How to Become a Nurse

how to become a nurseNursing is a rapidly growing field with significant professional demand for qualified individuals. Even locally, there are many nursing schools in Philadelphia providing prospective career nurses to the surrounding established medical institutions. This guide will provide helpful information on the steps to becoming a nurse, the educational and technical qualifications involved, and the position itself.

Steps to Becoming a Nurse

Other FAQs About Becoming a Nurse

Begin Your Journey to Becoming a Nurse

Steps to Becoming a Nurse

This first section is about the steps necessary to turn an interest in nursing into a gainful career. Everything from choosing a specific nursing program to eventually finding a job will be outlined below.

Step 1: Earn a Degree

A formal education is absolutely necessary on the path to becoming a registered practicing nurse (RN). With a few exceptions, almost every position in the nursing field requires a bachelor’s degree. A few positions can be earned by candidates with associate degrees, and some positions require advanced degrees. It may be difficult to shift through the numerous degree programs available, but that’s a good thing. This way, you have a lot of options, and choosing the degree program that’s right for you may help in deciding what kind of nurse you want to be or even what university you’d like to attend. The most popular options are outlined below:

Associate Degree in Nursing

This degree program is designed to develop individuals in solid foundational knowledge, attitudes and the skills for nursing practice. With only two to three years of required coursework, the associate degree requires the least amount of time and money invested of all the degree options. After the coursework is completed, individuals must pass the national licensure examination (NCLEX).  

Bachelor of Science in Nursing 

The Bachelor of Science in Nursing, or BSN, is another path for an individual to take to become a nurse.  You do not need an Associate Degree to enroll in a Bachelor of Science program.  While individuals with associate degrees can work in nursing positions, nurses with a BSN typically have a greater chance of securing nursing positions and are often given more responsibilities and higher salaries. That being said, this degree program requires three to four years of coursework to be completed, and these prospective nurses are still required to pass the national licensure examination (NCLEX) before starting to practice. 

BSN programs consist of general education liberal arts courses, nursing specific courses, and clinical education. BSN programs provide a wide variety of clinical experiences for students which often helps the student decide what nursing specialty they may want to pursue after graduation.

Accelerated Nursing Program

An accelerated nursing program is a very specific option for individuals who have already earned a bachelor’s degree in another field of study. Some previous relevant coursework from the prior degree(s) would count towards completion of the accelerated program.  Accelerated Nursing Programs most often require the student to be fulltime and are fast-paced and intensive. Most individuals can earn their BSN degree in 12-16 months, depending on the program. Your participation in an accelerated degree program, along with your resulting bachelor’s degree in nursing, will be very desirable in the job market. It shows employers that you are both qualified and prepared to work in a fast-paced environment. Be sure to take a look at GMercyU’s own accelerated nursing program.

Master of Science in Nursing

The Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is a higher-level nursing degree. In most cases, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is required before starting an MSN program. Many MSN programs are offered online and allow students to take courses on either part-time or full-time basis.  An interesting characteristic of this higher-level degree is that it’s very customizable. Depending on a scholar’s goals, the MSN can be helpful in a lot of different ways. Individuals in this degree program have the opportunity to take courses to improve their general nursing knowledge and skill, take coursework catered toward specialty skills in specific areas of nursing, or they can take a step back from direct nursing practices and learn about education, leadership, or business. In addition, at the graduate level, students can pursue an MSN and become a nurse practitioner. Being able to decide exactly what to focus on is very helpful for individuals looking to reach specific career goals. 

It’s very important to have a career goal in mind when deciding whether or not to pursue a Master of Science in nursing. It’s also extremely important to be sure of the entry requirements for the program you’d like to be a part of. Generally, these programs require a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, a nursing license, and a minimum GPA.

Step 2: Obtain a License 

As mentioned previously, earning your nursing license by passing a national nursing licensure examination (NCLEX) is pivotal in any nurse’s career. Without the correct credentials, individuals will not be able to practice nursing. Licensing requirements vary by state, nursing specialty, and occupation. Most administrative branches of nursing programs would be able to provide assistance with how to obtain the correct licensure, but be sure you understand which examination you should be taking, as well. Here are three of the most popular examples of national exams:

  • Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA): This state competency exam is designed for individuals who want to work as nursing assistants. CNAs have a fairly limited scope of responsibilities, and the examination will reflect that. 
  • National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN): Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) are required to pass this test. LPNs have a slightly wider range of responsibilities than their CNA counterparts. They are tasked with administering certain medicines or conduct certain medical tests. The exam would cover these additional responsibilities and the comprehension of more basic assistance. 
  • National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN): Registered Nurses (RNs) are required to pass this test in order to practice. Of the three featured in this outline, this exam would be the most in-depth. 


Step 3: Obtain Employment

After you’re properly educated and licensed, the only thing left to do is find a job. Fortunately, nursing is a rapidly growing field, expected to grow 15% by 2026 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That’s more than double the average national growth rate for all jobs. It’s important to note that nursing has become a more popular profession, as well, so there will be healthy competition for open positions.

Location and specific areas of nursing can have a lot to do with employment chances. For instance, long-term care facilities are expected to become more and more popular as the population ages. Demand for RNs in those long-term care establishments will continue to increase. Also, places with established medical communities tend to have exciting new opportunities. Take New York City and Philadelphia. Both cities and their surrounding suburbs have excellent hospitals and successful universities with top-notch nursing degree programs. 


Step 4: Choose a Specialty

Upon graduation from a nursing program and passing the NCLEX, you may choose to enter a nursing specialty. Choosing a specialty right away is not absolutely necessary. Some nursing positions associated with different specialties may require specific certifications or more advanced degrees. Here are some of the most popular nursing specialties:

  • Neonatal Nursing: These nurses work with patients directly before and after giving birth. Generally, these nurses work in the neonatal unit at a hospital, but they may also work in related units doing similar work.
  • Nurse Midwife: These nurses guide patients through the entire process of pregnancy and delivery. Currently, individuals in this branch of nursing are highly demanded and well-compensated.
  • Clinical Nursing: This term covers nurses with advanced degrees and advanced certifications that oversee the work of other nurses.
  • Critical Care Nursing: Nurses specializing in critical care are usually employed by hospitals and work in critical care units or trauma centers.   


Step 5: Pursue Additional Training – Progress Your Nursing Career

For some this may not be necessary, but for others with specific career goals in mind, this may be a great option. In the field of nursing, much like other professional industries, further schooling often results in senior-level employment opportunities, higher salaries, and greater responsibility. Fortunately, there are many options for advanced degrees in nursing. Be sure to take a look at GMercyU’s own Master of Science in Nursing and Doctor of Nursing Practice programs.

Other FAQs About Becoming a Nurse

The sections above were meant to outline and provide helpful information on the basic, necessary steps to becoming a nurse, but there’s a little more to it. Below are answers to some other frequently asked questions about entering the field.

What Do Nurses Do?

The question, “What does a nurse do?” is more complex than it might seem. A question that might be more helpful is, “What does an RN do?” More helpful information may surface if you specify the type of nursing you’re interested in. Here are some responsibilities that are important across many different nursing specialties:

  • Assess the condition of their patients
  • Record patient’s medical data and relevant behavior
  • Work and communicate efficiently with other members of the healthcare team
  • Effectively use and maintain medical equipment
  • Assist in forming a treatment plan
  • Assess patient and families teaching needs, develop an individualized teaching plan and provide relevant teaching
  • Advise families on the condition of the patient and post-hospital care

For more in-depth information on what nurses do, check our page dedicated to the topic. 

What Qualifications Do You Need to Become a Nurse?

The minimal qualifications needed to become a practicing registered nurse (RN) are an associate degree (ASN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), and passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) for Registered Nurses.  Higher-level degrees, like a Master of Science in Nursing, require additional education and passing specialty certification examinations.


How Many Years Does It Take to Become a Nurse?

The minimum amount of time needed to become a practicing nurse would be the 2 - 3 years of coursework associated with an associate degree in nursing. A bachelor’s degree takes 3 - 4 years of coursework.  A master’s degree usually takes from 2 - 5 years depending if you go part-time or full-time. 


Why Should I Become a Nurse?

This article has made it clear that there are many differences among different types of nursing, and there are different educational and professional options for you to choose. The answer to this question, surprisingly, is uniform across the entire field. No matter what, as a nurse, you are helping people. You are meeting people from all ages and all walks of life, caring for them, and making their lives easier. If that’s what you’re passionate about, you should strongly consider becoming a nurse.


Begin Your Journey to Becoming a Nurse

Gwynedd Mercy University’s own Frances M. Maguire School of Nursing and Health Professions happens to feature some of the best nursing programs in the entire state. We offer a variety of degree programs that cater to people with a wide range of academic goals. Start your journey with GMercyU!