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How to Become a Registered Nurse (RN)

Registered nurses are always in high demand. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), these professionals constitute the largest occupation in one of the largest industries in the country. Registered nurses help save lives by providing patients and their doctors with critical support. Here, find out how to become a registered nurse.

Step 1: Make the Decision on How to Become a Registered Nurse (RN)

For those who are on the fence as to whether or not they want to become a registered nurse, a little research can go a long way. Some food for thought:

  • Demand: RN jobs are expected to grow 26 percent between 2010 and 2020, according to the BLS.
  • Salary: The median RN salary was $64,690 in 2010 (BLS).
  • Flexibility: RNs can work virtually anywhere.
  • Benefits: Many employers offer flexible scheduling, childcare, education benefits, and bonuses.

When it comes to making major career decisions, one can never do too much research. Volunteering in a hospital to get a feel for what RNs do is recommended, as is requesting information from nursing school to learn more about their programs.

Step 2: Pursue a High School Diploma or GED

Those who haven't already earned a high school diploma or general education diploma (GED) should know that it's a requirement for enrolling in nursing schools. According to the California Department of Consumer Affairs' Board of Registered Nursing, many of the general education courses that are needed in nursing school can be taken while still in high school. These include:

  • English: 4 years
  • Math: 3-4years, including algebra and geometry
  • Science: 2-4 years, including biology and chemistry; physics recommended
  • Foreign Language: 2 years; recommended, but not required

Step 3: Choose an RN Education Path

Education requirements for RNs vary from one state to the next, so the state's board of nursing should be consulted for details. In general, however, there are 3 types of RN degree programs:

  • Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN): This program generally takes 2 to 3 years to complete and is offered through many community colleges and career training schools. This training prepares individuals to work as an entry-level RN in a variety of settings.
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN): Requiring 4 years to complete, BSN programs are offered through a number of public and private nursing schools, colleges, and universities. A BSN prepares individuals for RN careers in a variety of settings with the potential to advance to administrative and leadership positions.
  • Master's of Science in Nursing (MSN): This program typically takes 1-2 years in addition to the prerequisite BSN degree. A MSN offers the greatest salary and advancement potential.
  • Step 4: Find the Right Nursing School

    Once the type of RN program one would like to go after is established, it's time to hit the pavement (or Internet) to find a school. While all nursing programs will prepare individuals for an RN career, they vary in other ways. Here are some things to consider:

    • Degree options
    • Admissions requirements
    • Tuition
    • Program length (Note: Some schools offer accelerated programs)
    • Setting (online vs. traditional classes)
    • Schedule Flexibility

    Once a target school or two has been selected, potential nursing school students should find out if there are any additional admissions requirements, such as taking the SAT, ACT, or the National League for Nursing's Pre-Admission Exam. If all requirements are met, the next step is to submit the application by the specified deadline. Nursing school applicants might want to apply to more than one school in order to expand their options.

    Step 5: Obtain Licensure to Become a RN

    According to the BLS, all states require RNs to be licensed. While licensure requirements vary from one state to the next, most call for potential RNs to:

    • Pursue a ADN, BSN, or MSN
    • Pass a criminal background check
    • Pass a national licensure exam, such as the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN)

    Step 6: Refresh Skills with Continuing Education

    Continuing education not only boosts salary and advancement potential--say, advancing from an AND to BSN, or BSN to MSN--it is also mandatory in many locations. Many employers and state nursing boards require continuing education courses (CECs) to maintain employment and licensure.

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