How to Become a Registered Nurse

How to Become a Registered Nurse

With the advent of vast healthcare facilities and amenities in recent years, the healthcare industry has expanded and is expanding at a rapid speed. This has prompted the immediate need for medical professionals. As one of the versatile roles of the medical industry, registered nurses (RNs) are at present very high in demand. Working as a registered nurse can be mentally comforting, rewarding, at the same time, impactful. It is the stepping-stone for any advanced career line in medicine. If you are planning to opt for this career, then this is a perfect time. The reasons for the high demand of registered nurses are many, including the development of new technology, the retirement of current nurses, and the high percentage of the aging population.

We will walk you through the steps to become a registered nurse, while you will learn what it is like to become a registered nurse.

What is the Role of Registered Nurses

Registered nurses work in clinics, hospitals, day care centers, old age homes, home health care settings, governmental organizations, long-term care facilities, physician’s offices, rehabilitation centers, schools, and in the military.

However, around 60% of RNs work in hospitals. The duties vary based upon the location where registered nurses work. The typical duties of registered nurses include: running tests, analyzing tests, dressing wounds and incisions, measuring temperature, heartbeat, BP and glucose, getting patients ready, dressing patients, helping patients with their day to day duties, helping doctors during surgery, educating patients about healthy habits, taking care of infants, feeding them, nursing them, and bathing them, and providing mental and physical support to patients and their families.

They also operate medical equipment and administer medication. You can become a specialized registered nurse with additional certifications and concentrated training in the fields of pediatric, neonatal, geriatric, surgical, cardiovascular, perinatal, parent-child, women’s health, psychiatric, or emergency care. RNs are different types based on their specialty, workplace, qualifications, additional certification, and job duties.

In future, registered nurses will be needed to educate patients about chronic health problems, such as dementia, obesity, diabetes, and cancer, prevention of diseases and illnesses, and measures to improve overall health. And, the demand will come from medical service providers other than hospitals, including long-term care, rehabs, outpatient facilities, and old-age homes.

Non-traditional Registered Nurses

While most nurses work in hospitals, clinics, and a variety of medical service facilities, you can also become an RN in a non-traditional setting, into the community. These career lines include:

  • Travel nurses
  • Parish nurses
  • Legal nurse consultants
  • Public health nurses
  • School nurses
  • Home health nurses
  • Forensic nurses
  • Occupational health nurses

Registered nurses work in shifts, so will you do. You will work around the clock, which may be a permanent or a rotational schedule. You may also have to work overtime and attend emergency calls. You must obtain a license and complete ongoing exams to maintain the licensure.

You can study less and become a licensed practical or vocational nurse. However, a registered nurse makes 40% more than the former categories of nurses. So if you are a practical nurse with a nursing diploma or associate degree, you can complete advanced studies, such as a master’s degree and move into this career.

In the year 2014, registered nurses made as much as $66,000 on an average, which made the career quite lucrative and high paying. In fact, by 2022, the rate of expansion is expected to grow by 19%.  Wider healthcare availability through the Affordable Care Act (US) is the biggest reason for the tremendous growth of this profession.

What is the Difference between Registered Nurse and Nurse Practitioners (NP)

Both nurse practitioners and registered nurses provide care to patients but their basic education qualification is quite distinct. While nurse practitioners must earn a Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree, a registered nurse can be qualified by an Associate’s Degree in nursing(ADN) or bachelor’s degree.

While most of the RNs work in hospitals, NPs work in private practices and community health clinics. The primary and the biggest difference between NPs and RNs is their autonomy level. Both RNs and NPs can see patients on their own and refer to a specialist depending on the case, nurse practitioners are also authorized to diagnose and treat acute illnesses, and even prescribe medicines. Registered nurses are not allowed to prescribe medications.

While NPs are required to pass a certification examination and must re-certify every 5 years, registered nurses (RNs) are required to pass a licensing exam and renew the license as per schedule.

Steps to Become a Registered Nurse

You need to decide early and begin with the right education to become a registered nurse. The shift in educational qualification requirement is magnanimous in the medical facilities. Therefore, all RNs applicants must have a bachelor’s degree in Nursing Science (BSN) to get hold of the license.

So, let us go through the steps required to become a licensed registered nurse in your state.

Step 1: Study an Accredited Degree Program

Your first step should be graduating from an accredited program. They may include nursing diplomas, associate degrees in nursing (ADN), and bachelor’s program. However, as we mentioned, 80% of employers today require RNs applicants to have completed at least a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing Science.

While a bachelor’s degree in nursing science takes three to four years to finish, an associate degree in nursing typically takes two years of study. And, if you join an accelerated program, you can shorten the time frame considerably. Another option to bachelor’s degree is an associate to bachelor’s RN program, which takes only 2 years to finish.

If you already have a bachelor’s degree and then decide to shift your career to nursing, you can attend schools that offer ‘second-degree’ programs for students who are already passed an undergraduate subject some other than nursing.

For better growth opportunities, you can begin by completing four-year bachelor’s program in nursing science and move on to complete an advanced course, such as administration, advanced nursing, teaching, nursing consulting, and other roles.

While many of the same topics taught at ADN are covered in BSN, four years of bachelor’s degree prepares the student to learn skills in-depth. Bachelor’s degree students will study general education classes along with their nursing syllabuses, just like any other degree program.  Your subjects will include anatomy and physiology, biochemistry, microbiology, statistics, chemistry, health care policy, nursing research, nutrition, patient care, professional nursing fundamentals, psychology, health law and ethics, and nursing research.

Step 2: Pass the NCLEX Examination

After you complete your graduation from an accredited program, you must consider taking the NCLEX examination. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCBSN) governs the NCLEX-RN examination. You need to sign up for the examination ahead of time to book a slot for yourself. You will receive an Authorization to Test notification when it is time to sign-up.

The test entails at least 75 questions and is designed to check whether your knowledge is fit for entry-level nursing. If you do not reach the passing score after the first round, you may have to answer as many as 265 questions to qualify.

On average, the test has 119 questions on various topics. You will be provided six hours to complete the test. There are 45 days waiting period for candidates who do not pass before they can apply for the test again.

Topics covered in the test question paper include fundamentals of care and comfort, detection and prevention of disease, pharmacological therapies, coping and adaption, and other topics on the similar field. If you wish to clear it at the first attempt, you can consider enrolling in an NCLEX preparatory course. The course is offered in various schools and companies. An internet search will give you more details.

However, you will find past test papers and sample tests online or in workbooks. The average NCLEX-RN passing rate in the US is 70 to 75%.

Step 3: Earn State Licensure

You will be eligible to apply for a state license after you pass the NCLEX examination. You must apply for the RN licensure in the state you wish to work as a registered nurse. This is because each state has its own requirements, fee structure, and length of time it takes to obtain the license. Therefore, do your groundwork and contact your state board of nursing before you apply for the license.

Or, you can consider the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC). The NLC is an initiative that allows nurses to obtain a multi-state license and practice as RNs in any state that is a member of the compact. There are already around 30 states as of 2018 that have formed an alliance with the NLC, while several others are catching up with the process. If you wish to pursue a career as a travel nurse, you must particularly think of getting into the NLC.

Step 4: Apply for Jobs

The job opportunities for registered nurses are expected to grow by 15% by 2026. Therefore, many graduate programs offer counseling and roads to employment making your work easier in deciding what would you like to pursue further. However, in the medical realm, much of what it takes it to be a professional is gained from actual experience.

Step 5: Career Advancement

There is no end to education and learning. If you hope to advance in your career, continue your education. For example, RNs who wish to become an advanced practice registered nurse (ARPN) can apply for a master’s degree and broaden your career line. Post the degree, you will become eligible to apply for certified nurse role, nurse anesthetist, nurse practitioner, and midwives.

You can still advance in your career with the help of certifications.  You must pass a special examination to prove your competency in a particular area. The American Nurses Credentialing Center and the National Certification Corporation administer various certifications. In fact, you have certifications for almost all areas of nursing, including cardiac vascular nursing, gerontology, home health nursing, ambulatory care, critical care, acute care, informatics, women health, medical-surgical nursing, pediatric nursing, and nurse case management.

If you want to study more and expand your career routes, do Ph.D. in nursing or DPN. After completing a doctoral program, you will be qualified to become a university professor and researcher in nursing science.

Step 6: Join a Professional Organization

Joining a professional nursing organization creates a positive impact on your career. You will connect with others in the field and get all-inclusive exposure to various departments of nursing and caring. Moreover, most professional organizations offer continuing education opportunities, certification courses, as well as networking opportunities at events and conferences. You may also get a chance to travel and explore more.

There are over 100 nursing organizations in the US, let alone the world. However, make sure the organization you choose centers around all patient population, disease processes, advanced practice, and healthcare settings.

Working as a Registered Nurse

The salary of registered nurses varies depending on the location, the service time, and the settings. An RN can choose to work in various settings, such as physician’s office, hospitals, community healthcare centers, home care centers, schools, military, correlational facilities, and nursing care centers.  Along with the pay, many employers offer different benefits to RNs, such as childcare facility, flexible shift timings, educational and certification benefits, traveling and networking, and monetary rewards.

According to the BLS, the median wage of RNs in 2017 was $70,000. Your salary will also depend on the work schedule. For instance, in medical facilities where patients need around the clock care, the salaries of RNs double. Some employers even pay more for additional hours worked apart from the fixed income. A number of reasons have affected the high demand for nursing professions in the US. They include the increased numbers in an aging population group, the high rate of unhealthy population, introduction of Affordable Care Act, introduction of better treatment and care plan,attempt to reduce overhead costs, increased demand of home healthcare, increased number of procedures occurring on outpatients, and finally, the expected retirement of nursing professionals.

Hope this article helped you embark on this fulfilling journey. If yes, do share your experience with us in comments below.