Nursing is one of the most rewarding careers out there, but if you’re reading this, you probably already know that. You likely already have your reasons for delving into this line of work (if you haven’t already)—like wanting to be an absolute rockstar caretaker.
But, like most of life’s pursuits, you need to follow a specific path and put in the time and work to reach your goal. Becoming a nurse is no exception. We know you’re not in this just for the great-looking premium scrubs, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that getting to use comfortable “lounge” (sorry, “work”) wear on the job is a major perk.
In this article, we’ll explore what education you need to become a registered nurse, along with certifications and licensing. Read on for all the essential information you need about getting started on your path toward this ultra-rewarding career.
What are the steps to becoming a nurse?
Being a professional nurse is a three-step process: one part soul-searching, one part studying and one part test-taking. (Spoiler alert: you’re going to be great at all three.)
Choose your path
Having options is a good thing, right? We think so. Nursing is not just one career. It’s a variety of paths that include different and rewarding types of nursing. So, what are some different types of nurses? Check out the list below.
- Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA): Basic nursing tasks like taking vital signs, bathing and dressing patients and helping them move about
- Registered Nurse (RN): Administering medication, providing treatment, helping with testing and educating patients
- Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) and Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN): Collecting samples, changing wound dressings, monitoring signs and escalating concerns
- Surgical Assistant Registered Nurse: Providing pre- and post-surgery care and assisting surgeons during the procedure itself
- Home Care Registered Nurse: Providing at-home care like monitoring vital signs, setting up equipment, administering medications and changing bandages
- Emergency Room Registered Nurse: Triaging, monitoring progress, examining patients, logging patient histories and escalating concerns to doctors
- Labor and Delivery Nurse: Helping patients during labor and delivery, making plans for post-delivery care and performing certain tests on newborns
- Clinical Nurse Supervisor: Managing other nurses, their schedules and assignments
- Nurse Case Manager: Establishing and monitoring cost-effective care plans and offering alternatives if needed
- Critical Care Registered Nurse: Working directly with patients who have serious conditions and need special care
- Oncology Registered Nurse: Caring for cancer patients, monitoring their progress and administering medication
- Health Informatics Nurse Specialist: Training staff to use the appropriate hardware and software, and document information according to industry standards
- Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN): Providing treatment plans, scheduling tests and prescribing meds
- Clinical Nurse Specialist: Collaborating with social workers, doctors and pharmacists to improve patient care
- Nurse Practitioner (NP): Providing treatment plans, sending for testing and prescribing medications
- Nurse Educator: Developing curriculum and providing training with patient wellness in mind
Choose (and receive!) your degree
After you decide what kind of nursing you’d like to practice, your next question will likely be: how long does it take to become a nurse? The answer depends on the type of work you wish to do, as each career path comes with different educational requirements. The type of schooling you will need will also depend on this. For example, some roles (like a CNA) only require training, while most others require at least a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing. More advanced roles, like NPs, can only be practiced with a Master’s or Doctoral degree.
With that in mind, here is some handy information on the typical length of nursing programs to help you decide when considering how to become a professional in this healthcare field:
How long does it take to earn a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN)?
You can earn your Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing in approximately one year.
How long does it take to earn a Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN)?
The coursework needed to achieve your MSN usually takes around two to three years to complete.
How long does it take to earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)?
A DNP takes approximately two years to finish, plus 500-1,000 clinical hours.
What is the fastest way of becoming an RN?
Usually, the fastest way to become an RN is by getting an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN).
Obtain your license
Aside from getting the right education, what are the requirements to become a nurse? There are four main nursing certifications that you may want to consider obtaining, depending on the type of nursing career you plan to pursue:
- Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs)
- Registered Nurses (RNs)
- Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) or Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVNs)
- Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs)
Once you’ve completed your schooling, you can apply for a license in your state. First, you’ll likely need to research what your state requires specifically; at the very least, you’ll need to provide your university transcripts. Keep in mind, some states charge a fee to review your documentation.
After receiving your license, you’ll have to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). There are different NCLEX certifications (like NCLEX-RN) depending on the kind of nurse you would like to become.
Alternatively, if you plan to become a nurse practitioner, you’ll need to take an exam to become certified in the area of practice in which you’re looking to work.
And, finally, If you plan to become a CNA, you’ll need to take your state’s exam.
No matter the career path you ultimately decide on, there will likely be other state requirements like a language test, references and a background check. However, three core requisites remain the same across all paths: find your passion, study all about it and get the accreditation to be able to practice in your dream field.
And, so long as you’re following your dreams, we’ll be here to cheer you on, support your unique journey and keep you looking great at work!