Registered nurses (RNs) promote health and wellness and help improve the quality of life for people of all ages. There are currently more open positions than qualified candidates, so becoming an RN will provide job security, high earnings and excellent advancement potential. Here's everything you need to know about how to become a registered nurse.
What is a registered nurse?
A registered nurse is someone who has completed either an associate's degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor's degree in nursing (BSN) program and passed the NCLEX-RN licensing exam. What sets RNs apart from other medical professionals is their training in and use of the five-step nursing process, which includes:
After obtaining a registered nursing degree, some people go on to become advanced practice nurses (APRN). APRNs are registered nurses who hold additional advanced degrees and licenses. These providers include:
- Nurse Practitioners (NP)
- Certified Nurse Midwives (CNM)
- Certified Nurse Anesthetists (CRNA)
- Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNS)
What does a registered nurse do?
RNs work alongside medical providers to give medical treatment, assist in procedures and surgeries, assess patients, administer medications, evaluate outcomes and prevent illness. Whether an RN provides direct patient care in a hospital setting, a school, a private home or provides healthcare remotely via telecommunications (called “telehealth”), the five-step nursing process drives everything they do.
Certain specialties require RNs to use hands-on technical skills. Registered nurse duties may include:
- Starting intravenous (IV) lines
- Inserting and removing catheters
- Wound care
- Giving injections
- Lab draws
- Assisting in surgical procedures
- Providing comfort, reassurance and education
How to become a registered nurse
Once you've decided to pursue a career as an RN, you should get started on your registered nurse educational requirements. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to become a registered nurse:
- All registered nurses must hold a high school diploma or GED. Excelling in all classes is important, but it's critical to build a solid foundation in math and science courses.
- Take the SAT or ACT and achieve the highest score you can, as they are essential to gain admission into a college nursing program.
- Apply to a nursing program. There are many options when it comes to choosing a nursing school. Keep in mind the following when applying:
- Are you going to pursue an associate's degree in Nursing (ADN) or a bachelor's degree in nursing (BSN)? Remember: A BSN is necessary if you hope to become an RN.
- Can you go to school full time or do you need a part-time program?
- How quickly would you like to graduate? There are accelerated programs to consider if you already have an undergraduate degree or coursework completed.
- How expensive is the program? Will you need student loans?
- What pre-requisite courses does the program require?
- Do you want to attend classes on campus or online? If you choose online, are there medical facilities in your area where you can receive your hands-on clinical training?
- Does your RN program require any volunteer hours in the medical field before admittance? If so, look at your local hospitals and doctors' offices for opportunities.
- Attend and graduate from nursing school, with the highest grades you can achieve. Forming a study group, taking excellent notes in class and studying daily are just a few tips to being successful in nursing school, according to Daily Nurse.
- Register for and take the NCLEX-RN, which is a licensing exam written by the Board of Nursing and an essential RN requirement. This exam is pass/fail, so it's essential to prepare thoroughly. While it's a notoriously difficult exam, according to Daily Nurse, 87 percent of those who are educated in the United States and go on to take the test pass on the first try.
Once you pass the NCLEX-RN, you'll receive your RN license. Check out the Nursing License Map to ensure you checked all the boxes to get working in your state.
How to get a job as an RN
While nurses might be in high demand, it's imperative to create an application that will catch the eye of a potential employer. Our guide to writing winning RN cover letters can help you write a letter that shows you are the best fit for the job. Check out our Entry-Level Registered Nurse Resume Samples to write a resume that's easy to read and highlights your skills and education.
If you don't already have one, create a LinkedIn profile and connect with your professors, former bosses and fellow nursing students. In addition to giving you a space to build your network digitally, your LinkedIn profile is a place to show your achievements. This presence is valuable when a potential employer Googles you and sees your profile, complete with a professional picture and more information about your education, work and volunteer experience.
Additionally, reach out to your school's career center for help during your job hunt. They may be able to put you in touch with alumni who work in the hospital where you're applying or give feedback on your application materials. Start with the strongest application possible — our Cover Letter Builder and Resume Builder can give you an edge when you're applying to your first RN job.