How to Become A Registered Nurse

As a registered nurse, you would be joining the largest healthcare occupation, already accounting for 2.7 million jobs, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and projected to grow much faster than the average between 2010 and 2020. The following are some career specialties you may consider and their basic job descriptions:

  • Nurse practitioners provide nursing and healthcare services in a variety of areas.
  • Nurse-midwives monitor future moms and assist in labor and delivery.
  • Nurse anesthetists assist with anesthesia during surgery.
  • Critical care nurses care for patients with serious illnesses in intensive care hospital units.
  • Home healthcare nurses care for patients after discharge from hospitals.
  • Clinical nurse specialists care directly for patients in areas such as psychiatric-mental health.
    • As a registered nurse, you could specialize in the treatment of a particular ailment, such as diabetes, HIV/AIDS, or cancer; or a particular organ or body system, such as the heart, the skin, or the reproductive system. You could also provide preventive and acute care to a specific population, such as babies or the elderly; or treat military personnel or under-served communities worldwide. You could even assist with criminal investigations, become a medical writer or a public policy adviser.

      Nursing schools

      To become a registered nurse, you should possess a diploma, associate or bachelor’s degree from one of the approved registered nursing schools, as well as a registered nurse license. Advance practice nurses, including clinical nurse specialists, nurse anesthetists, nurse-midwives, and nurse practitioners, must have master’s degrees. It may take you two to three years to complete diploma or associate degrees and four years to finish a bachelor’s degree.

      If you already possess a bachelor’s degree in another field and are interested in becoming a registered nurse, schools often provide accelerated bachelor’s degree programs that can be completed in 12 to 18 months, or master’s degree programs that can be completed in about two years. It is important that you pass a national licensing examination, known as the National Council Licensure Examination or NCLEX-RN, in order to obtain a registered nurse license in the United States.

      Registered nurse: salary expectations

      For a registered nurse, salary depends on the level and the location of the job within the United States. In 2011, the BLS reports the following mean and top-paying annual wages for nursing careers:

      • U.S. average–$69,110
      • California (highest paying state)–$90,860
      • Vallejo-Fairfield, CA (highest paying metropolitan area)–$120,540
        • As a RN, your salary should increase as you advance in your career. You could start as a staff nurse in a hospital and become chief of nursing. You could also pursue a master’s degree and become an advance practice nurse. You may also have the option to move into the business side of healthcare, managing ambulatory, acute, home-based, or chronic care businesses, or marketing pharmaceutical or insurance company products or services. Teaching potential registered nurses or conducting research are two other career paths that you may also consider as a RN.

          Bureau of Labor Statistics, OOH, 2013, Registered Nurses:
          Bureau of Labor Statistics, OES, 2013, Registered Nurses:

          Program outcomes vary according to each institution’s specific curriculum, and employment opportunities are not guaranteed.