How to Become a Nurse: 4 Steps

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Written by Kathleen Walder Content Writer, IntelyCare
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Reviewed by Alexa Davidson, MSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
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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 and the requirements to be a nurse. How long does it take to become an RN? How much do RNs make? We’ll answer those questions and more about 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), 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.

Steps to Become a Nurse

Step 1: Assess Your Readiness

Before discussing education for a nurse, let’s look at the characteristics and inherent skills you need if you’re considering becoming a nurse. To be a great nurse, you’ll need to embody integrity, advocacy, critical thinking, and more.

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.

You also have to fulfill physical requirements in order to become an RN. 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.

Step 2: Make a Plan

If you want to become a registered nurse, it’s also a good idea to think about specialties you might be interested in. Do you like working in high-energy settings? Do you enjoy interacting with children or newborns? Are you interested in pursuing advanced education?

Compare your interests to the types of nursing specialties available. You’ll find a range of specialties highlighted below:

  • Emergency Nurse: Work in urgent care or a hospital emergency department (ED) and treat patients with a range of illnesses.
  • Home Health Nurse: Go to patients’ homes to assist with daily living activities and provide medical treatment.
  • Cardiac Care Nurse: Take care of patients with heart disease, heart failure, or those recovering from cardiac surgery.
  • Labor and Delivery Nurse: In this role, you will care for mothers before, during, and after birth.
  • Travel Nurse: Enjoy the adventure of traveling to temporary nursing jobs in areas around the country with staffing needs.
  • Psychiatric Nurse: Help address mental health conditions in inpatient or outpatient settings.
  • Forensic NurseCollect biological evidence for criminal investigations for use in court proceedings.
  • Pediatric Nurse: Care for babies, toddlers, children, and teens in your choice from a range of healthcare settings.
  • Hospice Nurse: Provide end-of-life care to patients in the patient’s home, outpatient, or inpatient settings.
  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist: Administer anesthesia to patients in the operating room.
  • Nurse Practitioner: Use your advanced education to diagnose and treat chronic and acute health conditions, perform surgical procedures, and prescribe medicine.

This list of nurse occupations is just the beginning. Don’t worry if you can’t decide on a specialty yet. Your nursing degree program will provide you hands-on experience as you learn how to become a nurse, which can give you an idea of what route would be a good fit.

Step 3: Complete a Nursing Program

The completion of an approved nursing program is one of the most critical (and obvious) among the steps to becoming a nurse. But you have education options that can make the path to becoming a nurse more flexible. All nurses start by attending an accredited nursing school. There are a range of nursing programs and education levels to choose from, depending on your goals, which allow you to earn your degree and progress at different paces:

  • Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN): This program 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.
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN): Another option is to attend a four-year school and earn a traditional BSN degree. Nurses with BSN degrees can become RNs and work in leadership or administrative positions and pursue nursing specialties.
  • Master’s Degree in Nursing (MSN): Continue in school for an additional two years to earn a MSN and you’ll be eligible for advanced positions.
  • Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP): These nursing programs provide advanced training in clinical practice and leadership. They usually take an additional three to five years to complete.

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 simplify the steps to become a registered nurse with programs that take you from an ADN to a BSN in as little as three years.

Step 4: Get Licensed

No matter which degree program 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.

Once you’ve passed your test, you’ll need to refer to your state’s board of nursing requirements and apply for a license. Licensure requirements differ from state to state, but may require:

  • Completing a board-approved nursing program
  • Obtaining a passing score on the NCLEX exam
  • Undergoing federal and state background checks (state-dependent)

It’s important to refer to your state’s nursing board for up-to-date licensure information, as states can vary in process and requirements. If you live in a nursing compact state, you may also be eligible to pursue additional licenses in other states by obtaining a multi-state license.

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

Nursing Career FAQ

Now that you know what’s needed in order to pursue a nursing career, let’s take a look at some common questions surrounding the profession.

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. If you are pursuing an advanced practice degree, it will take even longer. 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 Does It Cost to Go to Nursing School?

While education isn’t cheap, the cost of nursing school varies greatly—from a few thousand dollars to upwards of six figures, depending on what degree you pursue and where and how you pursue it. For example, if you attend a community college, it’ll cost you much less than if you attend a private four-year college.

You can become a nurse without spending a lot of money on your education. Carve out some time to research the scholarships, grants, and financial aid programs that are at your disposal. It’s also worth noting that some employers offer tuition reimbursement. So if you’re a CNA working toward an LPN or RN license, certain employers may help pay for some or all of the tuition.

How Much Do Nurses Make?

Registered nurses in the United States make a median salary of $77,600 per year. Salaries vary 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.

Where Can Nurses Work?

Nurses work in hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, outpatient clinics, doctors’ offices, schools, and additional settings where healthcare is needed. Some nurses don’t have a home base — 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 Places 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 metropolitan areas have some of the highest levels of employment for nurses in the country:

If a high salary is your goal, you’ll be interested in the top paying states for registered nurses. Check out the following:

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

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.