $64,690 per year, which comes out to be $31.10 per hour. However, nursing salaries also vary by state, so you may want to look at nursing salaries by state.

In addition to your salary, you may also want to consider the complete salary package, which may include healthcare benefits, paid time off, sick leave, retirement, and disability insurance. When you add those items into the mix, your salary is much more than just how much money you make as a nurse.

Some nursing careers pay more than others. Check out these 12 high paying nursing jobs.

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Nursing Jobs

When searching for a nursing job, there are a variety of websites that specialize in nursing jobs. Two are nursingjobs.org and nurse.com. In addition, Becker's Healthcare releases a list of 100 best places to work in healthcare each year.

If you participate on nursing forums or talk to a few new graduates, you may hear some helpful suggestions on how to land a nursing job once you graduate. For example, many people have expressed that hospitals are reluctant to hire newly graduated RNs with no experience and only an ASN. In most cases, what they want is a BSN with several years experience as a CNA. Many people have expressed they wished they had gotten their CNA before nursing school and started working as a CNA while they went to school. Depending on your situation, you may want to consider this as well.

Another excellent way to get a job as a nurse is to leverage the contacts you meet during your clinical rotations. Make a point of meeting, talking to, and associating with other nurses and administrators you meet while in school. This will give you the ability to ask them for assistance in finding a job that's a good fit for your education, experience, and interests after graduation.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Nursing

How long does it take to become a nurse?

From the time you make the decision and commit to becoming a nurse, it could take as little as 2 years to become a nurse. However, for most people it may take closer to 4-5 years. This is because, although you may earn your associates degree and become a registered nurse in 2 years, the reality is that most people do not have the pre-requisites needed to do this immediately. Therefore, you must take 1-2 years of coursework just to get into nursing school. Then, many nursing schools have waiting lists, which may add on a year or more before you get into nursing school.

How long will it take me to earn a degree?

You can earn an AA in nursing in two years. A BSN generally takes four years. And a masters in nursing is an additional two years.

Should I get a Bachelor’s degree in nursing?

In general, employers look more favorably upon RNs with a bachelor's degree. Earning your bachelors degree will likely increase your odds of getting a job as a nurse after graduation.

Should I work as a CNA?

Yes, yes and yes! Nurses with experience as a CNA are far more attractive to employers.

How does getting certified in a nursing specialty work?

Nursing specialty certification is available from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). The ANCC requires a bachelor's degree for certification as a generalist. There are also other nursing organizations that offer specialty certification with their own educational, practice, and examination requirements.

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Become a Nurse - State Guide

In order to make sure you're following the correct education path to become a Nurse, click on one of the links below to find out how to become a Nurse in your state, or a state where you're interested in teaching.

Alabama Alaska Arizona Arkansas
California Colorado Connecticut Delaware
Florida Georgia Hawaii Idaho
Illinois Indiana Iowa Kansas
Kentucky Louisiana Maine Maryland
Massachusetts Michigan Minnesota Mississippi
Missouri Montana Nebraska Nevada
New Hampshire New Jersey New Mexico New York
North Carolina North Dakota Ohio Oklahoma
Oregon Pennsylvania Rhode Island South Carolina
South Dakota Tennessee Texas Utah
Vermont Virginia Washington West Virginia
Wisconsin Wyoming