How to Become a Nurse

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Written by Kathleen Walder Content Writer, IntelyCare
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Reviewed by Alexa Davidson, MSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
Young African-American nurse in blue scrubs

If you’re looking for a career that enables you to make a difference in someone’s life every time you’re on the job, becoming a nurse might be the ideal choice. Whether you’re bedside with a patient, managing staff, or assisting in a life-saving procedure, your work impacts the lives of patients and their loved ones. If you’re considering a nursing career or would like to know more about how to become a nurse, read on to find out what a nurse does, what education you’ll need, how much you’ll make, and how to get started on your nursing career.

What Is a Nurse?

A nurse is a licensed healthcare professional who is trained primarily to provide and maintain care for people who become sick or injured. As a registered nurse (RN) or licensed practical nurse (LPN), you interact with patients by caring for their health needs, educating them about their health, and teaching them how to care for themselves.

What Does an RN Do?

If we could write down all the duties of a nurse, even over the course of one day, it would be a very long list. All nurses have some core skills they master when learning how to become a nurse, which they may use daily.

Typical nursing duties include:

  • Assessing patient conditions
  • Taking a patient’s medical history
  • Monitoring vital signs like heart rate and blood pressure, and documenting findings
  • Administering medication
  • Collaborating with a multidisciplinary team
  • Operating medical equipment
  • Notifying the medical team of changes in a patient’s condition
  • Performing sterile procedures
  • Placing IVs, catheters, and gastric tubes
  • Collecting labs and analyzing results
  • Assisting doctors with bedside procedures

Nursing duties also include completing administrative work related to patient care and assisting doctors by being the first line of information about patients.

People may want to learn how to become a registered nurse, or they may want to specialize in an area of nursing. For example:

  • Critical care nurses work in intensive care units.
  • Neonatal nurses work with newborns.
  • Cardiovascular nurses care for patients with heart conditions or who are undergoing heart surgery.
  • Certified registered nurse anesthetists administer anesthesia to patients in the operating room.
  • ER nurses work in emergency rooms and trauma centers.
  • Home health nurses care for patients in their homes.
  • Nurse practitioners with advanced education can diagnose and treat chronic and acute health conditions, perform surgical procedures, and prescribe medicine.

This list of nurse occupations is just the beginning. You can learn how to become a nurse in a variety of nurse specialties.

Where Can Nurses Work?

Nurses work in hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, outpatient clinics, doctor’s offices, schools, and many additional settings where healthcare is needed. Some nurses don’t have a homebase. These travel nurses work on a contract basis when and where there is an urgent staffing need, and stay in one location for 4 to 26 weeks before moving on to the next assignment.

What Are the Best Cities for Nurses?

Nurses are in demand all over the country, but some places employ more RNs than others. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the following are among the best cities for nurses, as these metropolitan areas have some of the highest levels of employment for nurses in the country:

For more insight on where nurses can work, take a look at all the RN jobs on IntelyCare right now.

What Are the Requirements to Become a Nurse?

Before discussing education for a nurse, let’s look at the characteristics and inherent skills you need if you’re considering becoming a nurse. Above all else, you must like people. If you enjoy being around others and find it easy to talk with strangers, a nursing career might be perfect for you. You also need to have empathy and a caring nature.

Nursing also has physical requirements. You must have stamina and be able to be active and alert for the duration of your shift, anywhere from 8 to 12 hours a day or more. Nursing is fast-paced, and there is rarely any idle time while you’re working.

Note that many states have continuing education requirements for nurses. Typically, you’re required to complete a certain number of contact hours every two years in order to maintain your license.

Background Education for a Nurse

The path to learning how to become a nurse is flexible, allowing you to earn your degree and progress at different paces. All nurses start by attending an accredited nursing school for up to four years. An associate degree in nursing (ADN) takes around two years to complete. With this degree, you can become an RN and work in hospitals, home healthcare, nursing care facilities, and doctor’s offices.

Another option is to attend a four-year school and earn a traditional bachelor of science degree in nursing (BSN). Nurses with BSN degrees can become RNs and work in leadership or administrative positions and pursue nursing specialties. Continue in school for an additional two years to earn a master’s degree in nursing (MSN), and you’ll be eligible for advanced positions.

Want to know how to become an RN fast? With accelerated and online programs, you can learn how to become a nurse after high school and earn your associate degree in as little as 18 months. Additionally, you can select a program that takes you from an ADN to a BSN in as little as three years.

No matter which degree you pursue, before you can work as a nurse, registered nurse requirements include a passing score on the NCLEX exam. The same goes for LPNs — there’s a similar NCLEX exam for them, which they must pass.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Nurse?

It can take anywhere from 18 months to 4 years to learn how to become a registered nurse. And it can take from 12 months to 2 years to become an LPN. It depends on how much time you can devote to your studies.

How Much Do Nurses Make?

The median registered nurse salary is $77,600 per year. Salary varies depending on the facility type, geographic location, and your level of experience. The salary range for RNs is less than $59,450 to more than $120,250. The median salary for an LPN is $48,070 per year, with a salary range of $37,150 to $63,790.

Make Nursing Fit Your Lifestyle

The type of facility where you work, your nursing credentials, and many other factors affect your work schedule, and schedules can change from week to week. Would you like to know more about how to become a nurse who enjoys greater work-life balance? IntelyCare can help. Take a look and start your application today.