How Can I Be a Nurse: Simple Steps to Starting Your Nursing Career

Apr 18, 2024 | Nursing, Work-Life Balance in Healthcare

Curious about “how can I be a nurse”? You’ve come to the right place. This guide will walk you through the essential steps: education, licensing, and skills development. Whether you’re starting from scratch or switching careers, we’ll provide clear, actionable advice to help you achieve your nursing goals.

Key Takeaways

  • Becoming a registered nurse (RN) requires comprehensive education, passing the NCLEX-RN exam, and obtaining state-specific licensure.

  • RNs work in various environments, including hospitals, outpatient centers, and schools, and require both technical and soft skills for effective patient care.

  • Pursuing advanced degrees or specializations, such as an MSN or focusing on fields like pediatric or oncology nursing, can enhance career opportunities and earning potential.

Understanding the Role of a Registered Nurse

Illustration of a registered nurse providing patient care

A registered nurse (RN) is a cornerstone of the healthcare team, licensed to provide and coordinate patient care while educating the public about various health conditions. At the heart of the nursing profession is the mission to help individuals overcome health challenges and maintain optimal health.

RNs perform a variety of tasks, including:

  • Administering medications

  • Monitoring vital signs

  • Creating patient care plans

  • Responding to emergencies

These responsibilities ensure that each patient receives personalized care.

Apart from providing direct patient care, RNs also shoulder the responsibility of delegating tasks to licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and certified nursing assistants (CNAs). They work in cooperation with other healthcare professionals to ensure patients receive well-rounded care.

Work Environments for RNs

Registered nurses have the flexibility to work in a variety of settings, each offering unique experiences and challenges. Hospitals are perhaps the most common environment, where RNs provide care in departments such as emergency rooms, intensive care units, and general medical wards. These settings demand high levels of skill and quick decision-making abilities, making them ideal for those who thrive in fast-paced environments.

Beyond hospitals, RNs can work in outpatient care centers, long-term care facilities, nursing homes, and even home health care services. These roles often focus on chronic disease management, rehabilitation, and providing assistance with daily activities.

Schools and educational institutions also employ RNs to manage student health and conduct health education programs, offering a more predictable and structured work environment. Additionally, home health care provides flexibility, allowing nurses to create their own schedules and visit patients at home, which can be a great way to supplement full-time roles.

Skills Required for Registered Nurses

A successful registered nurse needs to master a combination of hard and soft skills. Hard skills include:

  • Technical knowledge of medical systems and procedures

  • The ability to work within large hospital systems

  • The physical stamina to be on one’s feet for long periods

These skills are essential for handling the practical aspects of patient care, such as administering medications, inserting catheters, and monitoring vital signs.

Equally important are the soft skills that enable RNs to provide compassionate and effective care. Bedside manner, attentiveness, and strong communication skills are crucial for building trust with patients and their families. These traits help RNs to not only address the medical needs of their patients but also offer emotional support and education, ensuring a holistic approach to healthcare.

Educational Pathways to Becoming a Nurse

Illustration of nursing students in a classroom setting

To become a registered nurse, one must complete an accredited nursing program, whether it’s an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), or a diploma program. These pathways vary in duration, coursework, and depth of clinical experience, but all lead to eligibility for the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN).

We’ll delve deeper into these educational paths.

Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)

The Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) is a popular and efficient pathway to becoming an RN. Here are some key points about ADN programs:

  • Typically takes 2-3 years to complete

  • Offered at community colleges and vocational schools

  • Covers fundamental nursing skills

  • Prepares graduates to sit for the NCLEX-RN exam

This pathway suits nursing students who aspire to join the nursing profession in a shorter time frame.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) typically takes 3-4 years to complete and offers a more comprehensive education compared to the ADN. BSN programs are often accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and include coursework in leadership, critical thinking, and patient care coordination. This broader education not only provides essential soft skills training, like communication and organization, but also prepares graduates for advanced roles and specialties in nursing.

A BSN degree, which is a bachelor’s degree in nursing, acts as a gateway to advanced practice roles like nurse practitioners or clinical nurse leaders, as many Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) programs necessitate applicants to possess this qualification. Additionally, BSN graduates are often more competitive in the job market and may have higher earning potential compared to those with an ADN.

Accelerated Nursing Programs

Accelerated nursing programs (ABSN) are designed for individuals who already hold a bachelor’s degree in another field and wish to transition into nursing. Typically completed within 12-18 months, these rigorous programs enable students to earn their BSN faster than conventional methods. The accelerated nature of these programs requires rigorous study and time management skills, but they offer a swift path to entering the nursing profession.

Admission into ABSN programs is competitive, often requiring a strong academic background and a thorough application process. Despite the challenges, these programs are an excellent option for those looking to leverage their existing education and quickly become registered nurses.

Licensure Requirements for Registered Nurses

Upon finishing an accredited nursing education program, aspirants need to clear the NCLEX-RN exam to secure their nursing license. This exam assesses the knowledge and skills necessary to perform safely and effectively as an entry-level nurse or a certified nursing assistant.

In addition to passing the NCLEX-RN, nurses must obtain licensure in the state where they plan to practice, with requirements varying by state.

Preparing for the NCLEX-RN Exam

Preparation for the NCLEX-RN exam entails completion of an accredited nursing program along with a comprehensive understanding of the exam’s content and structure. The NCLEX-RN covers a range of topics, including safe and effective care environments, health promotion and maintenance, psychosocial integrity, and physiological integrity. It is a comprehensive examination designed to assess nursing knowledge and skills.

ADN programs, in particular, are designed to prepare graduates for this crucial exam.

State-Specific Licensing Requirements

Licensing requirements vary by state, so it’s essential to research and understand the specific regulations of the state where you intend to practice. This ensures compliance with local laws and helps avoid any delays in starting your nursing career.

Aspiring nurses should review state-specific requirements and obtain licensure in each state where they plan to work.

Specialization and Advanced Nursing Degrees

Illustration of a nurse specializing in oncology care

Registered nurses can either specialize in diverse fields or opt for advanced degrees like a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). These paths can enhance career opportunities, increase earning potential, and allow for a deeper focus on specific areas of interest within the nursing profession. Some specializations for registered nurses include:

  • Pediatric nursing

  • Geriatric nursing

  • Oncology nursing

  • Critical care nursing

  • Psychiatric nursing

By pursuing advanced degrees, registered nurses can also become nurse practitioners, nurse educators, or nurse administrators, among other roles, including the role of a nurse practitioner.

Pursuing Nursing Specialties

Nursing specialties offer RNs the chance to focus on specific patient populations or medical conditions. Among the specialties are:

  • Oncology nursing

  • Pediatrics nursing

  • Neonatal nursing

  • Gerontology nursing

  • Cardiac nursing

These represent some of the areas of expertise. For example, neonatal nurses care for premature infants, while addiction nurses work with individuals struggling with substance abuse.

Obtaining certifications in these specialties can boost a nurse’s salary and marketability. Certifications often require clinical experience and additional exams, but they validate a nurse’s expertise and commitment to their chosen field. This additional training can lead to more advanced roles and greater job satisfaction.

Master’s Degree in Nursing (MSN)

An MSN or DNP is required for advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) roles, such as:

  • Nurse practitioners

  • Clinical nurse specialists

  • Nurse anesthetists

  • Nurse midwives

These advanced degrees take 2-5 years to complete and provide specialized training that allows nurses to take on leadership roles and offer higher levels of patient care.

Earning an MSN or DNP opens up numerous career opportunities and provides the foundation for roles that include more autonomy and responsibilities. Advanced degrees also pave the way for further specialization and expertise within the nursing profession, making them a valuable investment for long-term career growth.

Finding Employment as a Registered Nurse

Finding employment as a registered nurse involves leveraging various strategies to connect with potential employers. Some strategies to consider include:

  • Networking with other healthcare professionals to build connections and gain insights into the job market

  • Creating a professional LinkedIn profile to showcase your skills and experience

  • Actively searching for job opportunities on job boards and healthcare websites

By utilizing these strategies, newly licensed nurses can increase their chances of finding positions that align with their career goals.

Attending job fairs and participating in internships or volunteer work can also enhance job prospects. These experiences not only provide practical experience but also help build a professional network that can be instrumental in securing employment. The location and specific areas of nursing interest can also influence employment chances, so it’s important to consider these factors when job searching.

Balancing Work and Life as a Nurse

Striking a balance between professional and personal life is vital for nurses to prevent burnout and ensure overall wellness. Prioritizing self-care and mental health is essential for effectively caring for patients and sustaining a long-term career in nursing.

Flexible scheduling options and utilizing platforms like SHIFTit Health can significantly enhance work-life balance, allowing nurses to manage their professional and personal commitments more effectively.

Flexible Scheduling Options

Flexible scheduling options can significantly contribute to a healthier work-life balance. Employers may offer staggered shifts, flexible shift lengths, and team scheduling to accommodate personal needs. For instance, shifts that start at nonconventional times or split shifts into shorter durations can provide more flexibility for nurses.

Team scheduling, where a group of caregivers works the same block of time, can also help balance work and personal commitments. Moreover, utilizing paid time off and other flexible work options can prevent compassion fatigue and burnout, ensuring nurses remain effective in their roles.

Utilizing SHIFTit Health for Balance

SHIFTit Health is a valuable tool for nurses looking to maintain a proper work-life balance. This platform helps nurses manage their shifts effectively, prioritize their personal life, and meet professional commitments.

By leveraging such tools, nurses can ensure they have the time and energy to care for themselves and their loved ones while excelling in their careers.

Continuous Professional Development

Ongoing professional development is indispensable for nurses to stay abreast of the changing healthcare standards and innovations. Engaging in ongoing education helps maintain competence, promotes growth, and enhances the quality of patient care.

The ANA Code of Ethics emphasizes the responsibility of nurses to maintain and enhance their professional competence.

Continuing Education Courses

Continuing education courses form a fundamental part of nurses’ professional development, including critical care nurses. These courses can include seminars, conferences, and online classes, covering specialized areas such as critical care, pediatrics, and gerontology. They offer flexibility in format, allowing nurses to balance work and study.

Pursuing additional training can lead to senior-level employment opportunities, higher salaries, and greater responsibility. For example, one continuing education unit (CEU) equals 10 contact hours of continuing education classes or training. These courses are often necessary to maintain licensure and stay updated with the latest medical advancements.

Certification Renewal

Certification renewal is typically required every 5 years to maintain professional competence and eligibility to practice. The renewal process involves:

  • Completing continuing education

  • Taking academic courses

  • Giving presentations

  • Conducting research

  • Accumulating practice hours

Nurses must keep their online accounts updated to receive renewal reminders and avoid ineligibility.

The renewal can be done online, and nurses will receive confirmation upon submission.


In summary, becoming a registered nurse involves a series of well-defined steps, from understanding the role and required skills to completing the necessary education and obtaining licensure. Specializing and pursuing advanced degrees can further enhance your career, while finding employment and maintaining a work-life balance are crucial for long-term success. Continuous professional development ensures that nurses remain competent and up-to-date with the latest advancements. By following these steps, you can embark on a rewarding and impactful nursing career.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the primary duties of a registered nurse (RN)?

The primary duties of a registered nurse include providing and coordinating patient care, administering medications, monitoring vital signs, creating patient care plans, and educating patients and the public about health conditions. These responsibilities are crucial in ensuring the well-being of patients.

What educational pathways are available to become a registered nurse?

To become a registered nurse, you can pursue an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), or an accelerated nursing program if you already have a bachelor’s in another field. Choose the path that best fits your career goals and personal circumstances.

How can I prepare for the NCLEX-RN exam?

To prepare for the NCLEX-RN exam, complete an accredited nursing education program and familiarize yourself with the exam’s content, focusing on topics like safe care environments and health promotion. Good luck with your preparation!

What are some common nursing specialties?

Common nursing specialties include oncology, pediatrics, neonatal, gerontology, cardiac nursing, and addiction nursing. Certification and clinical experience are typically required for each specialty.

How can nurses maintain a work-life balance?

Nurses can maintain a work-life balance by using flexible scheduling options and shift management platforms like SHIFTit Health to effectively organize their work schedules.