Career Planning

How to Become a Nurse

Interested in one of the most trusted professions in the U.S.?

Kathryn Knight Randolph

June 09, 2022

Learn more about becoming a nurse, nursing salaries, and the future of nursing.
How to Become a Nurse
Nurses are considered some of the most trusted professionals in the United States. Along with being knowledgeable in physiology, pharmacology, and many other areas of study, they have to exercise care and compassion to patients and their family members as well as work with physicians. Nursing is the perfect role for students that want to make a difference in the lives of others. While becoming a nurse takes hard work and dedication, there are education plans to fit every student’s timeline and career goals.

How to Become a Nurse

Becoming a nurse is a multi-step process. First, you must complete courses within an accredited program. Once you have your degree, you will be required to pass a nursing exam in order to receive your license.
Your license will enable you to practice nursing. If you want to practice a certain specialty, you may be required to take more courses or earn specific certifications. Finally, it may be necessary to take continuing nursing education courses in order to stay current on best practices.

What Do Nurses Do?

Nurses help patients along their health care journey. Oftentimes, they are the first and last faces a patient sees, whether at their annual exam or during an extended hospital stay.
Nurses have a variety of roles. Some do intake work on patients. Others make acute treatment decisions. Some serve in a school setting or administer inoculations, like many did during the COVID-19 pandemic. Day-to-day responsibilities include performing medical exams, administering medications, checking vital signs, changing bandages and dressings, and ensuring that patients are comfortable.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Nurse?

Depending on what type of nurse you plan to become, programs range in commitment time from four weeks to a maximum of four years. Nursing requires that students spend a certain amount of time in the classroom and then a specified amount of time in the field before receiving their certificate, degree, and/or license.
The amount of time it takes to become a nurse depends on your career goals. If you want to specialize in a specific area, you may need a master’s degree, which will take more time. However, if you are interested in serving as a nursing assistant, you can complete your program and get your license within a year in most states.

3 Steps to Becoming a Nurse

Becoming a nurse requires going to school, but there are a few steps involved to making it your official profession. Using the three steps below, you’ll be able to successfully pursue your goal of becoming a nurse:

Choose a Type of Nursing

First you need to choose which type of nurse you will become. There are a variety of fields and roles in which you can serve, which are highlighted below. Your choice will be determined by which field you wish to pursue, your financial situation (or how much schooling you’re able to pay for), and other factors. Once you’ve made a choice as to which type of nurse you plan to be, it’s time for the next step.

Earn a Degree in Nursing

Degrees in nursing range from certifications to bachelor’s degrees to even doctorates. Certifications can take four – 12 weeks to complete, whereas bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees can take years. In the last few years, coursework for nursing students has moved to a more hybrid approach. While some programs may be full-time, in-person, others offer both online learning and in-person classes. However, all certifications and degrees will require in-person clinical work in order to graduate as well as gain a license.

Get a Nursing License

After graduating, and before starting in a professional role, all nurses must complete some type of license. This involves taking an exam. • Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) and Registered Nurses (RN) – Must take and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). You cannot become a nurse without passing this exam. • Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) – Must take and pass a CNA certification exam. This license expires after two years.

What are the Different Types of Nurses?

There are a variety of nursing roles available in the health care industry. The one you choose depends on your overall career goals, time you have to dedicate to school, and financial resources to pay for your education.

CNA – Certified Nursing Assistant (CAN)

A Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) is the degree option that offers the quickest path to becoming a nurse. The program can take anywhere from four – 12 months to complete. Graduates must pass a certification exam in order to receive a license. CNAs serve in hospitals, nursing homes, and provide in-home care. They help patients with a range of needs like eating, bathing, grooming, mobility, and more.

LPN – Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

A Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) requires one year of coursework. Graduates also have to pass the NCLEX-RN and earn a state license in order to practice. LPNs cover a range of responsibilities, from hands-on patient tasks to administrative duties. They monitor patient care by taking vitals, inserting catheters, changing bandages, and more.

ADN – Associate Degree in Nursing (AND)

An associate degree in Nursing takes two to three years to complete. You must pass the NCLEX-RN to earn your license. An ADN can discuss symptoms with a patient, provide medication, edit and monitor a patient’s records, and report the medical status of a patient to a doctor.

BSN – Bachelor of Science in Nursing

A Bachelor of Science in Nursing can take four years to complete. Just like nurses with an associate degree, you must pass the NCLEX-RN to receive your license. Your job responsibilities will be similar to that of an RN with an associate degree. However, a Bachelor degree will put you on track to serve in administrative roles in areas such as research, consulting, and education.

APRN – Master of Nursing in Science (MNS)

A Master of Science in Nursing requires two to three years of study and clinical work in addition to a Bachelor degree. You must also pass a certification exam in your area of study. A master’s in Nursing will enable you to specialize in a certain area and provide you with more responsibility and opportunities for advancement. Graduates with a master’s can go on to become Nurse Practitioners, educators, Nurse Anesthetists, midwives, managers, clinical specialists, researchers, and consultants.

Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)

The highest level of education that a nurse can receive is a Doctor of Nursing Practice. This requires an additional three to four years of study and includes a capstone DNP project. After graduating, you can take on a leadership role in the nursing field or work in a clinical setting. Nurses with a doctorate degree have the knowledge and power to drive policy change and best practices in the health care industry.

Nursing Salaries and Nursing Career Outlook

In 2019, registered nurses made up 30% of total hospital employees, the largest percentage of any role in the health care industry, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2020 and 2021, we saw just how vital nurses are to our health collectively, especially during national and worldwide health crises.

Overview of Career Growth Potentials and Salaries

In 2021, the BLS reported that the median hourly pay for nurses was $37.31 per hour and $77,600 annually. In 2020, there were over 3 million nurses working in the country with a projected growth rate of 9% by 2030. BLS.gov states that, “Demand for healthcare services will increase because of the large number of older people, who typically have more medical problems than younger people. Nurses also will be needed to educate and care for patients with chronic conditions, such as diabetes and obesity.”

Jobs for Nursing Majors

There are openings right now in the nursing field. Available nursing jobs range in roles from travel nurses to home health care nurses to specialties, like PACU. Because the health care industry is so large, and continues to grow in order to meet demand, there are always nursing jobs available. Jobs are open in urgent care centers, military bases, schools, and even on cruise ships. See available nursing jobs now on Monster.

Scholarships for Nursing Majors

Fastweb hosts a number of scholarships for nursing students in our database. Scholarships are one of the best ways to pay for your nursing education. They are free money that you earn or are awarded and never have to be paid back. Finding nursing scholarships on Fastweb is simple. All you have to do is fill out a free profile and indicate that you are interested in nursing as a field or study and career. We will find scholarships for nursing that you qualify for from our database. Here are just a few of the opportunities you may find on Fastweb: AfterCollege/AACN $10,000 Scholarship Fund Deadline: 6/30/22 Available to: College Freshmen—Graduate Students, Years 1-5 Award Amount: $10,000 The AfterCollege/AACN $10,000 Scholarship Fund is available to students seeking a baccalaureate, master’s or doctoral degree in nursing. You must have the goal of becoming a nurse educator; students completing an RN-to-BSN or RN-to-MSN program to be eligible for this award. 2022 Tylenol Future Care Scholarship Deadline: 7/1/22 Available to: College Seniors—Graduate Students, Years 1-5 Award Amount: $10,000 The Tylenol Future Care Scholarship is available to full-time graduate students. You must be pursuing a degree in public health/health education, medicine, nursing, and/or pharmacy to be eligible for this award. American Association of Colleges of Nursing Hurst Reviews Nursing Scholarship Deadline: 9/1/22 Available to: College Freshmen—Graduate Students, Years 1-5 Award Amount: $2,500 The Hurst Reviews/AACN Nursing Scholarship is available to prelicensure nursing students enrolled in an AACN member institutions. You must have outstanding academic performance to be eligible for this award. See more Top Nursing Scholarships for 2022 now. In addition to scholarships and grants, you should file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for each academic year that you plan to be enrolled. Filing the FAFSA is the only way to qualify for financial aid, so if you hope to use financial aid funds to pay for college, you need to complete this form as soon as possible after October 1. Some nursing students use part-time jobs and internships to help cover college costs. They either use the money that they earn or strategically seek out a job with an employer that offers tuition assistance. Finally, some nursing students need to take out student loans to pay for their education. These loans help to bridge the gap between what a student can afford to pay and how much their nursing education costs. For help in figuring out how to pay for your nursing degree, we’ve gathered the best financial aid and loan calculators. Utilizing the above college tuition funding sources and doing your due diligence in calculating costs will enable you to be better prepared to pay for your nursing degree.

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