How to Become an RN

How to Become an RNRegistered nurses (RNs) make up the majority of workers in our healthcare system, holding 2.6 million jobs. RNs collaborate with physicians in treating and examining patients, administering medication, and providing rehabilitation. They may also be involved in educating the public about medical conditions and promoting health. The specific duties of an RN vary depending on the work setting and patient population. RNs may specialize in specific health conditions (eg, diabetes management nurse), settings (eg, perioperative nurse), populations (eg, pediatric nurse) or organs/body systems (eg, cardiovascular nurse).

RN Education and Degree Requirements

Degree Types

There are many educational paths that you can pursue to become an RN. RN education degree requirements range from a diploma to a bachelor’s degree. Diploma programs are offered at hospitals and typically last three years. Associate’s degrees in nursing are offered at community colleges and take two to three years to complete. Bachelor’s degrees in nursing are offered at colleges and universities and take four years to complete.

Associate’s Degree vs. Bachelor’s Degree

Diploma programs and associate’s degree programs prepare graduates for entry-level nursing positions in hospitals and other healthcare settings. Many nurses with a diploma or associate’s degree later enter bachelor’s degree programs, so they can prepare to take on a broader range of roles. RNs with bachelor’s degrees are also qualified to work in community health promotion and disease prevention.

Curriculum Overview

All nursing education programs combine classroom instruction with supervised clinical experience. Courses that nursing students may be required to take include anatomy, physiology, microbiology, chemistry, nutrition, and psychology. Nursing students may also be required to take courses in liberal arts subjects. Students gain clinical experience in nursing homes, public health departments, and hospital departments.


Graduates of nursing education programs must pass a national licensing examination called the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) to obtain a nursing license. Further requirements for licensing vary by state.

Career Outlook for Becoming an RN

Work Environment

Around 60% of RNs work in hospitals, but many nurses also work in nursing homes, schools, offices, and community centers. Patients in hospitals and nursing homes require care around the clock, which means nurses often have to work nights, weekends, and holidays.


Tasks that a RN may be responsible for on any given day include:

  • Taking a patient’s medical history and symptoms
  • Assisting physicians during surgery or treatment
  • Establishing a care plan or contributing to an existing care plan
  • Explaining home care procedures
  • Providing emotional support to family members
  • Performing diagnostic tests and analyzing results
  • Operating medical machinery
  • Helping with patient follow-up

Employment Projections and Salary

Registered nursing is a fast-growing career field, so RN career prospects are projected to be excellent. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of RNs is expected to grow at a rate of 26% from 2010 to 2020. The highest growth rate for RN jobs will be in doctor’s offices and home healthcare services. Employment growth at hospitals will be slower. Opportunities will be the best for nurses with advanced education and training. The median annual wage for RNs and advanced practice nurses was $65,950 in 2011.

Beginning a Career in Nursing

Nurses work to promote health, prevent disease, and provide the best possible care for patients. If you are a caring, responsible, and detail-oriented person who is capable of directing or supervising others, a career in nursing may be right for you. Learn more about becoming a nurse today to establish a lasting career in this challenging and rewarding field.

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