How Do I Become a Registered Nurse?

Research what it takes to become a registered nurse. Learn about education and licensing requirements, salary and job growth to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Nursing degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Registered Nurse?

A registered nurse (RN) is a health care professional who treats patients and assists doctors, while working in a variety of settings. RNs administer medications, use medical equipment, collaborate with doctors, observe and record medical information for doctors, and work with patients and their families on health plans after leaving. The following chart provides an overview about becoming a registered nurse.

Degree Required Associate's degree, bachelor's degree or diploma from accredited nursing program
Education Field of Study Nursing
Licensure All states require registered nurses to be licensed
Key Responsibilities Monitor patients, measure and record vital signs and maintain patient records; administer medications and treatments ordered by doctors; operate medical equipment; perform diagnostic testing
Job Growth (2014-2024) 16%*
Median Salary (2015) $67,490*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Do Registered Nurses Do?

Registered nurses (RNs) help patients and their families deal with illness and injury. In this role, you might monitor and assess patients, assist with diagnostic tests and administer medications and treatments. Although most registered nurses work in hospitals, RNs also work with insurance companies, nursing homes, private physicians, attorneys and school districts. You might also assist in medical research or serve as an independent health care consultant.

What Degree Do I Need?

To begin your registered nursing career, you must complete an accredited nursing program at the diploma, associate or bachelor's level to qualify for the NCLEX-RN certification exam. If you select a diploma program, it offers you an intensive two-year curriculum that includes a core of courses in the sciences, as well as topical courses on nursing care. An associate's degree is similar in structure to the diploma program; however, it requires you to complete more credit hours in nursing and sciences. Although you may become an RN with just a diploma or an associate's degree, a bachelor's degree in nursing gives you the opportunity to develop more specialized skills, and prepares you for study in a master's program, if you later decide to become a nurse practitioner.

A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) may prepare you for study in a number of sought-after specialties, including pediatric nursing and surgical nursing. Most BSN programs at 4-year colleges and universities require you to complete prerequisite courses in math and science before you can apply to the nursing program. In the BSN program, you'll take more specialized courses in medical terminology, health care, information management and medical coding. RNs who advance to a master's degree usually have more opportunities to work in leadership, management and nursing education roles.

What License Do I Need?

All nurses must hold a professional license from the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. Accredited diploma, associate's and bachelor's nursing programs provide you with the knowledge and experience to apply for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). For additional testing and license requirements, you should check with your state licensing board.

What Is My Employment and Salary Outlook?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that job opportunities for registered nurses would grow by 16% between 2014 and 2024 (www.bls.gov). RNs holding bachelor's degrees should have the best prospects. As of May 2015, the median annual salary for RNs was $67,490.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Licensed practical or vocation nurses (LPNs and LVNs) also care for patients, but need only a certificate or diploma. Because of the lower educational requirements, LPNs and LVNs provide more basic patient care than RNs. EMTs and paramedics need to complete training programs in order to work saving lives during emergencies; paramedics sometimes need an associate's degree. Dental hygienists and sonographers also need associate's degrees. Hygienists clean and otherwise care for teeth. Sonographers create images, called ultrasounds, of the inside of a patient's body for diagnostic and other purposes.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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