Registered Nurses (RNs) are often the most visible employees in healthcare settings. They provide and coordinate patient care, educate patients and communities about various health conditions, and provide emotional support and advice to patients and their families. Registered nurses typically work for hospitals, doctors’ offices, nursing care facilities, and home healthcare services. Other settings in which nurses may work include schools, summer camps, correctional facilities, and the military. Read on to learn about how to become an RN.
Educational Paths to Becoming an RN
Becoming an RN requires candidates to pass the standardized National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN), and there are three educational paths that make you eligible to take the exam. You can either pursue an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN), a bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN) or a diploma from a hospital-based nursing program, although diploma programs are becoming less common.
Undergraduate nursing programs usually require a high school diploma or GED, a minimum GPA, and the completion of certain prerequisite courses, which may include anatomy and physiology, college algebra, chemistry, introductory biology, and statistics.
There are hundreds of ADN and BSN programs across the country, but diploma programs are far and few between. BSN programs usually take four years to complete, while ADN and diploma programs take two to three years to complete. A bachelor’s degree in nursing offers broader advancement opportunities and is often the minimum requirement for positions in consulting, administration, research, and teaching.
RN Education Overview
Nursing education programs combine classroom instruction with supervised clinical experience in hospital departments. In most nursing education programs, students take courses in the following subjects:
- Foundations of nursing
- Anatomy & physiology
- Health assessment
- Care in illness
- Nursing ethics
- Healthcare systems
- Public health
Licensed graduates of ADN, BSN, and diploma programs typically qualify for entry-level positions as staff nurses. Many RNs who have an ADN or diploma go on to work towards their BSN by completing an RN to BSN or AND to BSN program.
Bachelor’s degree programs in nursing generally incorporate more training in the physical and social sciences, leadership, communication, and critical thinking. They also offer more clinical experiences in non-hospital settings, such as long-term care facilities, public health departments, home health agencies, and walk-in clinics.
Life as a Registered Nurse
Regardless of the work setting or specialty, nurses perform a variety of basic tasks, such as recording patients’ medical histories and symptoms, operating medical machinery, administering medications and treatment, and helping with patient rehabilitation and follow-up.
RNs also teach patients how to manage their illnesses or injuries at home and work to promote general health by educating the public. An RN can specialize in one or more patient care specialties, such as home healthcare, emergency care, psychiatry, rehabilitation or occupational health.
A nursing career is ideal for those who enjoy working with and caring for people. Some important qualities that aspiring nurses should have are compassion, critical-thinking skills, patience, and emotional stability. You also need to develop a strong background in math, science, and English.
RN Career Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of registered nurses is expected to grow at a faster than average rate of 26% from 2010 to 2020. The growth is dues to the aging boomer populations, which will require increased medical care in the coming years.
Additionally, in an effort to cut costs, hospital stays are growing increasingly shorter, which is making room for employment opportunities for nurses in outpatient care centers and long-term care facilities. However, there will likely be competition for outpatient care positions, as well as those in doctor’s offices, as these roles typically allow for a more consistent schedule. In 2012, the median annual wage of registered nurses was $65,470.
Generally speaking, nurses with at least a BSN will have the best job prospects. With work experience and continuing education, staff nurses can be promoted to positions with more responsibility or become advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). APRNs need at least a master’s degree in nursing. The highest level of education obtainable in the nursing field is a doctoral degree in nursing, which prepares graduates for leadership positions or scientific research.
Even in today’s struggling economy, nursing has flourished in comparison to other occupations. Solid job growth and a variety of job prospects make pursuing a career as an RN an excellent choice. Now that you know how to become an RN, start paving the path towards your new career today.