Become a Nurse: A Guide for Aspiring Nurses

Nurses are in high demand, but becoming a nurse requires specialized training and education. This crucial job comes with many opportunities, especially as hospitals and nursing homes have started to fill up. 

Most nurses primarily help with bedside care in hospitals and other private practices, but there are many different paths you can take as a nurse: you can also become an educator, a leader, and an advocate for those without a voice. 
But, to properly position yourself for your hoped-for career may require your making specific choices early in your education. Anyone who needs more information about how to become a nurse, either straight out of high school or while working full- or part-time, should keep reading. We’ll talk about the specifics of becoming a nurse and what steps you need to take!

Steps For Becoming a Nurse:

1. Choose a Nursing Program

To become a nurse, you need proper education. This means attending an accredited nursing school and meeting any educational requirements set by your state. Becoming a registered nurse takes considerable time: completing nursing school to become an RN (Registered Nurse) takes around four years of classes, clinical rotations, and hands-on clinical instruction. But, it’s worth the effort you put in!

It’s not easy picking a path right away. As consider what nursing career path you want, you should investigate which colleges, universities, or other programs meet your needs. It’s important to think about where you want to end up. Nurses can work in hospitals, private practices, schools, nursing homes, and many other locations. Knowing where you want to end up will make it easier to know how you ought to start.

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Some aspiring nurses don’t want to spend four years working on a bachelor’s degree before entering the workforce, and so might decide to complete a (usually) two-year associate degree program for RNs instead. While this path will take less time, most hospitals and private practices prefer hiring Registered Nurses with Bachelor’s degrees. 

You can complete LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse) or CPA (Competent Professional Authority) programs, both of which take significantly less time. Following these routes, you will become a nurse faster, but you won’t have as much authority as a Registered Nurse.

2. Earn Your Nursing Degree

Once you’ve decided on the kind of nurse you’d like to be, you’ll need to earn your degree. Depending on your ultimate goal, the time frame to earn the necessary degree or degrees will vary. Regardless of the degree you pursue or the school you attend, you’ll need to excel in your classes and pass your exams. 

Also, pay close attention to any hands-on learning opportunities. It’s important to absorb the in-person skills that these experiences provide so you can use them in your clinical rotations. We recommend asking plenty of questions and observing how hospitals and other medical facilities are run. This way, you’ll be fully prepared to navigate the practical realities of nursing once you graduate. 

If you seek a more specific nursing position—such as Nurse Practitioner, Nurse Midwife, and Nurse Anesthetist—you might also have to complete a Master’s program. After graduating with your bachelor’s degree, look into Masters of Science programs that will help you reach your career goals.  

3. Pass Your Licensing Exam and Get Certified 

Unfortunately, getting your degree won’t be enough. When you are done with school, you’ll also need to pass a licensing exam. Different nursing paths require different exams. For registered nurses, for example, you’ll need to pass the NCLEX (National Council Licensure EXamination), through which you will demonstrate your knowledge of nursing.

Aspiring CNAs (Certified Nursing Assistants) will have to pass a competency test allowing them to practice nursing in their specific state. LPNs (Licensed Practical Nurses) will have to take a few more steps to be earn their state license: they need to go through a state-approved LPN program before also taking an NCLEX exam specifically for LPNs, the NCLEX-PN.

In addition to their Bachelor’s degrees, aspiring Nurse Practitioners, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Anesthetists will need MSN (Master of Science in Nursing) degrees. Then, like any other nurses, they need to pass the NCLEX. 
Specialist nurses may also have to take a specific certification exam for their specialty, as well. Nurse Midwives, for example, take an extra certification exam administered by the American Midwifery Certification Board; Nurse Anesthetists must be certified by the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists; and Nurse Practitioners take their certification exam with the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners.

4. Keep Up With The Latest Advances in Medicine 

You might think that, once you leave school and become a nurse, you’re done learning. Nothing could be further from the truth. As nurses immerse themselves in their work and begin practicing medicine full-time, they inevitably gain valuable first-hand knowledge. But being a nurse also required continued classroom education. As medicine and medical technology advance, nurses must take courses to keep abreast of recent developments in the field. Because there will always be new treatments and technology to learn about, nurses are required to take continuing education classes every two years to renew their licenses. 

Nurses who want to make more money or learn more about nursing can also look into advanced degrees and certifications. It’s also possible for nurses to move laterally in their careers, and there are many options for nurses who want to move away from traditional bedside nursing in hospitals to pursue nursing in other venues. 

Final Thoughts on Becoming a Nursing 

It takes a special kind of person to become a nurse—especially if you hope to become a nurse while working full-time. The road to fulfilling your career dreams will take a lot of time and hard work. But, once you complete your nursing education and gain state certification, you’ll never be wanting for work opportunities! 

Nursing is a lucrative field that can also be very personally rewarding, and the demands for nursing are only expected to increase over the coming years, so you’re getting your money’s worth when you pursue a degree in nursing!

Hopefully, this guide has given you an idea of how to become a nurse and which options are available.   We at HelloCollege aim to help you get the most out of your university preparations. For more information about college admissions, testing, and practice, read our other blogs or contact us to learn how we can help you!

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The Hello College Team

HelloCollege CEO Andrea Emmons has spent the last 15 years guiding students and families across the country on their path to college. Andrea knows the profound impact proactive college planning has on the lives of students and is passionate about mentoring families through the process.
Kevin Krebs - Founder of HelloCollege

About Our Founder

Kevin Krebs

Inspired by his parents, Kevin’s journey from a first-gen, diverse, low-income background to Northwestern University shaped him. After experiencing challenges, including student loan debt, he founded HelloCollege and has spent the last 25 years helping students successfully navigate college admissions.

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