How to Become an RN: Programs, Salary & Career

What registered nurses do?

If you’ve ever been in a hospital or in any type of healthcare facility, you’ve probably seen and met some nurses there. The ones dressed in scrubs of different color, often walking around or taking notes, records or carrying medication, are registered nurses. Even though they’re not doctors or physicians, they do perform some major duties that are very much important for patients. They cover many of the medical and the administrative roles, take care of patients and educate them about their health conditions. Registered nurses not only cover medical roles, but their duty of offering personal support is of great importance for the patients and their families as well.

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nursing-iconTheir duties consist of :

  • Keeping medical records
  • Administering medication
  • Monitoring patients and their vital signs
  • Setting up plans for patients’ care
  • Consulting with other members of healthcare teams
  • Helping in performance of diagnostic tests
  • Analyzing test results
  • Educating patients
  • Advising the patients about treatments at home

Duties and tasks a registered nurse performs often varies according to the type of patients they work with and the place in which they work. There are different types of nurses, such as :

Neonatology nurses who work with newborn infants that are born with birth defects, infections, surgical problems or prematurity. Neonatal nursing often consists of taking care of the newly born infant during a short period of time, but sometimes can last up to 2 years of taking care of a particular baby.

Intensive and critical care nurses working with critically ill or at risk of deadly illnesses. They work in various healthcare facilities and units such as intensive care unit, trauma unit or coronary care unit. ICU nurses use their extended knowledge to maintain life-support systems of critically ill or dying patients.

Addiction nurses, sometimes called substance abuse nurses keep records and treat patients who are addicted to drugs, alcohol or other substances. Because most of addictions cover both physical and mental addiction, these nurses are trained in both medical field and are trained to emotionally support patients, often performing duties concerning mental health of a patient.

Pediatric nurses assist pediatricians in maintaining medical records of children. This means they keep record of their patient’s height, weight and development. Some of them are responsible for vaccinations and immunizations. They deal with every day injuries or colds, often making final diagnosis of illnesses and injuries.

Aside with the mentioned fields of medicine a registered nurse can work in, there are many other varieties and specialties they can work in and their professions is very diverse. Ranging from working with deadly injured, ill, addicted, old or young patients, registered nursing is one job everyone can find attractive and long-lasting. If you decide to become a registered nurse, first thing you should consider is what kind of nursing do you want to do. After you pick your most interesting nursing profession, you can start building your career as a registered nurse. Completing one of three programs which are offered to finish in order to become RN, brings you into the world of a different side of healthcare professions. Having Master’s, Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree in nursing opens the door to great job opportunities, salaries and irreplaceable work experience. After graduation, students sign-up for examination through  National Council of State Boards of Nursing. After that, they must successfully pass NCLEX-RN (National Council Licensure Examination) exam. So, by either obtaining a nursing diploma or a degree, you will be able to start working as a registered nurse.

Work environment

Depending on the exact field of medicine they work in, registered nurses can be found working in hospitals, physician’s offices, emergency rooms, rehabilitation centers and in many other healthcare facilities. They work in shifts or with no permanent time frame. They’re often required to work overtime, during weekends or in emergency hours, which means their work hours are very unpredictable. Registered nurses most of their time spend on foot, walking, bending and standing. They are obligated to follow strict guidelines and procedures, because they sometimes work with patients who suffer from infectious diseases. In some cases, they may work with hazardous materials and drugs. Registered nurses that work in healthcare facilities that work around the clock, cover 24 hours of work hours, often in shifts, while others that work in nursing homes or schools, work regular business hours.

The most often injuries are related to back pain due to the nature of their work. Long hours of constant walking, transporting tools and maintaining equipment cause back injuries. Also, the danger of getting exposed to radiation or infections may seriously harm nurses’ health.

Responsibilities of a registered nurse also include:

  • Observing a patient’s behavior and the effects of given treatments
  • Diagnosing the disease or infection by analyzing and recognizing symptoms
  • Maintaining patient’s medical history
  • Providing and carrying out medication
  • Keeping records on inventory and supplying it with required medication
  • Providing care in emergency situations
  • Educating nursing assistants and licensed practical nurses
  • Providing emotional support to patients and members of their families when needed
  • Cooperating with doctors and physicians in coordination of health treatment plans of patients

Other duties they are expected to perform are:

  • Maintaining environment of patients rooms, keeping everything clean and sanitary
  • Preparing beds and rooms by decontaminating equipment
  • Preparing patients for examinations
  • Recommending medication or other treatments to patients, such as physical therapy, rehabilitation options or inhalation treatments
  • Assisting doctors and surgeons during surgical procedures

If you’re looking to become a registered nurse, you may prepare yourself for long working hours and busy weekends and holidays as well. You will be expected to always perform your duties in high quality manner and to be both physically and emotionally stable. Your ability to perform and do your work will influence your earned experience and even your salary. Through hard work, you can progress in this occupation and continue to improve your qualities and job curriculum.

How to become a registered nurse?

First of all, as a perfect candidate, you must possess some important skills and abilities in order to pass strict procedures of enrolling in any program or licensing exam. As an aspiring student, you will be required to hold or improve some qualities that are needed in this occupation.

Skills and qualities

Some of the most important skills and qualities include:

  • Communication skills – a registered nurse-to-be must possess good communication skills. They are required to communicate properly and effectively with patients. RN’s need to be able to thoroughly explain certain procedures to patients, such as information regarding surgeries, medication and therapies. In addition, they must possess great teamwork skills in order to perform their duties perfectly with other members of health care team.
  • Empathy – Compassion plays a vital role in some fields of medical profession. Patients that are in intensive care units often require emotional support during their treatments. Some cases of treating patients may influence nurses’ emotional stability, so a good registered nurse must learn how to control emotions and provide support when needed.
  • Organizational skills – Registered nurses often work with a great number of patients which means they are required to maintain organization with lots of different medical records, medication and treatment details. It is of great importance that a registered nurse is able to perform simultaneously many different duties at once.
  • Great physical stamina – due to often moving, walking and bending, registered nurse must have good physical health. Endurance is required for performing tasks that demand physical strength and stamina.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Registered Nurse?

It is commonly known and widely accepted that healthcare and medicine are indisputably one of the most important areas of human activity overall. Since healthcare workers help us maintain our general body as well as mental health, it is easy to conclude why this area is so essential.

When it comes to the area of healthcare and the working occupations related to it, first ones that come to minds of the majority of people are a doctor, and of course, a registered nurse. Therefore, this article aims to determine how long it takes to obtain all the skills and the educational level required for the one who desires to become a registered nurse.

The official title of this noble position, according to various articles, such as the following one: is a registered nurse (medical practice). According to the article, nurses need to have various skills, such as being polite and approachable and to have broad knowledge in the field of healthcare and medicine.

When it comes to how long it takes to become a registered nurse, it depends on the type of education, which lasts approximately for two to four years, if an undergraduate level is at stake. In addition, to become a registered nurse, one also has to complete a training program that lasts for one year.

Education and training

As mentioned before, there are three ways of becoming a registered nurse. Bachelor’s, Associate’s degree or diploma of an approved nursing program.

  • Associate’s Degree – these programs require around 2 years of college academic credit. Associate’s degree programs are offered in many community colleges or private vocational schools. Some of the courses that you will be required to complete are: anatomy, biology, physiology and nutrition. In addition to nursing classes, you may be required to complete social sciences, humanities or communication classes. Completing an Associate’s degree consists of clinical rotations and nursing classes because it blends hands-on training with class work.
  • Bachelor’s Degree – opposing to a 2-year duration of an Associate’s degree completion, Bachelor’s requires 4 years of college academic credit. These programs are offered in colleges and universities. This program includes additional training and more detailed knowledge gained during studies. Program incorporates both coursework and clinical classes. In addition to general nursing classes, this program may include classes in health assessment, public and global health and emergency care.
  • Diploma from an accredited nursing program – these programs are hospital-based courses that provide hands-on training together with nursing coursework. Even though this way of becoming a registered nurse is less wanted due to the fact that it provides no degree after completion, it is still one of the ways of gaining your RN recognition. This program provides students with general knowledge of basic nursing care, which means they are required to complete some side classes as well.

License and certification

certificationIn all of the US, District of Columbia and other US territories, registered nurses are required to obtain a nursing license. That means that after graduation from any of the accredited nursing programs, RN’s have to successfully pass a National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). Even though this exam is required in all US states, other requirements for licensing may vary from state to state. In order to inform yourself of mandatory requirements to get your licensure, you should gather info from National Council of State Boards of Nursing. This licensing examination has a purpose of establishing if you’re safe to begin your registered nurse career as an entry-level RN. Students are required to answer from 75-265 questions with a maximum of 6 hours to complete your exam.

Even though earning a certificate is voluntary, licensed registered nurses often apply for certification in specific fields of nursing, such as neonatology, gerontology, pediatrics or ambulatory care. Those who wish to pursue a certain career path, enrolls in certificate training programs to ensure that their knowledge and skills adhere to a higher standard. It is a great bonus for any employer who wishes to hire specific registered nurses. Some of the most common coursework in a certificate program includes classes in: anatomy, physiology, medical-surgical nursing, nutrition and specialized needs nursing. Clinical classes and nursing classes vary, depending on the direction of nursing occupation a students wishes to obtain. If you wish to pursue nursing career in Maternal Newborn Nursing, Acute Care Nursing, Pediatric Primary Care Nursing or any other type of nursing occupation, you will want to obtain an accredited certificate in order to specialize in that particular practice.


petition_icon_large_red (1)Once you decide whether you wish to pursue a 2-year Associate’s degree, 4-year Bachelor’s degree or obtain a nursing diploma, you should consider all advantages or disadvantages a certain program holds. Include your time management, tuition fees of any program, mandatory requirements and the availability of program you wish to enroll in. Take your time and choose carefully, because this type of career demands more than 2 years of your life to only gain access to the job outlook of registered nurse practice. When you successfully complete accredited program, getting a certificate in a particular specialty gives you better job opportunities and fulfills your job curriculum. Even though licensed registered nurses already have great prospects for future employment, those with additional credentials and certification start their career with better salary and work conditions. Registered nursing is a very promising career which demands a lot, but also provides plenty. Enrolling in such a career takes time and strength, but once you complete all the requirements, you can begin with building up your profession of nursing in any way possible.


Icon_salaryAccording to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for registered nurses was around $67,490 in May, 2015. The lowest 10$ of registered nurses earned less than $46,360, while the highest ranking 10$ registered nurses earned approximately $101,603 per year. The top industries in which registered nurses worked in report median annual wages as follows:


-Hospitals (local, state, private)…………………$69,510

-Home healthcare services……………………….$63,840

-Physician’s offices…………………………………..$60,820

-Nursing care facilities……………………………..$60,370

Salary numbers often vary and depend on the level of degree, experience and type of employer. Registered nurses with Bachelor’s degree earn more than RN’s with Associate’s or a diploma.  According to, registered nurses with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing Degree, earn around $60,404 annually, while registered nurses with Associate’s Degree in Nursing earn approximately $58,486 per year. Hourly rate of a registered nurse varies between $20,80 – $38,52.

  • Experience is also a vital component of payment in this occupation.Entry-level registered nurses earn around $53,000 with up to 5 years of experience, RNs with 5-10 years of experience have a salary of $60,000 per year, experienced registered nurses with 10-20 working years earn median annual wage of $65,000 and RNs in their late career with over 20 years of work experience earn around $68,000.
  • Location also is included as an important factor of registered nurses salary. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that top paying states for this occupation are: California with $90,860 annual median wage, Massachusetts with $86,810 annual median wage, Hawaii with $83,950 median annual wage, Alaska with $82,080 median annual wage and Nevada with $77,840 median annual wage. Top paying Metropolitan areas are all in California and those are: Vallejo-Fairfield, San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Oakland-Fremont-Hayward and San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City.
  • Type of employer and industries are one such factor that salary of a registered nurse depends of. Top paying industries for this occupation are: Personal Care Services with $85,940 median annual wage, Lessors of Real Estate with $81,850 median annual wage, Securities and Commodity Contracts Intermediation and Brokerage with $81,090 median annual wage and Medical Equipment and Supplies Manufacturing with $80,290 median annual wage.

So, according to statistics, there are various factor that include your salary’s numbers and hourly wages. Ranging from the type of degree you mastered, experience gained while working and the industry in which you work, payment significantly differs. Once you begin working as a registered nurse, you can already influence on your beginner’s salary if you have a higher level of education, such as Bachelor’s degree. If you’re more experienced in this occupation, that also adds to the bonus and if your employer is one of the top paying ones for this occupation, that is additional beneficial factor. Needless to say, there are many bonuses and benefits to your salary which you gain throughout your career.

Job outlook

Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the employment for this occupation is projected to grow by 16% from 2014 to 2024 which is considered much faster growth than the average for all occupations. Since the number of aging population is slowly but steadily increasing, the demand for health care services is also on the rise.

There will be more patients with chronic diseases like dementia, diabetes, heart conditions and similar, which will require a larger number of registered nurses. Also, the increased emphasis on preventive care needs more educated staff including registered nurses who teach and educate other member of healthcare occupations and patients as well on how to maintain and live a healthy life. Growing population with obesity problems also require registered nurses for leading and encouraging diet treatments. Baby-boom population is in need of many registered nurses with experience in pediatrics and neonatal care, which is an additional reason for major outlook increase. Constant increase in physicians, surgeons and other medical practitioners require high quality registered nurses who will help them perform important tasks, treatments and surgeries. Because of the federal health insurance reform, more people will be given health insurance and will have access to primary and preventive care services which means more registered nurses will be required in physician’s offices, clinics and other similar healthcare settings.

The number of employed registered nurses in 2014 was approximately 2,751,000 and projected employment number by 2024 will grow to 3,190,300. To summarize the collected information and data, job prospects for RNs is looking good.

Aspiring RNs with higher levels of degree will have better job opportunities due to the fact that employers often look for Bachelor’s degrees as opposing to diplomas or Associate’s degree. Work experience only adds to the fact that RNs with many working hours behind them more easily become candidates for employment as well.

Choosing a registered nurse career brings you lots of diversity in work environments and different types of patients. It allows you to find a perfect working place and industry you wish to pursue your career in. Once you gain a degree or a diploma, you may want to consider improving your knowledge by earning a certificate in any specialty of this occupation. Starting from being a RN can lead to becoming charge nurse, certified Acute care nurse or any other promising career type of this occupation. It is important to spend your valuable time of studying for RN on the best programs and courses, collecting working hours and soon enough you will be watching your salary increase and your career progress at a fast pace. Although it takes years to accomplish registered nurse status, sometimes even up to 7 years, once you earn your license and successfully pass licensing examination, you will be able to choose anything you want and how you want it. Entry-level salary looks very good, imagine then how much you can increase it when you get more experienced in time. The most important thing before you enroll in this career, is deciding at what degree you want to start working and how much time are you ready to give for pursuing a RN career.

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