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How to Become a Registered Nurse

Alternative Career Titles:

RN, Nurse, BSN

Registered Nurse Job Description: A Registered Nurse cares for and supports patients with various health conditions

Registered Nurse Salary (Annual): $73,300

Registered Nurse Salary Range: $52,080 to $111,220

How Long To Become a Registered Nurse: 4 years

Registered Nurse Requirements: Associate’s Degree RN or Bachelor’s Degree BSN

How to Become a Registered Nurse

Become a Registered Nurse

Career Description

A Registered Nurse (RN) is a healthcare professional responsible for providing holistic patient care which includes providing patient education and emotional support. RNs assess patients, record vital signs and symptoms, develop treatment plans, assess injuries and illnesses and consult with other healthcare professionals. Furthermore, Registered Nurses use their knowledge to teach patients how to manage various acute and chronic conditions and use at-home treatments.

“A career in nursing is certainly a very rewarding,” Lindsey Brust, RN, a Registered Nurse practicing in Pennsylvania said. “Most days are tough and the work never ends. As Registered Nurses, we are there to witness miracles in life and death. We build emotional connections with patients, families and co-workers.” Nurses usually state their first priority is to reduce patient’s pain.

Brust added that, to “have a patient take your hand at the end of a long, hard shift, and look you in the eye and thank you,” are the moments most RNs work for. To make a difference in the lives of others simply by providing compassionate care, or to watch a previously ill patient walk out of the hospital on the road to recovery are all examples of the rewards of becoming a Nurse. Learn about other careers in healthcare.

Holding a patient’s “hand when they are happy, sad or just need comfort,” Brust explains, “we don’t just work for ourselves, we really work for others.”

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Education & Training

To become a Registered Nurse, learners must enroll in and complete either an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ASN or ADN) or a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing (BSN) During these educational programs, learners will receive instruction in anatomy, physiology, nutrition, psychology, microbiology and other science-intensive areas of study. Either degree will enable a Nurse to provide the same level of patient care, but the Bachelor’s-prepared individual receives additional training in other subjects such as leadership studies, community health and research. The BSN’s added educational course work has been linked to better patient outcomes and lower mortality / failure to rescue rates, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN).

Lastly, RNs must become licensed in the state which they choose to practice in by passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). This is a very challenging exam which takes a great deal of time to prepare and practice for.

Some hospitals and in particular Magnet Hospitals, will only hire RNs with a BSN qualification. Other hospitals will accept ADN prepared nurses providing the nurses complete a BSN within a specified period of time. Still other hospitals and nursing homes will hire ADNs. Learn how to enter other careers in nursing, such as that of a Certified Nursing Assistant and a Licensed Practical Nurse.

Brust added that obtaining a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Nursing is not easy, as classes are hard and there are many requirements to meet to successfully graduate from the program. For example, Brust explained that in her program, learners had to pass all classes with a 78 percent average or above and complete clinical hours without missing any days.

“Obtaining my Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing took me four years to complete my degree,” Brust, who attended Widener University, said. “The most common challenge in nursing school is trying to stay focused which meant sometimes missing out on the fun times. Throughout nursing school there are typically at least two exams per week, sometimes three, meaning you have to study all week and weekend.”


To advance in a career as a Registered Nurse, many nurses decide to study and become experts in one particular field of Nursing such as Medical Surgical Nursing, Pediatrics, Gerontology, Cardiovascular Nursing, Critical Care Nursing, and Emergency Medicine Nursing to name but a few. Many sub-specialties of Nursing have national certification programs which require passing an exam in the specialty and having appropriate clinical experience. Ongoing education is required to maintain certification in the specialty field.

The next step in a nursing career pathway is to study for a master’s degree in a particular specialty for example, pediatrics or gerontology. Many masters degrees in Nursing qualify learners to become Nurse Practitioners.

“There are multiple ways for and RN to advance their career,” Brust explained. “RNs can go back to school to become a Nurse Practitioner by obtaining their Masters in the Science of Nursing or a Physician Assistant by completing a 2-year master’s physician assistant program.

She further explained that Registered Nurses also have the ability to make their way into management to become supervisors or managers. Other options include becoming a Nurse Education Expert or Health Educator. All these careers can add earning potential.

Experience & Skills

To become a successful Registered Nurse, professionals must possess critical-thinking skills which allow them to assess patient conditions and determine effective solutions. They should also be organized and have strong communication skills. As an RN, multitasking is common, so maintaining clear communication with patients and other staff members is integral.

“In most cases experience isn’t necessary when going into nursing, but some would argue that professionals should have some hospital experience whether as a Patient Care Tech, Emergency Medical Technician or as a Patient Transporter. I would agree that having hospital experience makes the transition into nursing easier, but it is not necessary.”

Brust noted that many Registered Nurses also receive on-site training upon being hired, and co-workers are dependable resources. Healthcare Simulation technology and small class debriefing sessions continue to become an increasing part of a Nurse’s initial education and ongoing training. As far as other skills, Brust believes RNs should be able to remain respectful and honest with patients. To achieve this, she said Registered Nurses need to be able to get along with “just about any type of person.”


Registered Nurses should be kind, caring and compassionate healthcare professionals who want to help their patients improve health conditions. Due to the emotional demands of this occupation, RNs need to be able to maintain emotional stability–even in stressful or upsetting situations.

“Nurses are known for their loud, fun, addictive personalities,” Brust added. “You certainly cannot be shy to be a nurse! Being fun, outgoing, caring, compassionate and strong is really important in this career.”

As many of the facilities employing Registered Nurses offer 24/7 care, nursing shifts can vary greatly. Some RNs may work morning shifts, while others work nights, evenings or weekends. Registered Nurses can also be placed “on call,” meaning they need to be available in case of emergency. While shifts can last upward to 12, many RNs who work long hours only work three or four days per week.

“The lifestyle of a nurse can really change from day to day, position to position, and even from hour to hour,” Brust explained. “Most hospitals run on a “three- twelves” schedule, meaning Nurses work three 12-hour days a week. Those days can be three in a row, they can be every-other day, they can be two on, one off, one on, it just depends on the scheduling and it is different for every facility.”

Brust also noted that a typical day at work as a Registered Nurse involves getting to the floor and receiving a report from the RN who worked the previous shift, complete rounds, checking charts, reviewing orders and receiving telemetry strips. Then, a Registered Nurse will deliver their first round of medications for that shift.

“After all patients are seen, if the Registered Nurse has time, they will sit down to document on all the patients, including their assessment and any other interventions required by the hospital,” Brust explained. “They will also write a note on anything abnormal that was seen or that has happened during the shift. The rest of the shift can consist of a variety of different tasks depending on what the patient is in for.”


Now is a great time to begin a career as a Registered Nurse! Employment in this healthcare career is projected to increase 15 percent over the next 12 years, a rate much faster than the average for all occupations. This growth can largely be attributed to an aging population who will require increased health services, patient education needs and greater long-term care and home health needs. The state with the highest level of employment of Registered Nurses is California, followed by Texas, New York, Florida and Pennsylvania.

“Most hospitals are constantly hiring, so really I would advise someone to look at the website of their hospital of interest. There is a good chance there are open positions,” or will be soon Brust said. “The nice thing about the profession is that Registered Nurses are always in need, and there are plenty of opportunities out there!”


Employment as a Registered Nurse can be a very lucrative career! While the median annual salary for a professional in this occupation is $73,300, the highest 10 percent of earners made more than $111,220 annually. Alternatively, the lowest earning 10 percent reportedly made less than $52,080. The highest paying employer of Registered Nurses is the government, followed by hospitals, ambulatory healthcare services, nursing and residential care facilities and educational services. The top paying states for this occupation are California, Hawaii, District of Columbia, Massachusetts and Oregon.

“Earnings are very good in the medical field and Registered Nurses are paid very well,” Brust said. “From what older RNs have told me, continued education also really benefits a professional if they want to continue to increase their salary.”

Unions, Groups, Social Media, and Associations

The American Nurses Association (ANA) is an organization dedicated to helping Nurses advance the profession and improve health outcomes for all. In achieving this goal, the ANA provides webinars, resources, journals and support relating to the nursing profession.

The American Society of Registered Nurses (ASRN) is an organization designed to bring together professional nurses interested in creating a nursing “society.” In doing so, the ASRN brings together nurses to offer support, resources, education and distinction.

The National League for Nursing (NLN), is an organization that serves Nurse Educators, offers professional development, teaching resources, research grants, testing services and public policy initiatives to members.

Getting Started

  • Volunteer at a hospital or outpatient center
  • Apply to nursing school
  • While in school, be sure to take clinical rotations that interest you
  • Learn as much as you can to determine what type of floor you would eventually like to work on
  • Find a mentor

All statistics are provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Registered Nurse Lindsey BrustMeet the professional: Lindsey Brust, RN

Age: 24
Practice: Wayne UNC in their Emergency Room
Location: Goldsboro, NC

What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?

If you want to become a Registered Nurse, pursue the career because you want to help. Do the work because you have a passion for helping others or because you want to make a difference. Going into nursing for the money is not a reason to become a Registered Nurse, and this will show in the person’s practice when they enter the field for the wrong reasons. I personally had a friend who entered into the field because he knew he would make a lot of money. Needless to say he didn’t do well, he wasn’t happy and the hospital wasn’t happy with him and his performance. He has changed career paths less than a year and a half into his nursing career. Nursing isn’t an easy role; sometimes the career is a thankless one, but there are moments, shifts, and times that make it all worth the while. For me, anytime I walk off the floor and I know I’ve left my patient better than I received them–that’s a good day for me.”

What’s the number one mistake people make when trying to get into this career?

“One of the biggest mistakes people make when trying to get into this career is not taking coursework seriously in high school. Nursing school is very competitive. Most Boards take into consideration not only your GPA, but also any courses you have taken to prepare yourself for nursing school such as advanced chemistry or anatomy.”

What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?

A question people should ask but rarely do is about responsibility at the end of the day. Unlike most occupations, when your shift is over you are not necessarily done. Any unfinished duties, documentation, etc is expected to be done by that Registered Nurse before they leave the hospital after their shift. This means that a 12-hour shift can turn into a 14, 15 or 16-hour shift depending on the situation. For example, if your shift ends at 7 pm, and your patient codes at 6:59 pm, you are expected to stay with that patient until the code ends, documentation is completed and the patient is stabilized. Codes can last anywhere from 10 minutes to two hours and the documentation following the code can take up to 30 minutes to complete. Anyone entering this field should know the importance of the meaning of ‘responsibility’ and what it means to their career.”

Why did you choose to become a Registered Nurse?

I get asked this question a lot, and honestly I don’t really know how to answer.. I’ve always wanted to be a Registered Nurse ever since I can remember. I never wanted to be what every typical kid wants to be: a Veterinarian, a police officer or an astronaut. I’ve only ever wanted to be a Registered Nurse. As a kid I spent a lot of time in the emergency room myself. Between broken bones and stitches, I was always there. My aunt is also an Emergency Nurse Practitioner, so whenever I was hurt she would fix me. I always looked up to her and always wanted to be like her. I like to help people and I am a people person and love to interact. So, I took the leap and went into nursing.”

If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?


Credentialing organizations: National Council of State Boards of Nursing

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