How to Become
a Registered Nurse

Best Education Tracks, Key Skills, and Top Certifications

Would you like to learn how to become a registered nurse? Registered nurses are fundamental to the medical industry because they care for patients and assist doctors. They play an essential role in helping offload tasks from overburdened doctors.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of registered nurses and other practitioners. Without nurses, hospitals and other facilities would never be able to keep up with patients. If you want to become a registered nurse and help people, read this comprehensive guide. You can enter the medical field in only a couple of years.

What Is a Registered Nurse?

A registered nurse, also known as an RN, is a medical practitioner who provides vital patient care. Registered nurses work in hospitals, nursing facilities, home health care, community centers, and clinics. These practitioners are essential for providing care at all times during the healing process.

What Type of School Should You Attend
to Become a Registered Nurse?

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To become a registered nurse, you can attend a community college, vocational school, or university. You will need to find an accredited program in order to get your nursing license later. Read below for a more in-depth review of registered nurse programs.

Best Registered Nurse Education Tracks

If you want to become a registered nurse, you have to complete at least an associate degree. You can find plenty of programs in your area to help you on your way. These education tracks are the best ways to become a registered nurse in 2021.


Vocational School

Vocational schools, also known as trade schools, can give you a hands-on education in nursing. Vocational school programs for nurses are cheaper and shorter compared to other forms of education.

If you want to become an RN, a vocational school is a good first step. It can help you become a licensed vocational nurse. These professionals usually work under registered nurses to help care for patients.


Community College

A community college can help you get an Associate Degree in Nursing. This kind of degree can take two years to complete full-time, or longer if you follow a less conventional path. With an associate degree, you can get an entry-level job as a registered nurse. This is a popular choice because it takes less time than a bachelor’s degree.

The tuition fees for an Associate Degree in Nursing vary from institution to institution. There is no one size fits all when it comes to tuition costs for community colleges. The cost of tuition may easily hike if you need to attend prerequisite classes before enrollment . Always conduct proper research about the specific school to avoid being blindsided by the costs.


Registered Nurse Degrees

If you want to get a higher-paying nursing job or move up in the ranks, you should get at least a bachelor’s degree in nursing. A bachelor’s degree takes at least four years to complete. Even though you don’t need a bachelor’s to become a nurse, most employers prefer it.

A bachelor’s degree in nursing, also known as a BSN, can teach you about patient assessment, standard practices, and psychosocial nursing. By the time you graduate, you will be ready to take the licensing exam. Bachelor’s degrees can be expensive, but you can try finding scholarships or other financing assistance to help you deal with debt.

If you want to get a more extensive education, you should try getting a master’s degree or PhD. These degrees will open up more job opportunities and help you become an advanced practice registered nurse. You can specialize in any nursing designation. You can become a clinical nurse specialist, certified anesthetist, or certified nurse-midwife.

nurse looking at record

How to Become a Registered Nurse: A Step-by-Step Guide

There are lots of different paths you can take to become a registered nurse. However, you should meet certain milestones if you want to be successful as an RN.

Read below for a step-by-step guide to starting your career as a registered nurse.

Get your degree

If you want to become a registered nurse, there are a few educational starting points. You can start with a vocational school or community college and then move on to a degree. You should aim to get at least a bachelor’s degree.

Get licensed

Earning your registered nurse license is a vital step. To start practicing in any state, you must get a permit. You will need to study and pass the licensing exam in order to get a job in the field.

Find a job

As an RN, you can get a job in either the public or private sector. Finding a job will help you grow your skills and cement your knowledge in nursing. It will also help you find your specialty.


After you have some nursing experience, you can decide to pursue a specialty. To specialize, you may need to acquire certain certifications or advanced degrees. You can specialize in critical care, clinical nursing, forensic nursing, neonatal nursing, and more.

Pursue continuing education

To earn an executive position or administrative role, you will need to further your education. This step is optional, but it can help you get a higher-paying job in the field. With more education, you can help more patients.

nurse injecting patient

Key Registered Nurse Skills

Being a nurse requires some vital skills. You will need to put in extra effort to make sure you have all the skills and knowledge you need. In a highly competitive industry, constant practice is important.

Read below to learn more about the skills that can set you apart as a registered nurse.

Patient Safety

It is your main priority to make sure your patients are well cared-for. If you have skills in patient safety, it will be easier to identify risky situations and maximize recovery for patients. You should always be aware of the safety standards in your workplace.

Emergency Care

Nursing may expose you to extreme cases that require immediate medical attention. You need to keep a level head in stressful situations and perform the right care in emergencies. You should be able to help someone in a cardiac arrest or dress severe wounds.

Technological Skills

As a registered nurse, you will handle many different types of equipment daily. You need to identify, use, and troubleshoot this equipment if need be. You should be familiar with equipment like central lines, cardiac monitors, defibrillators, gastronomy tubes, and more.


Observational skills are some of the most important skills for a nurse. Your ability to use your five senses proactively in your job will help you save lives. You will need to notice every detail to make sure your patients are doing well. If something is out of place, it can be the difference between life and death.

Registered Nurse Salary and Job Outlook

In 2020, the average pay for a registered nurse was $75,330, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. The highest-paid nurses work for the government. They receive a median salary of $84,490.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics also says that there will be seven percent growth in the number of employment opportunities for registered nurses by 2029. With the aging population and unpredictable public health emergencies, nurses are more important than ever. This job outlook won’t falter anytime soon.

Average salary


Top salary


Entry-Level Registered Nurse Job Requirements

According to ZipRecruiter, an entry-level registered nurse salary is $61,728 per year. This means that you have room for advancements and salary increases based on your location, experience level, and skills.

To get an entry-level position as a registered nurse, you need an Associate of Science in Nursing, an Associate’s Degree in Nursing, or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. These will help you get your license and secure an entry-level job.

nurse checking on injection

What Does a Registered Nurse Do?

Registered nurses provide direct care to patients in medical institutions. Doctors and other nurses rely on them to make sure patient care and treatment run smoothly. A career built on care, registered nurses perform different activities depending on their area of work.

Below you will find the top responsibilities and duties of registered nurses.

Educates Patients

Registered nurses are responsible for educating the patient and the family about proper care. This is essential to help prevent patients from needing more help for the same issues. This means that as a registered nurse, you need to have good communication skills.

Checks and Monitors Patients

Registered nurses are responsible for checking their patient’s vital signs. You must regularly keep tabs on the temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration of patients in your care. This information forms the basis of your treatment plans and protocols.

Administers Medication

As a nurse, you need to know which medications to administer and when. You should monitor their response to any treatment and make sure they are responding well. It is also important that you discuss treatment plans with your patients so they can know what’s going on.

Creates Reports

As a registered nurse, keeping records is a vital part of treating patients. You need to record essential details like a patient’s medical history, present allergies, and existing medication. This information can greatly impact the effectiveness of the treatment. You should also monitor patients as they go through treatment.

Registered Nurse Certifications

In order to practice as a registered nurse, you need to at least have a nursing license. You can choose to take on certifications and become an advanced nurse practitioner. Keep in mind that these standards can be different depending on where you want to practice.

Read below to learn more about your nursing license and other certifications you can get.

National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN)

If you want to become a registered nurse in the United States, you need to take this exam. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing provides this exam, which tests your knowledge and competence. You will need to be approved to take the test first, but if you have an associate or bachelor’s degree you should be fine.

Advanced Practical Registered Nurse (APRN) Certifications

If you want to specialize, you will need to take an APRN exam according to your preferred area. You will be able to practice anywhere in the country. These exams include the Family Nurse Practitioner Certification (FNP), Emergency Nurse Practitioner Certification (ENP-BC), and Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Certification (PPCNP-BC).

How to Prepare for Your Registered Nurse Job Interview

To successfully land a job as a registered nurse, you need to prepare for your interview. This can help you feel more confident when you answer interview questions.

Below is a list of common registered nurse interview questions to help you ace your job interview and land a job.

Registered Nurse Job Interview Practice Questions

  • Why did you choose a nursing career?
  • How do you approach patient confidentiality?
  • What is the most rewarding aspect of your nursing career?
  • How would you handle long working hours?
  • What do you find to be most challenging in your career as a nurse?
  • How do you handle emergencies and stressful situations?

How Long Does It Take to Become a Registered Nurse?

Depending on the education track you select, it can take you two to four years to become a registered nurse. If you choose to get a bachelor’s degree, it will take you four years plus any preparation time you may need for your license. If you want to specialize or advance your career, your education will take you a bit longer.

Bachelor’s degree


Should You Become a Registered Nurse in 2021?

Yes, you should become a registered nurse in 2021. The demand for high-quality nurses in every specialization is on the rise, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic. If you enjoy learning about the medical industry and you want to help patients, you should become a registered nurse.

Registered Nurse FAQ

What’s the difference between a registered nurse and a licensed practical nurse?

An RN and LPN are different because licensed practical nurses report to registered nurses. LPNs have less education and an inferior license. However, LPNs can become RNs later on if they choose.

What’s the difference between an ADN and an RN diploma?

Both ADN and RN diploma will take you two years to complete. Registered nurse diploma programs are offered in vocational schools. ADN programs are degree programs that offer both clinical experience and liberal arts topics.

What is the quickest way to become an RN?

Associate degrees are the quickest way to become an RN. They will only take you two years to complete.

At what age do registered nurses retire?

Nurses continue working well into their fifties in the US. The growing demand for nurses allows them to work as long as possible.

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