How Do You Become a Registered Nurse?

Submitted by OnlineABSNProg… on Fri, 04/30/2021 - 23:02
A group of nurses wearing blue scrubs

Nursing is a desirable profession. From the rewarding patient relationships to the diverse job opportunities, it’s no surprise that interest in the field has increased in recent years — and is expected to continue its upward trend.

While the number of registered nurses continues to grow, the requirements for starting your nursing profession remain the same.

Becoming a registered nurse—or RN—is challenging but attainable. Education, licensing, and training are the first steps towards officially calling yourself an RN. If you perform well under pressure, enjoy working as a team, and want to improve the health and well-being of those around you, you’re in the right place.

For everything you need to know about registered nursing and how to become a registered nurse, continue reading below.



What Does a Registered Nurse Do?

To better understand what to expect as a registered nurse, let’s break down what the job entails. A registered nurse is a licensed healthcare professional who works with a variety of patients. Due to the diversity within this position, a registered nurse may be in charge of several different responsibilities.


Daily Duties of an RN

While every RN job will be unique, there are some similarities you can expect from this type of employment. Daily, registered nurses should be prepared to perform any of these standard procedures:

  • Checking vitals – A registered nurse should be able to easily check a patient’s vitals—including body temperature, pulse, blood pressure, and respiration rate.
  • Recording medical history – Certain paperwork will be involved when caring for patients. Registered nurses should be able to read, keep track of, and document their patients’ medical history in an organized manner.
  • Taking blood and administering medication – Registered nurses are trained to work with syringes, blood samples, and medication administration. Nurses should expect to perform all these procedures multiple times daily for different patients.
  • Infection control and safety – Keeping a sterile environment is a major duty of all healthcare professionals. Any registered nurse must learn the proper sanitization and infection control procedures required by their facility. Assessment and evaluation of infection risk is also a crucial step in achieving this level of patient safety.
  • Communicating with patients and their families – Being an RN isn’t just about the technical work. An experienced nurse should also be able to convey messages between a patient and their family, support patients emotionally, and create a comforting, healthy environment for those in their care.

These are just a few responsibilities you should expect when becoming an RN. It’s important to note that certain positions and healthcare facilities have unique patients, schedules, and practices. For every new job, registered nurses will undergo training specific to the practice.


What Qualities Are Important in a Registered Nurse?

Getting started in registered nursing is more than a career choice. It requires a certain type of person.

Before starting your nursing journey, you must assess whether you could one day be working hand-in-hand with patients. Nurses require interpersonal, technical, scientific, and emotional skills. Many can be learned; others are more innate and will provide a serious advantage to an aspiring nurse who possesses these qualities.

A career as an RN is best suited to people who have the following:

  • Compassion – If you’re naturally nurturing and empathetic, then nursing may be the right path for you. Technical knowledge is important, but mastering the human aspects of the profession is what sets nurses apart. Compassion is a crucial skill nurses need to create a healing environment for their patients. 
  • Endurance – Nursing is the opposite of a tedious desk job. No matter the healthcare facility and position, nurses can expect long hours spent almost entirely on their feet. In the emergency room, this physical strain is even more intense, and the fast-paced work can even take a toll on your mental health. If you’re considering becoming an RN, consider these physical and emotional limitations beforehand.
  • Communication Skills  – Healthcare is a team sport. Prospective nurses should have keen communication skills and a willingness to work collaboratively with their peers. The last thing you want in the health care setting is miscommunication or—even worse—unprofessional arguments or bickering.
  • Attention to Detail  – Every detail is vital to a patient’s health when working with the human body. Properly trained nurses will pay close attention to these details and retain important information at all times. This includes thoroughly reading patient charts, double-checking lab results, and remembering any relevant medication interactions, allergies, and previous procedures that may inform current treatment options.

While many of these skills can be taught through education and training, natural characteristics are also important. If you feel like you check all the boxes (or are open to the challenge of further developing these critical traits), then it’s time to take the first step toward becoming a registered nurse.


How Much Money Do Registered Nurses Make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, registered nurses make, on average, $73,300 annually.

Salaries may vary depending on where you work, what you specialize in, and where you live. Education is among the most significant factors that can influence a nurse’s income. Nurses who earn their BSN tend to have higher employment rates, more leadership positions, and greater opportunities for growth within their field.


RN Specialties and Their Respective Duties

In addition to the general duties listed above, some registered nurses choose to pursue specialties within the field.

Some of the most popular specialties for registered nurses include:

  • Prenatal and labor & delivery – Many registered nurses specialize in prenatal or labor & delivery work. These nurses will receive additional training and may pursue certifications to care for pregnant women. Caring for patients during pregnancy, labor and delivery is a particularly rewarding specialty that offers high starting salaries.
  • Oncology nurse – Oncology nurses provide care for patients in the cancer unit. This specialty will incorporate many of the regular RN responsibilities and cancer-specific duties, such as administering chemotherapy and care coordination.
  • ER nurse – Registered nurses who choose to work in the emergency room should be prepared for a high-intensity environment. ER nurses will focus on treating patients requiring immediate care, ranging from non-urgent to life-threatening. Nurses in the ER provide care every step of the way, including discharging patients and transferring them to the ICU.
  • Gerontology – A large number of registered nurses specialize in the treatment of patients in older adulthood. These job opportunities go beyond hospitals and offer employment in nursing home facilities and at-home care.
  • Pediatric nurse – On the other end of the spectrum, registered nurses can also work with the pediatric population. If you enjoy working with children, a pediatric position is a fulfilling specialty with unique responsibilities—including physical and social development and collaborative care with other pediatric specialists.

While these specialties are available for all registered nurses, there’s also the option to continue working as an RN in various healthcare facilities and units.

Either career path, however, will require specific steps to becoming a licensed nurse.


Steps to Become a Registered Nurse

Before considering a specialty, you’ll need to become a registered nurse. The process of obtaining the RN title can be broken down into three phases:


#1 Enroll in Nursing School

What education is needed to become a registered nurse? This is the question on most aspiring nurses’ minds, but the answer is a bit more complicated than most people realize. It’s not so much about asking which degree you need to be a nurse but which degree you want for your career goals and intended path. 

Here’s the simple part: Registered nurses must earn an advanced degree after graduating from high school. But a “nursing degree” actually encompasses three different options:

  • Associate Degree in Nursing – The shorter option is an Associate Degree in Nursing—also known as an ADN. Nursing students usually complete an ADN program at a community college or trade school within two years. While earning an ADN is faster and less expensive, some employers require additional education.
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing – Also known as a BSN, this degree path is the more advanced. BSN programs typically take four years to complete and cost more because they’re offered through colleges or universities, which tend to be pricier. The benefits of earning a BSN include higher starting salaries, more opportunities for growth, and a greater likelihood of being promoted to leadership positions. Graduates who have already obtained their bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field can opt for an accelerated BSN program (ABSN) to advance their education further.
  • Direct-entry masters - This option is for career changers who already hold bachelor's degrees and want to pivot to nursing. The graduate entry option allows students to meet the requirements for the NCLEX-RN (the licensing exam required to be an RN).  Additionally, many of these programs have additional coursework in leadership that focuses on quality and safety in the practice of nursing, which positions graduates of these programs to be champions of quality and safety initiatives once they are out practicing as an RN.

If you already have your ADN and want to advance your nursing career, you can also take a bridge program to obtain your BSN or MSN. These programs cover the content not covered in an ADN program, including but not limited to research, leadership, and population health. ADN programs also help nursing students earn their entry-level professional nursing degree in just 12-16 months and offer a broad scope of clinical experience to better prepare students for post-graduate work.

Related: How Long Does It Typically Take to Get a Nursing Degree?

Once you’ve completed your degree, you can move on to the next step: licensure.


#2 Pass the NCLEX

The National Council Licensure Exam—or the NCLEX—is a rigorous, computerized test that all registered nurses must pass before they can start practicing. Graduates of these programs will take the NCLEX for registered nurses (the NCLEX-RN). The exam focuses on four main categories within the nursing field:

  • Care environment – Creating a calm, safe, and nurturing environment can be as important as assessing vitals or administering medication. This section is divided into two subcategories: management and infection control. These questions test your knowledge of patients’ rights, hazardous materials, legal issues, safety precautions, and more. Nurses who complete this section with flying colors will be fully prepared to prioritize and evaluate patients in the field.
  • Health promotion – Next, you’ll be tested on your health promotion and maintenance knowledge. This part of the exam includes questions about patients’ health and medical records, such as developmental stages, high-risk behaviors, screening procedures, and disease prevention. The council wants to ensure that entry-level nurses give their patients the right medical advice.
  • Psychological integrity – Caring for the body is one part of nursing, but there’s another vital component that shouldn’t be forgotten: the mind. This section of the NCLEX will test nurses' ability to care for a patient’s psychological needs. These questions may reference coping mechanisms, acute and chronic mental health-related issues, including addiction and crisis intervention, as well as communication with both the patient and their family.
  • Physiological integrity – The final part of the NCLEX focuses on the physical aspects of nursing. This section is broken down into four main components: the primary care and comfort of patients, pharmaceuticals and therapies, reduction of risk, and physiological adaptation.

Studying the content is only half the battle regarding the NCLEX. This exam is unique in its computer-adaptive questioning techniques. In short, no two tests are the same and they change while you’re taking them.

After each question you answer, the test will generate new questions to ensure you understand the material well. The test concludes automatically once you’ve provided a certain percentage of correct answers. The NCLEX has a time limit of five hours for everyone but test-takers answer anywhere from 75 to 145 questions (previously 265 before a recent update).

This strange and unconventional testing methodology can seem overwhelming, but entry-level nurses must completely understand everything the job entails. After all, lucky guesses don’t cut it in the emergency room. 

Once you’ve studied hard and completed the exam with flying colors, you can begin the next stage of becoming an RN: training for your new position.


#3 Getting Hired and Training

Now that you’ve passed your licensure exam, you’ve officially earned the Registered Nurse (RN) title—but what happens next? Once you've applied for your license, a nurse needs a hospital, clinic, or private practice to use their newly licensed skills.

As an RN, you have options when it comes to employment. Registered nurses work in a variety of different healthcare facilities and roles, including:

  • Hospitals and emergency rooms
  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Home care
  • Nursing homes
  • Military bases
  • Judicial courts
  • Schools
  • Outpatient medical offices

Choosing the right facility will depend on your preferred schedule, environment, and specialties that interest you. No matter your path, there are a few ways to ensure a more straightforward hiring process. 

Here are a few tips every entry-level nurse should consider when job hunting:

  • Prepare for your interview – For a nursing position, you’ll want to prepare beyond the basic questions by addressing limitations, concerns, and pain points specific to that facility and role. For example, do you speak a second language that can help with non-English-speaking patients? Research a facility’s primary treatment offerings, patient population, and biggest hurdles to showcase your qualifications.  It is also possible that they may give you a patient scenario and ask how you would proceed -- it could include anything from prioritizing care to communicating with a patient and family.
  • Have an open schedule – Nursing jobs require long and often irregular hours. You’ll want to keep your schedule open when searching for an RN position. This will increase your chances of being hired and open up more opportunities within the healthcare field.
  • References – It never hurts to bring a list of references to an interview, especially in nursing. Consider any professors you’ve connected with, superiors from internships, or job shadows during nursing school. As an entry-level nurse, proving your qualifications can be complex, so try to build your professional network and show employers you have what it takes.


Get Started on Your Nursing Journey

Nursing may be the end goal, but how do you arrive where you want to be? We can guide you in the right direction regarding your nursing career.

By partnering with world-class universities, we’ve created the highest caliber of remote programs for anyone looking to propel their career forward, including an Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN). Graduates of non-nursing Bachelor’s degree programs can earn their ABSN in a year through one of our many top-tier options. 

Take the first step toward becoming a nurse today. To help you find your perfect fit, we’ve compiled a list of high-quality, accredited online ABSN programs. Simply enter your Zip code below to find which program(s) are available in your area.

The content published on our blog is reviewed by credentialed healthcare professionals to give you the most up-to-date and professionally accurate information. This particular article was professionally reviewed by Colleen Sanders, RN, FNP-BC on April 20, 2021.