Do you want to become a nurse? This is everything you need to know about how to become a nurse – from an experienced nurse who’s been there.
- How To Become A Nurse
- Pick Your Track
- Choose Your Nursing School
- Start Nursing School
- Finish Nursing School
- Congratulations, You’re a Nurse!
- More Nursing School Resources
How To Become A Nurse
I’ve had a few people come to me with questions about nursing school. Being a nursing school survivor, I have some insider information that may be of value to those of you interested in nursing.
It can be a daunting subject to look at online and understand the differences between the different degrees and options.
Pick Your Track
When looking at getting a degree in nursing, there are four main options today in the United States. An ADN, BSN, accelerated BSN track, and a direct-entry MSN program.
The degree that is right for you depends on a few things. Are you looking to be able to advance in the field of nursing? Do you already have a bachelor’s or a lot of college credit? How much time and money do you have?
Please note, when I mention how long these degrees take to get, assume that I mean you are going to school full time. Also, this is for those interested becoming a nurse in the United States.
Finally, a note about diploma programs. Diploma programs are still out there, but are slowly becoming less and less common. There are less than 100 in the US, and are mainly concentrated in 1-2 states. These programs are hospital-based and graduates do not receive a degree after completion, rather a diploma. Some hospitals do pair with colleges and/or university so their students can obtain a degree, but not all do. Because this structure of education is being phased out, I decided to omit it from this post. To learn more about diploma programs, click here.
ADN – Associates Degree In Nursing
This is a two year degree, which is obtained at a junior college. Junior colleges cost less and take less time.
This might be a great option for someone that wants to get in and out of school in the quickest amount of time, spending the least amount of money. This is also a good option for someone starting from scratch with college.
If you have little to no college credit and go to school full time, you can be an RN in as little as two years.
BSN – Bachelor’s Degree In Nursing
This is a four year degree in nursing, which is obtained at a university or college. This degree takes more time and costs more money, but allows for more advancement and makes you more marketable as a prospective employee. There is now a nation-wide push for hospitals to employ more BSN prepared nurses.
Advancement to positions like Nurse Practitioner, Nursing Educator, or do anything within the realm of nursing administration or higher in the nursing hierarchy, a BSN is a minimum requirement. You likely need to be actively working on your MSN to land an educator job and you must have at minimum an MSN to be come a Nurse Practitioner. Therefore, if you’re looking to advance, you’ll need to have a BSN on your mind.
It’s more work and money upfront, but will pay off later. It’s not fun going back to school for BSN completion classes while working full time and maintaining other life stuff (kids, weddings/marriages, moving, loans, etc) should you decide to get an ADN then finish later. I highly, highly recommend this option.
Accelerated BSN Programs
If you already have a bachelor’s degree in anything, like… literally anything, then this is definitely what you want to do. This is a new trend in nursing education, so it’s not available everywhere.
Basically, you go through all the RN classes and don’t have to do the per-requisites because you already have a bachelor’s. It takes a little as 18 months to become an RN. After you complete this program, you will have your bachelor’s in nursing. This is a fantastic option for those of you that already have a degree.
The major cons of this option are: There are not a lot of them, they’re incredibly intense, and they’re expensive.
Direct-Entry MSN Program
The final option is one where you have no nursing education, but know you want an advanced degree in the field. For these programs, you also must have a bachelor’s degree. These programs are longer, intense, and expensive. During the program, you’ll take and pass the nursing board examination (NCLEX®) mid-way through the program.
Then, you’ll continue on with your schooling without missing a beat, working on your graduate-level courses. Those courses depend on what kind of direct-entry program you desire (like nursing education, or becoming an APRN/advanced practice nurse/NP).
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When you’re done with this program, you’ll have your nursing license (RN) as well as an MSN, and any other specialty certifications you completely along the way (APRN).
The pros of this are that it is the most efficient track to becoming a master’s prepared nurse. No waiting, no applying for an ADN, then passing NCLEX, then apply for and completing a BSN, then applying for and completing an MSN. All done at one school, in an efficient manner.
The cons are that it is a very long, intensive and expensive process. It’s competitive and has specific requirements for entry. You’ll have complete a LOT of clinical hours. This is also a newer option, and there are people within the field of nursing who don’t feel so great about this. They don’t like the idea of someone obtaining a master’s in the field without having any experience first. So, you may run into some people who aren’t so nice to you about pursuing this degree path.
To learn more about this newer and unique option, here’s a great explanation.
Choose Your Nursing School
Something also to think about when choosing a nursing school is NCLEX pass rates. The NCLEX is the state nursing board exam, which you have to pass to become an RN. Just because you get through nursing school does not mean you’ll pass the NCLEX, which means the work isn’t done just because you’ve graduated.
The exam is the same no matter where you went to school or if you went for a four year or two year degree. ADN, BSN, and direct-entry MSN students take the exact same exam. You can look on your state’s board of nursing website to see the pass rates of the state’s various schools.
I dig deep into how to apply or nursing school here. To get into nursing school, you’ll have to pass quite a few nursing prerequisite courses.
Start Nursing School
Now that you’re in nursing school, the real work begins. Nursing school is quite the challenging journey, and I outline exactly how hard it is in this blog post.
Spoiler alert: It’s tough. You’ll need to get a B or better in all courses, pass clinicals and various standardized tests, juggle many courses and clinical paperwork/assignments. This is all in addition to any other college requirements for all graduates.
Finish Nursing School
Once you successfully complete all coursework and meet all graduation requirements, the work is not over yet! You must pass a background check, pay some fees, and pass the nursing licensing exam, the NCLEX.
When ALL of that is done, then your journey to becoming a nurse is complete.
Congratulations, You’re a Nurse!
Once you get through school, pass state boards, obtain your license, and find a job, the learning has only just begun. Nursing school teaches you as if you work in a perfect hospital environment. Realistically, it’s nowhere near perfect. When searching for a job, it’s important to ask how hospitals plan to transition graduate nurses to bedside nurses and their retention rates.
Surviving nursing school consists of extreme organization, coffee, a good lap-top, consistent studying (not cramming the night before), lots of flash cards, and an ability to think critically. And after you’re done, the thought of more school is nauseating.
This is another reason why I am a BSN advocate. Don’t get me wrong through, and ADN is still fantastic. I work with so many people that have ADN’s that are some of the best nurses I’ve ever met.
It is a stressful major, you have a stressful exam, and finding a job isn’t the easiest it has been in the past decade, but it’s worth it. Once you find a job, you’ll have great job security, usually pretty good benefits, a great salary for a new grad, and tons of options for different things to do within the field.
So, calling all international nurses! Tell me about how you became a nurse and the options in your country! Email me or comment and I’d love to post about you!
My goal is to have a tab on the blog called “How Do I Become a Nurse?” and have a list of various countries and their specific options – and give you the credit for writing it!
More Nursing School Resources
I hope this helps you learn how to become a nurse. Here are even more tips I wrote for nursing students – I’ve been there!
Getting ready for nursing school clinicals, but feeling unprepared?
Nursing School Clinical Prep from FreshRN is a self-paced video course that will prepare you for your first nursing clinical experience. Each lesson walks you through the basic tasks and concepts you will experience in the clinical setting. Once completed, you’ll feel comfortable in a hospital setting, understand the basics of what the bedside experience will feel like, and know insider tips and tricks that will make you feel confident and in control.
Australian student nurse here. I’d love to discuss the nursing differences between Australia and the US! Honestly, Australia’s nursing education process sounds less rigorous than the US, with seemingly less competitive entry, free or cheap tuition, and no NCLEX equivalent.
Australia has two levels of nurses, both registered with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency: Enrolled Nurses (limited scope of practice) and Registered Nurses.
Enrolled nurses complete a Diploma of Nursing at TAFE (a Technical And Further Education provider, not a university), which takes 1.5-2 years, and includes 400 hours of clinical placement. ENs can administer some medications, and can take extra units to administer IV meds. Your pay is lower and doesn’t increase much over time, and you can’t advance to leadership or education positions. Also, my state’s skill mix rules mean that no more than 1/3 of nursing staff on any shift per unit can be an EN or 1st year grad RN.
To articulate to RN, an EN can start in the second year of a BNurs course (2 years). It’s a good pathway if you didn’t complete or score highly in high school, if you want to take it in steps so that you can work more while studying at uni, or want to try it out first.
Registered nurses complete a Bachelor of Nursing course at an accredited university. It takes 3 years (a few unis offer it accelerated in 2 years) and requires 800 hours minimum of clinical placement (plus clinical simulation sessions etc). (It’s not a major with a pre-nursing section – the whole degree is nursing-focused.) Entry is most commonly based on Year 12 scores, which are comparatively low, especially if you choose a less prestigious uni or rural campus (often well below the median year 12 scores across the population).
If you already have a non-nursing Bachelor’s degree, you can enter via an accelerated graduate entry Bachelor’s or Master’s degree, which usually takes 2 years (plus a bridging unit or two if your previous degree didn’t contain certain health/bio/anatomy topics).
Passing any accredited nursing course will let you register with AHPRA as an EN or RN. There’s no licensure test, though there are registration standards you have to meet annually, e.g. continuing education and recency of practice. It’s nation-wide, so you can practice in any state with the same regulations and standards.
You can later complete postgraduate diplomas or master’s degrees to specialise in certain areas (e.g. critical care, psych, paediatrics). You can also become an NP, but it’s difficult, not very common, and not well-supported by the system.
I’m pretty sure this is correct, but take it all with a grain of salt as I’m still a student!
Kati Kleber, MSN RN CCRN-K says
Phenomenal explanation, thank you so much for taking the time to write that and let us know!