How to Become a Nurse

Though specific requirements vary from state to state, certain fundamental steps must be taken to work successfully in the field of nursing. Those wishing to enter a nursing program must first complete the high school diploma or GED. It is recommended that high school students looking to study nursing excel in algebra, biology, chemistry and physics in addition to required English courses. Many nursing schools will also require you to successfully pass an entrance exam.

The most basic level of nursing professional is the nursing aid or assistant, a job that many students choose to pursue while they are working toward a nursing degree. The position of nurse’s assistant usually only requires some coursework, but no degree, and a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) certificate. Nursing assistants perform basic medical duties such as taking vital signs, drawing blood, and monitoring nutrition and infection. Nursing assistants usually work in hospitals, nursing homes and long-term care facilities under the supervision of a nurse.

The next level of nursing professional is the Licensed Practical or Vocational Nurse (LPN/LVN), which usually requires one year of study at a state-approved community/junior or technical college. LPN/LVN programs usually include a combination of classroom study in anatomy and basic patient care and hands-on clinical practice. LPN/LVNs work under the supervision of a Registered Nurse (RN) or physician performing duties such as taking vital signs, giving injections, administering medication and monitoring patients. LPN/LVNs are required to successfully pass their state licensing program to gain employment.

An Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), the next level as a nursing professional, is also offered at accredited community/junior or technical colleges, but may also be obtained in some hospital schools of nursing, colleges and universities. Accredited ADN programs typically take two or three years to complete and prepare students to take state licensing exams to become Registered Nurses (RN). While a four-year program is preferable, the current shortage of nurses and nurse educators nationwide is lending the ADN program more credibility and marketability.

The most highly recommended path to becoming a Registered Nurse is the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), which requires a traditional, four-year degree from an accredited college or university. Completing this program prepares nurses to practice in a wide variety of health care settings such as health clinics, doctors offices and hospitals, including work in operating rooms and intensive care units, making them the most preferable job candidates. In addition, the BSN is a prerequisite for certain specializations and application to graduate programs in the nursing field (nurse practitioners, specialists, educators or researchers).

Many colleges and universities also offer opportunities for prospective nurses who already have a bachelor’s degree in another field. Most of these post-baccalaureate, second-degree or advanced-degree programs build upon educational requirements that have already been fulfilled by a previous degree and require only one or two additional years of nursing study.

Though salaries range based on location, experience and educational level, the average salary of a Registered Nurse is around $50,000 per year. Because patients require care at all times, the schedule of a nurse is oftentimes very flexible and easy to tailor to one’s needs. In today’s economy, nursing is certainly a field that provides the most potential in terms of employment opportunities and job security.