How to Become a Nurse: The Backbone of Medicine

Nurses are responsible for the lion’s share of patient contact and patient care in hospital settings, a critical role that daily receives more recognition in the healthcare field. Registered Nurses (RNs) treat and educate patients, advise and support patients’ families, record patient data, administer medication and treatment, perform and analyze diagnostic tests, and aid in rehabilitation and follow-up. Typical educational paths to becoming a nurse range from vocational certification to bachelor’s training, but advanced work and specialization can offer nurses increased independence and pay with the help of further study at the master’s and doctoral level.

Nurse Education Degree Requirements

Different educational paths into nursing offer distinct advantages and drawbacks to the potential future nurse. Whichever you choose, you will emerge with proper certifications and the knowledge to compete for an entry-level position as a staff nurse. That means studying anatomy and physiology, psychology, behavioral science, chemistry, nutrition, and also gaining supervised clinical experience in hospitals and other care settings.

A Bachelor of Science in nursing (BSN) requires the greatest time commitment, generally four years. An associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) at a career college will take two or three years to complete, and like BSN programs, will also offer candidates additional communications and liberal arts training. Also available are diploma programs offered through hospitals, which although formally the mainstream method of training to become an RN, are harder to find today, but tend to emphasize training in the workplace more heavily, which may be attractive to candidates who want to spend less time stuck in a classroom.

In addition to becoming an RN, there is also the potential to become a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) for those who would like to enter the workforce quickly. LPNs work under the direction of RNs and physicians to provide basic bedside care, and generally, only a year-long program is required for certification.

You will need to be careful to choose the educational route that best suits your needs. BSN holders have better prospects for advancement, and particularly, if they wish to move into administration, teaching or research. However, ADN and diploma holders are often able to convert their early entry into staff nursing positions into tuition benefits in RN-to-BSN programs or through accelerated master’s programs, which result in both a BSN and an MSN, and typically take three to four years.

Programs are also available for career changers who already hold a bachelor’s degree to complete an accelerated BSN or MSN to enter the nursing field. Upon completing an approved program, future nurses must pass the National Council Licensure Examination. Other eligibility requirements for licensure vary by state. A host of additional credentials, usually voluntary, are also available for nurses in a variety of specialties.

Becoming a Nurse: Career Outlook

Demand for nurses continues to grow, with a projected growth rate of 22% between 2008 and 2018. Of this 22%, there is an anticipated 17% increase in positions in hospitals, up to 48% for nurses in physician offices, and 33% for home health care services. Wages for an RN vary by employment setting, but in 2008, the median annual salary was $ $62,450, with the highest 10% having earned $92,240.

The financial rewards of nursing are also reflected in the strenuous demands made upon nurses. Hospital nurses often have to work nights, weekend, and holidays to ensure continuity of care. Specialized nurses may also have to be on-call around the clock. Nurses also work in environments, which may expose them both to infectious disease and high levels of psychological strain. Finally, nursing is a physically demanding job, and nurses spend much of their workday on their feet. Nurses can also find employment with fewer demands or on a part-time basis through schools or home care.

Beyond staff nursing, the nursing field offers a variety of opportunities for advancement, whether in management or administration from assistant unit manager to chief of nursing or as an advanced practice nurse, with a master’s degree and additional certification. Advanced practice nurses fall into four categories:

    • Clinical nurse specialists, who provide direct care and consultation within a nursing specialty
    • Nurse anesthetists, who provide anesthesia care before, during, and after procedures, and provide emergency services including pain and airway management

Nurse-midwives, who provide reproductive care to women ranging from gynecological exams to delivery and neonatal care

Nurse practitioners, who provide primary care in a role similar to that of a family physician and are given the authority to write prescriptions.

With demand for nurses surging, becoming a nurse offers not only a competitive salary for a challenging and rewarding job, but great job flexibility and portability. Getting started on your path to healing begins with an education. Learn more about how to become a nurse, by exploring nursing programs on our site today.