How to Become a Nurse

More people than ever before are becoming nurses. Why?

There’s no one reason – in fact, there are several awesome reasons why you might want to become a nurse. They’re helpful and spend their time doing meaningful work for their communities. They make good wages and have the respect of doctors and patients. And becoming a nurse means a chance to have a satisfying professional career for people who may not know what else they want to do with their lives.

Sounds good, right? I decided to become a nurse a little late, but went back to school and got my degree and license over several years. You can do that too, and you don’t have to guess what steps to take.

I’ve got a great outline for you to follow below. It’ll show you exactly how to become a nurse step by step. Let’s dive in!

Steps to Becoming a Nurse

All the great things that come with being a nurse can be yours. You just have to follow a few basic steps. Let me break down exactly what you need to do so you can become a nurse ASAP!

Step One: Pick Your Nursing Path

For starters, pick the nursing path you want to take. There’s no such thing as a “regular” nurse. Instead, there are different kinds of nurses who are specialized for different jobs or responsibilities. The right nursing career for you might be different for someone else, so it’s a good idea to think about these choices before you start going to school or applying for a license.

Here’s a basic breakdown of the different nursing paths and careers you can choose:

  • CNA or certified nursing assistant. This is a basic nurse position that only allows you to do some basic work at a medical center or clinic. A lot of people choose this as a stepping stone to other nurse jobs
  • LPN or licensed practical nurse. You’ll have to complete a special certificate program and get a state license, but you’ll be able to do most “typical” nurse jobs
  • RN or registered nurse. This is probably the most common nursing credential and it’s the one I targeted initially before moving on to become a nurse practitioner. A registered nurse needs a dedicated nursing degree (either an associate’s or bachelor’s degree), but they get to do all major nursing jobs and supervise CNAs in some situations
  • If you want to go even higher in the nursing field, you can try to become a nurse practitioner or NP. Just be aware that this path requires a master’s degree plus passing several tests. But if you make it, you’ll be able to assist doctors with certain procedures and perform most of your duties unsupervised
  • A CNM is a certified nurse midwife. It’s a specialized nursing job that allows you to help women give birth in their own homes and in other clinical environments
  • A nurse anesthetist is another specialized nursing job. Get a master’s degree for this path and you’ll assist doctors during surgeries by anesthetizing patients. Plus, you’ll get to do other advanced medical stuff and earn a pretty good salary at the same time!

As you can see, there are plenty of great nursing jobs you can go after. The higher ones usually require more schooling, but they pay a lot more.

But remember that you don’t have to go after a higher nursing job, like a nurse anesthetist, right away. You can easily chase an easier certification or license, like an RN license, first and work your way up to becoming a nurse anesthetist over time. The sky’s the limit! No matter what, you’ll be helping people and taking care of the sick and injured, making the world a better place.

Step Two: Get a Degree (if Applicable)

After picking what kind of nursing job you want to pursue, you’ll need to get any required degrees for the position. Some nursing certificates, like an LPN or CNA, don’t require a degree.

But you’ll need at least an associate’s degree in nursing or a related field like healthcare or biology to become a registered nurse. The good news is that practically every big university these days has an awesome nursing program you can attend.

Some nursing programs are only two years long, while others go for a full four years and will net you a valuable bachelor’s degree if you complete them. Remember that many community colleges also offer associate’s degrees in nursing for much cheaper prices than any four-year college.

If you decide to go for a master’s degree, remember that it’ll take between four and six years to get your degree. Fortunately, most nursing-related degree programs let you complete them in part-time formats or online.

With online programs, you can complete your schoolwork asynchronously – that’s just a fancy word meaning you can turn your work in when it’s ready over the Internet. You’ll have to complete your practical credits or requirements at your workplace by a certain date. You can usually complete most nursing degree programs on a part-time basis if that works better for your schedule.

ConsiderSchool is a great resource to check out if you’re looking for a perfect nursing degree for your needs, budget level, and time constraints. Check out its list of the best nursing programs to see what might work for you!

Step Three: Get a Nursing License

After getting your degree, you won’t be able to practice nursing in any capacity without a state license. Each nursing license has several requirements, like a certain number of college credits, a certain number of practical hours in hospitals or clinics, and more.

Each nursing level has a different required exam you need to pass to get your license. You’ll also have to pay certain fees for the application and for each test attempt. Here are some examples:

  • To become a certified nursing assistant, you’ll need to take a state competency exam
  • LPNs must take the National Council Licensure Examination or NCLEX-PN, which tests you on a wide variety of nursing responsibilities and information
  • RNs need to take the National Council Licensure Examination-RN, which includes even more in-depth knowledge checks and that requires college credits
  • Want to become a nurse practitioner? Pass the RN test, get a Master’s of Science in Nursing, and take another national certification exam that’s only given by a few different organizations, such as the American Nursing Credentialing Center or American Academy of Nurse Practitioners

As you can see, you might have to take multiple tests in order to reach some of the higher-paying nursing licenses. Be sure to check out license requirements for any nursing job you want to pursue.

Once you take the required test(s) and have all your degree or practice requirements set, you’ll get your nursing license in the mail! But remember that your nursing license is usually only valid in the state in which you took the test. So if you plan to move to another state, you may need to take the test again or apply for a license transfer to your new state.

One last thing – don’t get discouraged if it seems like the road to becoming a nurse is long. I took several years to get my nursing license, but it went by in a flash. Plus, you can always get a job as an LPN or RN while working your way to a higher licensure level. Most nurses do that, in fact!

Step Four: Get a Job!

Getting a license is just the start. To actually be a nurse, you have to get employed as one at a clinic or hospital.

I’ve got more good news for you – the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that even basic RNs are needed now more than ever. In fact, the field is set to grow by between 7% and 10% over the next 10 years. In other words, the time to become a nurse is now!

You’ll be able to find a job at a local clinic or medical center based on your experience and your credentials. If you went to college to get your license, you might also be able to get a job from recommendations made by people you met while at school, such as professors or the nurses and doctors you worked with to complete your practical hour requirements.

Step Five: Continue Your Education

Even after getting a job as a nurse, you’ll need to regularly continue your education, even if you’re fine being an RN or another type of nurse for your entire career. Every so often, you’ll need to take CE or continuing education credits and occasionally retest to maintain your licensure.

It sounds like a lot of work at first, but it’s no big deal once you get used to it. Plus, it’ll help you keep up-to-date with new nursing practices and ideas, helping you do your job better in your day-to-day.

How Much Can You Expect to Make as a Nurse?

This is the big question for a lot of folks – becoming a nurse takes a lot of time and money, so how much can you expect to make back? The answer: it all depends on what kind of nurse you are and where you work.

A few major trends hold up no matter where you go:

  • Big cities tend to pay their nurses more, but are also more expensive to live in
  • Hospitals pay more than clinics or rural medical facilities
  • The more an area needs nurses, or they will be willing to pay for good talent

So if you want to make the most money you can as a nurse, try to find a town or city that needs lots of great nurses to take care of its population.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics can also give you a peek at your possible salary once you get your career rolling. Here’s the data they have on average salaries for different types of nurses:

  • LPN: $47,480 per year
  • RN: $73,300 per year
  • Nurse anesthetists and nurse practitioners: $115,800 per year

Clearly, being educated and getting some extra skills to progress your career pays off over time! But it’s also true that any nursing career can be a great source of income for you and your family. Even better, nursing as a field is pretty stable, so you won’t need to worry about getting fired or losing your job due to downsizing. We’ll always need healthcare workers like nurses.

Wrap Up

Bottom line: becoming a nurse could be a great choice for your career and personal satisfaction. I certainly found becoming a nurse to be the best thing I did in my 20s and 30s, and it’s something I’d recommend to anyone who wants to do something meaningful with their life.

I also really enjoyed my time at school while I earned my degree in nursing. I used sites like to find a great university to attend. You should check out this resource to find an ideal (and affordable) school for your plans. Good luck!

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