Becoming a nurse is complicated.
For one, “nurse” is just a blanket term for a gazillion different roles in hospitals, healthcare facilities, nursing homes, and even private homes.
Add to that a bunch of acronyms like CNA, LPN, BSN, DNP, and you might be scratching your head wondering:
“Where do I even begin?!?”
Well, we’ve got you.
Because in our super simple how to become a nurse guide, we’ll walk you through all the steps, requirements, and acronyms in the EASIEST way ever.
So buckle up and let’s learn how to become a nurse!
- 1 Steps to Becoming a Nurse
- 2 Step 1: Decide What Type of Nurse You Want to Become
- 2.1 Entry-Level Nursing Positions
- 2.2 Advanced Nursing Positions
- 3 Step 2: Get Into a Nursing Program and Earn Your Degree
- 4 Step 3: Complete the NCLEX Exam and Get Your License!
- 5 Step 4: Get Employed!
- 6 Step 5: Take CE Courses to Stay Sharp and Keep Your License
- 7 Step 6: Upgrade Your License By Taking Higher Education
- 8 Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Nurse
- 9 Conclusion
Steps to Becoming a Nurse
Here’s a quick rundown of ALL the steps you need to take to become a registered nurse (RN):
- Decide what type of nurse you want to become
- Get into a nursing program and earn your degree
- Complete the NCLEX exam and get your license
- Get employed!
- Take CE courses to stay sharp and keep your license
- Upgrade your license by taking higher education
Now let’s take a closer look at each of these steps in-depth.
Step 1: Decide What Type of Nurse You Want to Become
Becoming a nurse is not one straight path.
It’s a highway with so many roads taking you to completely different places.
That’s why before you even begin, you have to set your mind on what exactly your end goal is.
Ask yourself questions like:
- Do I want to work in a hospital? A clinic? A nursing home?
- Do I want to assist a nurse? Or do I want nurses to be under me?
- Do I want to work with specific types of people such as the elderly or pregnant women?
- Do I want to specialize in a field like anesthesia or neurology?
- Can I commit years of my life to education? Or do I just want a simple job in nursing?
The clearer your goals are, the easiest it will be for you to find the right nursing programs for yourself.
To help you out, here’s a quick run-down of the most common types of nursing jobs:
Entry-Level Nursing Positions
These entry-level nursing positions only require one nursing degree or program to get in!
Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)
- Education Requirements: State-Approved CNA Program
- Time to Complete: 4-12 weeks
- Tasks: Assists nurses by reporting issues to them, cleaning beds, feeding patients, and other daily tasks.
- Works In: Nursing homes, hospitals, healthcare facilities – anywhere where registered nurses may need assistance
- Learn More: How to Become a CNA
Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) / Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN)
- Education Requirements: State-Approved LPN Program
- Time to Complete: 12-18 months
- Tasks: Licensed practical nurses provide basic care to patients such as administering medicines, changing bandages, bathing, and other daily tasks. LPNs have more skills and responsibilities than CNAs, but are also under the supervision of registered nurses.
- Works In: Nursing homes, hospitals, healthcare facilities – anywhere where registered nurses may need assistance
- Learn More: How to Become an LPN
Registered Nurse (RN)
- Education Requirements: Associates Degree in Nursing (ADN) and/or Bachelors Degree in Nursing (BSN)
- Time to Complete: ADN 2-3 years, BSN 3-4 years
- Tasks: Create patient care plans, monitor patients, answer questions, assist with procedures, take vital signs, track patient progress, guide LPNs, and CNAs, and many more. An RN license is also required to pursue higher levels of nursing.
- Works In: Hospitals, clinics, healthcare facilities, and more
- Learn More: How to Become a Registered Nurse (RN)
Advanced Nursing Positions
Once you’re a registered nurse, there are other nursing programs you can take to improve your skills or get into a specialized field of nursing!
Nurse Practitioner (NP)
- Education Requirements: RN license + NP focused masters (MSN) or doctorate (DNP) program
- Time to Complete: 2 years
- Tasks: Nurse practitioners are a step above registered nurses. They have more knowledge and responsibilities and may work at higher levels. In some states, nurse practitioners may have their own clinics.
- Works In: Clinics, hospitals, offices, and other healthcare facilities.
- Learn More: How to Become a Nurse Practitioner
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)
- Education Requirements: RN license + MSN or DNP in nurse anesthesia
- Time to Complete: 2 years
- Task: Administer anesthesia and monitor the effects on patients
- Works In: Hospitals, surgery clinics, doctor’s offices, military, etc.
- Learn More: How to Become a CRNA
Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM)
- Education Requirements: RN license + MSN from accredited by the ACME
- Time to Complete: 2 years
- Task: Midwives provide care to women through their entire pregnancy and beyond.
- Works In: Hospitals, clinics, home services, etc.
- Learn More: How to Become a Midwife
There are several other specialized fields advanced practice nurses can go for. Most of these require a registered nurse license and either a master’s or doctorate degree.
Also, keep in mind that most of these positions require an RN with a bachelor’s degree, rather than just an associate’s degree.
Step 2: Get Into a Nursing Program and Earn Your Degree
Now that you know what type of nurse you want to become, the next step is to get into a program.
If you haven’t tried looking for a good nursing program yet, you might be overwhelmed with how many options you have.
Sure, finding a state-approved certified nurse assistant program isn’t going to be too difficult. But the real challenge is when you want to get your ADN or BSN, which nursing school should you go to?
Following these tips to find a good one!
Tips to Find a Good Nursing School
Accreditation – It’s VERY important to look for a school that is accredited and state-approved! While some states may allow you to get your license through a non-accredited school, there are numerous problems that you will run into later in your career (such as getting rejected for higher education, or non-eligibility for licensure exams).
NCLEX Passing Rate – In order to become an LPN or RN, you will have to take the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX. Passing the NCLEX is one of the biggest steps to beginning your nursing career. That’s why aside from accreditation, you’ll also want a nursing school that has a history of producing students that pass this exam.
Course Options – This should be obvious by now, but you’ll want a school that provides the right course for your desired nursing profession. If you want to become a registered nurse, you’ll need an ADN or BSN. But if you want to specialize in a particular field of nursing, you’ll have a hard time getting licensed with only an ADN!
Type of School – You’ll find nursing programs in universities, community colleges, and even some in rural areas. Additionally, there are some online nursing programs (such as CNA courses) you can go for.
Schedules – Not all nursing education requires you to study all day. There are some programs that allow nursing students to study only on some days of the week. Of course, these will take longer than the traditional 5 days a week of schooling but is a good option for busier people.
How to Get Into Nursing School
Now that you’ve found a good nursing program, the next question to ask yourself is…
How do you get in???
Nursing school is not for everyone. You can’t just walk in and sign up, there are requirements.
While the exact requirements differ from program to program, here are a few things you need to check out for any nursing school.
- High-school diploma or GED
- Minimum GPA of 2.75 (ADN) or 3.0 (BSN)
- SAT or TEAS test
Getting a nursing diploma doesn’t come in cheap! Courses can cost you thousands of dollars, that is why it is vital to have a way to finance your education.
Some of the best ways to pay for your school include:
- Student loans
Again, the application requirements differ from state to state. But here’s a basic rundown of what application requirements might look like:
- SAT or TEAS test scores
- Application letter
- Letters of recommendation
- Official transcript from high school or college
- Application interview
Most programs will have additional requirements for application.
Step 3: Complete the NCLEX Exam and Get Your License!
As mentioned earlier, the NCLEX is a HUGE step in getting into the nursing practice.
Unless you’re going for a CNA license, you absolutely HAVE to pass this exam to become a nurse.
So what is the NCLEX?
What can you do once you’ve passed?
And how do you qualify to take it?
Let’s find out!
What is the NCLEX Exam?
The NCLEX stands for National Council Licensure Examination. It is the national certification exam for anyone looking to obtain their nursing license!
There are two types of NCLEX exams, the NCLEX-PN and the NCLEX-RN.
The NCLEX-PN is a simpler version of the exam, used for people who want to obtain their LPN/LVN license.
Meanwhile, the NCLEX-RN is a lot more difficult. This is the standardized test for people who want to become registered nurses (RN).
To take the NCLEX, you must complete an accredited nursing school program. And if you pass, you may obtain your nursing license and begin your nursing career!
If you fail the NCLEX, don’t worry. You may take the exam again after 45 days.
Step 4: Get Employed!
Once you have your license, congratulations! You are officially a nurse!
Now it’s time to hit the ground running and get some work in!
The good news is that labor statistics show that the demand for nurses is continually growing, so finding a good job shouldn’t be difficult.
However, when you become a nurse, you’ll also find that there is healthy competition all around.
So if you’re having trouble getting employed, try these simple tips:
Tips to Find a Nursing Job
There are 2 EXTREMELY valuable things for an entry-level nurse to have. These are connections and experiences.
Here are some ways that you can get these!
Sign Up for Job Boards – Since the demand for nurses is high, sometimes all you have to do is sign up for a job board and wait. Of course, you probably won’t get your dream job this way, but whatever you get is going to be super valuable for the experience.
It’s a good idea to sign up for several job boards. This way, you will increase your chances of getting spotted by a potential employer.
Network – Here’s a little secret: networking is SUPER important in nursing. Just like in almost every other profession.
That’s why from the moment you step into nursing school, it’s a good idea to make connections as soon as possible.
Make the Most Out of Clinicals – While in a nursing program, you’re very likely to have some clinic experience. This is one of the best opportunities for you to gain valuable experience and network with the people around you.
Volunteer – There are plenty of opportunities for new nurses to volunteer. When you volunteer, you will also build your real-world experience, which can be super valuable for your resume.
And again, volunteering is a great opportunity for you to network!
Move To a Place With High Demand – Is your city too competitive right now? Why not move? There are so many places around the states that need a lot more nurses than they have.
You might also want to consider working in a rural area. It might not be the career you dreamt of, but it’s a super-valuable experience that you can take with you.
Once you land your first job, your career has just begun! Again, connections and experience are crucial for success. Plus, you could also take some accelerated nursing programs to further your career opportunities.
Step 5: Take CE Courses to Stay Sharp and Keep Your License
Taking continuing education (or CE) isn’t exactly part of “How to Become a Nurse.”
However, if you want to keep your license, you will have to take these courses. That’s why we’re throwing it in here as well.
The reason for this is that nursing licenses expire – whether you’re a certified nursing assistant or a clinical nurse specialist.
These courses help to keep you sharp, and also educate you on new developments. They’re the reason people who got their master’s degree years ago are still up to date with all the modern medical procedures of today.
Nursing CE Requirements
The exact requirements for nursing continuing education vary from state to state.
They’re also different from certified nursing assistants, licensed vocational nurses, registered nurses, and advanced practice registered nurses (such as certified nurse midwives).
Some states don’t require you to take continuing education, while others require at least 30 hours of CEUs (Continuing Education Units).
You may find a full list of requirements by state on our Nursing Continuing Education by State page!
Can I Take Nursing CE Online?
The good news is that most states allow you to take your CEUs online.
Taking nursing CE is going to be a lot easier compared to getting your nursing degrees.
Step 6: Upgrade Your License By Taking Higher Education
There’s nothing wrong with getting a job and staying there for the rest of your career. This is especially true if you’re paid well and are happy where you are.
However, if you’re like most people, you’ll want to continuously grow in your career and find new ways to help people.
If that’s the case, we have some great news for you!
Nursing is one of those careers that has an endless amount of room to improve!
If you have an associate degree, why not go for a bachelor’s degree with RN to BSN programs? There are several great transfer programs that you can go for.
BSN educated nurses can also decide to become an advanced practice nurse.
In healthcare settings, there is really no end to learning. You’ll always find another advanced degree that you can take to further your career.
Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Nurse
That’s all you need to know about how to become a nurse.
Still have a question?
Here are some of the most commonly asked questions by aspiring nurses!
How Much Do Registered Nurses Make?
The salary of a nurse varies greatly on your role and location. However, the average salary for an RN is $82,031 a year.
If you want to see how much the average salary is for other nursing specialties, check out this chart by nursing license map.
Is Nursing School Difficult?
Yes. Nursing schools are known to be one of the most difficult ones to pass.
As a nurse practitioner, you have a critical role in the lives of many people. That is why nurse educators often demand high GPAs, with good scores in biology, chemistry, psychology, and math.
What Do I Need to Become a Nurse?
The step by step of becoming a nurse includes:
- Passing the requirements to get into a nursing program
- Securing a way to finance your education
- Finishing an accredited nursing program
- Passing the NCLEX exam
- Securing work!
However, aside from that, you’ll also need a few personal skills as well, such as:
- Excellent communication skills
- Genuinely caring about your patients
- Strong attention to detail
- Problem-solving skills
These personal skills are the ones that will help you go far into your nursing career.
Are Nurses in Demand?
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, job openings for registered nurses are expected to grow 9% from 2020 to 2030.
They also reported that there are about 194,500 new jobs for nurses every year. And in some areas, there is a serious nursing shortage that needs to be addressed.
That’s why we say, you won’t have to worry about finding a job as a nurse!
Why Should I Become a Nurse?
Aside from many working opportunities and high compensation, being a nurse is one of the most fulfilling career options out there.
As a nurse, you will be making a HUGE difference. You will be the one really taking care of the patients, more than just administering medicines and treating their wounds.
You can also go down the family nurse practitioner route, and take care of whole families with all their needs.
Being a nurse is also an exciting job. Every day brings something new for a nurse. It certainly isn’t a boring office job where nothing ever changes!
All in all, there are so many reasons to become a nurse.
What Do Nurses Do?
As always, the exact role of a nurse depends on what type of nursing position they have.
But generally, nurses are responsible for communicating with doctors, caring for patients, taking vital signs, and administering medicines.
How Many Years Does it Take to Become a Nurse?
You can get an RN license in 2 years if you choose to get an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN). If you go for a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN), you’ll have to study for 4 years.
Additionally, if you decide to pursue additional training to get your nurse practitioner license or another nursing specialty, you’ll have to take a graduate nursing program, which usually takes another 2 years.
What’s the Best Nursing Job?
The best nursing job completely depends on what you want to do. That said, there are some positions that pay higher than others.
Some of the highest paying nursing positions include:
- Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) – $183,580/year average
- Nurse Educator – $183,500/year average
- Nurse Practitioner – $111,680/year average
- Certified Nurse-Midwives (CNM) – $111,130/year average
You might also like the prospect of becoming a travel nurse. Travel nurses work temporarily in areas where there is a high need for nurses.
Once their short-term work is done, they then travel to another location where there is a need for nurses.
And there you have it!
How to become a nurse in the simplest explanation possible.
By now, you should know everything you need to know to get started.
And, hopefully, aren’t scratching your head anymore wondering what all the terms and steps are to fulfilling your goal to become a nurse!
So whether you want to become a certified nurse assistant, or want to get a nursing specialty like critical care nursing or become a psychiatric nurse, you now know all the steps you need to take!
Still have questions?
Leave a comment down and below and let us help you achieve your goals!