How to Become a Nurse

Aspiring nurses can choose from several educational options depending on the nursing career paths they are want to take.

Every state, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories have a board of nursing that establishes requirements for initial licensure and retaining basic education, continuing education and/or competency of a registered nurse. If you want to become a registered nurse, you can take one of these three available educational paths: a diploma in nursing, an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN), or a bachelor’s of science degree in nursing (BSN).

Diploma in Nursing

A diploma in nursing is usually awarded by hospital-based nursing schools, and is an entry-level tertiary education nursing credential. These types of programs are usually 18 to 32 months in length and include both classroom and clinical experiences. Some programs may require students to complete non-nursing prerequisite courses at another school prior to admission. Graduates of nursing diploma programs are eligible to sit for the NCLEX-RN; once they pass this examination and fulfill any other licensure requirements established by the state where they intend to practice, nurses are rewarded with their RN license.

Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN)

An associate degree program can take between 2 and 3 years to complete, and are offered by many community colleges and nursing schools. This type of nursing degree program is ideal for those who want to begin their career quickly, and do not plan on pursuing advanced nursing career paths such as in the administrative, research or teaching levels.

Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing (BSN)

4-year bachelor degree programs in nursing are offered by colleges and universities. These programs prepare students for the full scope of the professional nursing practice across various healthcare settings. In the first 2 years of these programs, students will be concentrating on liberal arts, psychology, human growth and development, biology, microbiology, organic chemistry, nutrition, and anatomy and physiology. The final two years will have them focusing on adult acute and chronic disease, maternal/child health, pediatrics, psychiatric/mental health, and community health nursing. Courses will also touch on nursing theory, physical and behavioral sciences, and humanities, as well as communication, critical thinking, research and leadership. Students will also be required to undergo supervised clinical experience.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a bachelor’s degree or higher is usually required for administrative positions, research, consulting and teaching. In addition, while licensed graduates of any of these levels of nursing education programs qualify for entry-level positions, most employers prefer candidates with a bachelor’s degree.

Upon graduating from any approved nursing program, nurses must pass the National Council Licensure Examination or the NCLEX-RN to become licensed. Each state has varying licensing requirements so it is best to check your state’s board of nursing for these details.

Important Qualities and Skills for Nurses

Communication skills. It is very important for a nurse to have language and listening skills which will enable them to effectively communicate with doctors, patients and other co-workers. Patients usually tell nurses important details about their condition and their needs, and nurses have to be able to assess their health conditions and communicate these with doctors. It is also sometimes part of the registered nurse job description to explain to patients how to take their medication or to give other relevant instructions to patients.
Compassion. Since registered nurses spend the most time interacting with patients of all ages and backgrounds, they must be caring and sympathetic, especially when dealing with the patient’s problems and fears. Nurses must be able to gain their patients’ confidence and put them at ease.

Observational and critical thinking skills. Nurses must be constantly alert to any changes in their patients’ conditions, and assess these changes, including when to take action or make referrals.

Organizational skills. Because nurses often work with multiple patients with various conditions at once, it is important for them to be organized and have the ability to determine who or what needs their attention the most and working efficiently. This ensures that patients receive the best possible care at all times.

Detail oriented. It is the registered nurse’s job to record a patient’s medical history accurately, and provide accurate treatments and medicines. They should be responsible and ensure accuracy at all times.

Emotional stability. A registered nurse’s job can be quite stressful as they deal with human suffering and emergency situations almost every day. For this reason, nurses must be able to cope emotionally, while still being able to provide patients and their families with the care and support they need.

Physical stamina. Registered nurses often spend their days on their feet, walking and standing, as well as lifting and moving patients. They must be able to handle the physical rigors of the job.