How to Become a Nurse

NursingAugust 23, 2014

With excellent salaries and projected job growth that is well above the national average, nursing could be an excellent career choice for you. Nursing has two levels of certification — practical (PN) and registered (RN)

The first important step toward knowing how to become a nurse begins with choosing between these two levels.

RN vs PN

Although both provide invaluable service, there are significant differences that set PNs apart from RNs. Beyond educational requirements, RNs generally have a great deal more authority and responsibility. From school nurse to critical care to administrative and management roles, you work in a variety of settings — with equally as diverse populations served — as a RN. In most states, you are responsible for patient assessments and only you can accept MD telephone orders, push IV medications and develop care plans.

Practical nursing offers plenty of variety too, but in a more limited capacity. As a PN, your principle focus is traditional nursing care for patients. Depending on the state, you cannot administer most medications and usually report to a RN. Sometimes you supervise nurses' aides. Overall, you provide basic patient care, like inserting catheters or applying bandages, and can monitor vital signs and see to it that patients are comfortable.

Education for PNs

The next step in becoming a nurse is finding the right nursing program for you. Be sure your state has approved the program and that is appropriately accredited. Personal factors, such as travel, location and school's impact on family, will all help determine where best to go.

The level of nursing career you choose to pursue will determine the educational path to follow. Although associate degrees are available in some locations, most practical nurses take a one-year certification program. Along with supervised fieldwork, you will take courses that advance your English and math skills. You can also expect a nursing core curriculum with classes in anatomy, nursing fundamentals, pharmacology and population-specific nursing practices, ranging from children to geriatrics.

Education for RNs

If you opt to become an RN, you will have yet another choice to make. If you choose a two-year Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), you will get into the workforce faster; however, a four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree will likely ease job searches, result in higher pay and pave the way to an advanced nursing career like nurse anesthetist or nurse practitioner.

The main difference between a BSN and ADN curricula is that the former includes more coursework in nursing foundation, theory and concepts. Both will require extensive field practice, although BSN students may choose to specialize in some areas or populations.

How to Become a Nurse: Examination and Licensure

Whichever nursing career path you opt to take, all programs share the goal of preparing their students to pass the National Council Licensure Examination, for either Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN) or Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN), and to work as entry-level practical or registered nurses. All states require you to have a license before practicing as a nurse. If you pass their program, nursing schools forward your name to the state nursing board; at that point, you can sit for the appropriate exam.

After you meet the educational and licensure requirements, you will officially be a nurse! Since most states share a compact that eases the process of obtaining a license from one state to the next, you will be able to work practically anywhere in the country as a PN or RN.