How to Become a Nurse in 5 Steps

Find out about the types of jobs you could pursue in nursing. Read on to learn more about career options along with education requirements and licensure information. Schools offering Nursing degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Nurse Do?

Licensed practical nurses (LPN) and registered nurses (RN) are medical professionals who provide comprehensive medical treatment and education for patients and the general public. LPNs provide basic medical care, such as replacing bandaging and taking a patient's blood pressure, under the supervision of RNs or physicians. Registered nurses may also do some of these tasks, though they're also authorized to provide medication, run more advanced diagnostic tests and work more closely with a medical team.

The following chart gives you an overview about these two nursing careers.

Licensed Practical NurseRegistered Nurse
Degree Required Diploma or certificate Diploma, associate's degree or bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Practical nursing Nursing
Key Responsibilities Observe patients and report status; take vital signs; attend to patient comfort; maintain patient records Administer medications; set up and monitor medical equipment; assist doctors with examinations and diagnostic testing; maintain patient records
Licensure and/or Certification LPN licensure is required; professional certification is available RN licensure is required; board certification in nursing specialties is available
Job Growth (2014-2024) 16%* 16%*
Median Salary (2015) $43,170* $67,490*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is a Nurse?

Some important characteristics of nurses include intelligence, a caring nature and an ability to think analytically. Nursing professionals sometimes sponsor community and hospital events in an effort to encourage healthy living and good lifestyle choices. They often work in one particular area of a hospital, like surgery or pediatrics, but nurses can also be generalists and work in many areas.

Step 1: Research the Career Duties and Responsibilities of a Nurse

In your role as a nurse, you'll work directly with patients and keep detailed records of their conditions and symptoms. Depending on your acquired level of education and skill, you'll have varying duties. As a licensed practical nurse, you'll perform such tasks as monitoring patients' vital signs, inserting catheters and giving injections and alcohol rubs. If you become an registered nurse, you might develop patient treatment plans, administer medications through intravenous (IV) lines, run diagnostic examinations and organize blood drives.

Step 2: Apply to Nursing Schools

LPN programs are generally a 1-year diploma or certificate program offered at a community college. You can become a registered nurse in one of three ways: by acquiring a 4-year bachelor's degree in nursing at a university, obtaining an associate's degree in nursing at a 2-year community college, or enrolling in a 3-year nursing diploma program at a hospital. Typically, these programs will consist of clinical and classroom instruction.

Your nursing program will include classes in nutrition, psychology, chemistry, anatomy and microbiology, along with specialized courses geared toward your areas of interest. They're composed of courses on human development, physiology and pharmacology.

Step 3: Decide on a Specialty

Consider which nursing program will best meet your needs. The nursing profession has many specialties from which you can choose. For instance, if you acquire an RN license, you can become an infection control nurse, a forensics nurse or a nurse informaticist, to name just a few. Your duties as an infection control nurse would involve controlling the spread of contagious outbreaks in medical facilities. As a forensics nurse, you can investigate cases of abuse and help treat victims of violence. If you wish to work as a nurse informaticist, you'll be in charge of dispersing nursing information for the benefit of patients, the public and members of the health care community.

Step 4: Take Licensing Examinations

After you complete a nursing program, you can take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN), offered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (www.ncsbn.org). The test is conclusive and will cover everything you've learned in your RN program. Alternatively, if you'd like to become a licensed practical nurse, you'll be required to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN) for the LPN designation. Other licensing requirements may exist, so check with the nursing board in your state. You should also be prepared to take classes periodically to renew your license and to stay informed of technological achievements in the medical field.

Step 5: Advance Your Career

If you've already become a licensed practical nurse, and you'd like to increase your salary and responsibilities, consider training to become a registered nurse. You can accomplish this by enrolling in an LPN-to-RN program. Or, if you have acquired an RN license and built some experience, your next step could be obtaining an advanced graduate-level nursing degree. This would allow you to begin taking on managerial roles ranging from assistant unit manager to the chief of nursing.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you want to work in the medical field, but don't think nursing is for you, you might want to consider becoming an EMT, physical therapy assistant or surgical technologist. To qualify as an EMT, you usually only need to complete a semester or two of specific emergency medical training. Surgical technologists help doctors and nurses in the operating room and generally need to complete a 1- or 2-year surgical technology program. Physical therapy assistants need to earn an associate's degree in the field in order to work with patients under a physical therapist's supervision. Like the nursing careers, these three occupations also require some sort of certification or state licensure.

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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