How Do You Become a Registered Nurse?
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 into the future.
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, then 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 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 have to assess whether or not you could one day be working hand-in-hand with patients. Nurses require a combination of 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:
- 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 in order 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 thinking of 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 – When you’re working with the human body, every detail is vital to a patient’s health. 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 something to consider. 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.
#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 do you need to be a nurse but rather which degree do you want for your career goals and intended path?
Here’s the simple part: Registered nurses are required to earn an advanced degree after graduating high school. But a “nursing degree” actually encompasses three different options:
- Associate Degree in Nursing – The shorter option of the two is an Associate Degree in Nursing—also known as an ADN. Nursing students will usually complete an ADN program within two years at either a community college or trade school. While earning an ADN is both 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 of the two. 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 a bachelors degree and want to pivot to the nursing profession . 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, population health. ADN programs also help nursing students earn their entry level professional nursing degree in just 12-16 months, and offer a wide scope of clinical experience to better prepare students for post-graduate work.
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 just 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 knowledge of health promotion and maintenance. This part of the exam includes questions related to 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 are giving the right medical advice to their patients.
- Psychological integrity – Caring for the body is one part of nursing, but there’s another vital component that shouldn’t be forgotten, either: the mind. This section of the NCLEX will test nurses on their 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 basic care and comfort of patients, pharmaceuticals and therapies, reduction of risk, and physiological adaptation.
Studying the content is only half the battle when it comes to 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 have a well-rounded understanding of the material. Once you’ve provided a certain percentage of correct answers, the test concludes automatically. 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 it's vital that entry-level nurses have a full understanding of everything the job entails. After all, lucky guesses just 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 title of Registered Nurse (RN)—but what happens next? A nurse needs a hospital, clinic, or private practice to put their newly licensed skills to good use.
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
- Travel nursing
- Judicial courts
- Outpatient medical offices
Choosing the right facility will depend on your preferred schedule, environment, and specialties that interest you. No matter which path you choose, there are a few ways to ensure an easier 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 that are 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 unique 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. When searching for an RN position, you’ll want to keep your schedule as open as possible. This will increase your chances of being hired and open up a greater number of opportunities within the healthcare field.
- References – It never hurts to bring a list of references to an interview, especially in the nursing field. Consider any professors you’ve connected with, superiors from internships, or job shadows during your time in nursing school. As an entry-level nurse, proving your qualifications can be difficult, so try to build out your professional network and show employers you’ve got what it takes.
Get Started on Your Nursing Journey with Keypath
Nursing may be the end goal, but how do you arrive where you want to be? Keypath can guide you in the right direction when it comes to 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 single year through one of Keypath’s many top-tier options.
With a simple search mechanism and online ABSN programs , it’s easier than ever to find the program for you, achieve your goals, then graduate into the world as a highly-qualified RN.
What are you waiting for? Get started down the right path today!
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Registered Nurses. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm
Relias. 13 Qualities Of A Good Nurse: Leadership & Personality Characteristics.https://www.relias.com/blog/13-qualities-and-characteristics-of-a-good-nurse
Kaptest. What is the NCLEX-RN? https://www.kaptest.com/nclex/what-is-the-nclex-rn
NCSBN. Computerized Adaptive Testing (CAT). https://www.ncsbn.org/1216.htm