How to Become a Registered Nurse

Registered nurses work closely with patients, handling numerous responsibilities, including recording vital signs, administering medications, ordering and analyzing diagnostic tests, and educating patients and family members. The career path for a registered nurse begins with earning the proper degree and license. The first step down that career path is homework and in-depth research into how to become a registered nurse.

Registered nursing program requirements/prerequisites

Becoming a registered nurse starts with earning a nursing degree or diploma from an accredited institution. Options include the bachelor of science in nursing, the associate degree in nursing, or a nursing diploma. Those who want to enter any of these programs must begin with a completed application, including an official high school transcript (and college transcript, assuming college credits have been earned), minimum test scores, and any other specific requirements for admission set forth by the school of their choice.

The minimum schooling for a registered nurse is the nursing diploma or the associate degree in nursing, which typically take two to three years to complete. Courses in anatomy, physiology, nutrition, psychology, microbiology, chemistry, and social and behavioral sciences are typical for any nursing program. The bachelor's degree program takes four years to complete and focuses on these core courses as well as those in leadership, communication, critical thinking and the physical and social sciences. All programs require supervised clinical work.

Necessary skills and qualifications for registered nurses

All states require registered nurses to be licensed. Licensing requirements include graduation from an accredited nursing program and a passing score on the National Council Licensure Examination, or the NCLEX-RN. After licensing, nurses can pursue certifications that enhance their knowledge and skill set, enabling them to work with particular groups of patients. Specific areas of certification include pediatrics, ambulatory care, pain management, mental health and cardiac-vascular nursing, among others.

No matter where they work, registered nurses might see situations or injuries that are disturbing; therefore, an emotional even keel and the ability to keep their feelings in check is crucial. At the same time, empathy and compassion for the patient and their family matters a great deal. Nurses must have excellent communication skills, decisive critical thinking and top-notch organizational abilities. Since patient outcomes can hinge on proper dosages, accurate measurements of vital signs and the proper recording of both, nurses must have exquisite attention to even the smallest details.

Registered nursing working environment

Employment growth for registered nurses is expected to be robust, with an increase of 19 percent from 2012 to 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov). Much of that growth will be driven by an aging population, better access to health care, the growth of outpatient care facilities, and the rise in chronic conditions.

Nurses must have the physical stamina to handle standing, walking and bending throughout their shift. They are at risk for back injuries, as they often move patients, and might be exposed to potentially harmful drugs and other substances, as well as the possibility of back injuries and aggressive patients.

Nurses usually work in comfortable, well-lit environments; in 2012, 61 percent were employed by hospitals. Home health and public health nurses often travel to schools, private homes, community centers and the like. Most nurses work full-time, and might work rotating shifts that include weekends, nights and holidays. Some nurses might also be on call. Those who work full-time in schools or offices of physicians will likely keep normal business hours.


American Nurses Credentialing Center, ANCC Certification Center, http://www.nursecredentialing.org/certification.aspx

Registered Nurses, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm#tab-1

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