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How to become a registered nurse

Published: Friday 29th January 2021

Registered nurse standing with patients

Are you wondering how to become a registered nurse? You’re not alone! Tens of thousands of people all over the country are entering this rewarding and dynamic field every year.

Here’s how to become a registered nurse.

What is a registered nurse?

A registered nurse is one sub-specialty in the field of nursing, a field that includes emergency nurses, pediatric nurses, addiction nurses, nursing assistants, and nurse practitioners. 

A registered nurse provides and coordinates patient care while working within an organization, like a hospital or surgical clinic. They also educate patients and the public about health and wellness, and provide support to individuals and families who are dealing with illness and loss.  

What education do I need to become a registered nurse?

To become a registered nurse, you will need to pursue one of three pathways: get a bachelor’s degree in nursing, an associate’s degree in nursing, or a diploma from an approved nursing program.

These programs usually offer courses in nursing subjects like anatomy, microbiology, psychology, physiology, and other similar subjects. A bachelor’s in nursing usually takes around 4 years to complete, while associate degrees and diplomas usually take around 2 to 3 years. All programs will include some form of clinical experience. 

If you take a bachelor’s degree program, you will most likely have to take courses in subjects like social sciences, communication, critical thinking, and leadership. Having a bachelor’s degree will allow you to take on more duties in your jobs, such as administration, research, teaching, and consulting.

You may also wish to continue on to higher degrees in nursing. Many nursing students go back to school to get a master’s so that they can become clinical nurse specialists.

Do I need any other experience or certifications?

Your registered nurse looking out a window at a sunset

In order to work as a registered nurse, you must be licensed in the state where you work. To be licensed, you must graduate from a program approved by the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). Visit the National Council of State Boards of Nursing for more information on licensure. 

Registered nurses can also become certified in particular areas of care, such as pediatrics, gerontology, and ambulatory care. 

Some jobs may require you to have certifications in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), basic life support (BLS), or advanced cardiac life support (ACLS).

Main duties

Your duties will depend on your role, specializations, and certifications. However, most registered nurse positions will require the following duties:

  • Assessing patient needs and conditions
  • Recording patient symptoms and medical histories into records
  • Observing patients
  • Administering medicines and treatments
  • Using medical equipment
  • Conducting diagnostics tests
  • Advising patients and families on well being and how to manage illness

You will most likely be required to work on a team with other nurses and medical professionals. You may also be required to oversee licensed practical nurses, homes health aides, and nursing assistants. 

If you decide to work in a hospital, you will be required to work shifts, which can include early, late, and night shifts. 

Where are all the registered nurse jobs?

As a registered nurse, you will be able to work almost anywhere in the country, provided you maintain your licensure. You will be able to work in a variety of environments, including state, local, and private hospitals, ambulatory healthcare services, residential care facilities, educational institutions, and others. 


Four nurses standing side by side smiling

Your salary will depend largely on your specialization, employer, and where in the country your work. The median salary across the US is about $73,000, however the highest 10% of earners in nursing can earn more than $111,000.

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