How to Become a Registered Nurse

Essential Education, Skills, and Job Interview Prep

If you’re interested in the world of medicine, are compassionate, a strong communicator, and a problem solver, then you might want to become a registered nurse. Being a registered nurse (RN) is an extremely rewarding yet challenging career that requires a unique set of skills and training.

So how do you know it’s the career for you? Our guide will help you decide. We will explore how to become a registered nurse by looking at essential educational requirements, job interview preparation tips, and necessary skills.

What Is a Registered Nurse?

A registered nurse is a medical professional who manages and provides direct care for patients under a doctor’s supervision. They are responsible for a variety of care duties including administering medication, maintaining medical reports, and conducting physical exams.

A registered nurse is usually the direct point of contact for patients, so they also provide counseling and monitor the overall mental wellbeing of the patients. Along with being a general registered nurse, you can specialize in a range of healthcare subfields.

Registered nurses can specialize as cardiac care nurses, obstetric nurses, nurse managers, intensive care unit nurses, ambulatory care nurses, and more. In addition to medical duties, registered nurses often take on roles as department supervisors. They delegate tasks, manage equipment allocations, and supervise junior nurses.

Registered Nurse Salary and Job Outlook

By becoming a registered nurse, you’ll guarantee yourself a promising career with a good job outlook and lots of opportunities for pay raises. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for registered nurses are projected to grow by seven percent between 2019 and 2029.

According to PayScale, the average RN makes $30.34 per hour, or about $66,000 per year. This figure varies a lot depending on the state of your workplace, experience, qualifications, and department.

For instance, the average salary of ambulatory care registered nurses is $85,670 or $41 per hour, and the average certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) makes a whopping $202,804 per year, according to ZipRecruiter.


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Entry-Level Registered Nurse Job Requirements

To get a job as an entry-level registered nurse, you’ll need a strong mix of soft skills along with essential industry skills and qualifications.

The main entry-level requirement is a registered nurse license. Bear in mind that the licensing requirements vary from state to state. To get your license, you must first complete a state-accredited nursing program. This could mean getting an associate degree, bachelor’s degree, or a trade school diploma in nursing.

Once you possess all the required qualifications and skills, you’re ready for an entry-level nursing job. According to PayScale, an entry-level RN earns about $57,582 per year or $27.14 per hour on average.

How to Ace Your Registered Nurse Job Interview

The key to acing your registered nurse job interview is being able to demonstrate you have the skills and experience needed to excel in the role.

You should highlight your range of professional experience by providing examples of managing caseloads, dealing with patients, and supervising junior staff. Be sure to clearly emphasize your motivations for becoming a registered nurse. It’s also a good idea to research your potential employer.

To help you further prepare for your interview, we have compiled a list of the most common registered nurse job interview questions.

Common Registered Nurse Job Interview Questions

  • What made you want to pursue a career in nursing?
  • What skills do you have that will help you excel in the role?
  • How would you handle a difficult patient or family member?
  • Tell us about a time where you had an overwhelming number of caseloads and how you handled them.
  • How would you delegate tasks to junior nursing staff?
  • What are some of the biggest challenges a registered nurse faces every day?

What Degree Should I Get to Become a Registered Nurse?

Every registered nurse is required to pass the National Council Licensure Registered Nurse Exam (NCLEX) and obtain a license. In order to be eligible for this exam, you must first complete a state-accredited nursing degree program or diploma.

There are several degree pathways, depending on your finances and how much time you can commit to studying. Below are some of the most common registered nursing programs.

Diploma in Nursing

A diploma in nursing is typically provided by hospital-based nursing schools and is a three-year post-school qualification in nursing. A nursing diploma makes you eligible for an entry-level job and the NCLEX registered nurse exam. This educational track allows you to pursue a career as a licensed practical nursing or a registered nurse.

A nursing diploma program covers fundamental healthcare training such as medicine administration, nursing concepts, and patient care. However, it isn’t equivalent to a degree and is slowly losing popularity among future nurses.

Associate Degree in Nursing

An Associate Degree in Nursing also takes around two to three years to complete. It will give you the essential nursing skills needed to pass the nursing license exam and get an entry-level job. Typically, employers seek a minimum of an associate degree for a registered nurse position.

Most nursing associate degree students go on to obtain a higher university degree such as a bachelor’s or master’s degree in nursing for career advancement. An associate degree program covers college courses and provides you with a headstart for advanced degrees that a diploma program does not.

The pandemic may make you want to pursue an online associate degree, but a nursing degree requires you to complete in-person clinical hours.

Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing (BSN)

A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is a specialty bachelor’s degree that opens up more job possibilities and higher salary opportunities in the nursing field. A BSN is typically favored over an associate degree in the industry and will take you around four years to complete.

A BSN program also allows you to pursue specialist nursing jobs in informatics, nursing administration, or orthopedics. If you’re looking for a wider variety of career options and a higher salary, then a BSN is for you. However, it’s worth noting that an associate degree will allow you to register as a nurse and start working a year or two earlier than if you do a BSN.

Master’s Degree in Nursing (MSN)

A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is a degree for registered nurses, typically those with BSN degrees looking to further their careers by specializing. An MSN will take you anywhere between two and three years to complete, and brings a significant increase in pay with it.

Depending on your interests, you can specialize in nurse anesthesia, mental health, prenatal nursing, and more. You can also get a double specialization by combining different fields. For example, you can combine an MSN with either a Master of Business Administration (MBA) or a Master of Healthcare Administration.

Registered Nurse Doctoral Degree (DNP)

A Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is the highest-level degree a registered nurse can get to become an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN). A DNP opens up a range of career possibilities in high-level registered nursing. You could be a certified registered nurse anesthetist, clinical nurse specialist, neonatal nurse practitioner, and more.

What Does a Registered Nurse Do?

The role of a registered nurse differs according to the department and position level. However, many duties are typical for a registered nurse regardless of their role, as listed below.

Takes Care of Patients

One of the primary duties of a registered nurse is to take care of a patient’s medical needs. This means administering medication, monitoring their condition, and dressing wounds. Patient management also includes answering patient concerns and educating them on their treatment plans.

Supervises Junior Nursing Staff

The duties of a registered nurse supervisor also include junior nursing staff management. This includes allocating duties, managing schedules, and monitoring staff performance. Licensed practical nurses typically work under the direct supervision of registered nurses.

Reports on Patients’ Conditions

As a registered nurse, you are also responsible for observing and evaluating each patient’s condition by monitoring vital signs such as their blood pressure. You then report their condition to the doctor, who provides a treatment plan.

Essential Registered Nurse Skills

Being a great registered nurse requires a strong mix of soft skills, along with relevant nursing training. To succeed in this career, you’ll need these sought-after skills.

Emergency Care Skills

As a registered nurse, you’ll have to regularly deal with health emergencies. Therefore, you must be able to provide urgent lifesaving care to patients until a doctor can attend to them.

This includes basic first aid such as CPR, preventing extreme blood loss, and preventing a patient’s condition from getting worse. You’ll also need to be able to stay calm and make decisions under pressure.

Knowledge of Medical Technology and Equipment

Today the medical field is heavily reliant on technology. As an RN, you must be able to use various types of medical equipment to check the vital signs of a patient, from blood pressure and pulse to body temperature.

Problem-Solving Skills

A registered nurse must also have good critical thinking and problem-solving skills. You’ll need to be able to defuse complex patient management situations, handle difficult patients, and administer emergency medical care.

Communication Skills

As the role revolves around responding to patients’ needs, you need to have excellent communication skills. You must be able to clearly communicate treatment plans, explain medications, and answer patient queries. Communication skills are also important for conveying the patient’s condition to the doctor and assigning duties to junior staff.

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

Becoming a registered nurse isn’t an easy career path. To be successful, you must attain the necessary education, license, professional experience, and sought-after industry skills. To help you succeed in this nursing field, below is a step-by-step guide to becoming a registered nurse.


Step 1: Obtain a Nursing Degree

The first step is to obtain the necessary nursing degree to qualify for the registered nursing (RN) license exam. You can either get a diploma in nursing or a university degree in nursing.

We recommend getting an undergraduate degree such as an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree, as they are typically the industry-standard educational requirement. You can also get an online master’s degree or even a doctorate to advance your career in the registered nursing field.


Step 2: Complete Nursing Clinicals

Nursing clinical opportunities vary depending on the educational pathway you choose, but they are extremely valuable in giving you hands-on, real-world clinical experience while under supervision.

They’ll provide you with a realistic perspective of what a registered nurse’s role comprises, and will allow you to apply your theoretical medical knowledge in practical settings.


Step 3: Pass the NCLEX

A mandatory requirement for all registered nurses is to be licensed via the National Council Licensure Registered Nurse Exam (NCLEX). After completing the educational requirements, the NCLEX exam is the next step.

The exam will test you on the nursing knowledge you learned in school, and also covers industry topics and critical-thinking assessment. The exams and licensing requirements may differ between states.


Step 4: Get an RN License in Your State

As mentioned above, RN licensing requirements vary by state. If you live in Alaska, for example, you must take the NCLEX via the Alaska Board of Nursing and adhere to the state’s additional requirements. In Florida, a registered nurse is required to renew their license every two years and complete 18 hours of state-required nursing education.


Step 5: Get Professional Experience

This last step is to increase your chances of employment and of getting your dream job. Having professional nursing experience will help you stand out among the applicant pool. You can start by shadowing a senior registered nurse, or even volunteer at a clinic or hospital to gain valuable pre-nursing experience.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Registered Nurse?

The time it takes to become a registered nurse completely depends on the educational program you choose to pursue. One of the fastest degree programs is an Associate Degree in Nursing that will take you around two to three years to complete.

If you choose to get a BSN, it will take you around four years, and around seven years if you go on to do an MSN. The duration also depends on the time it takes you to pass the NCLEX registered nurse exam.

Should You Become a Registered Nurse in 2021?

Ask yourself if supporting patients and having a rewarding career full of varied pathways entices you. If it does, then you should consider becoming a registered nurse in 2021. Along with stability and job security, the field of nursing brings opportunities to specialize in various areas, from neonatal care to intensive care to anesthesia nursing.

Being a registered nurse is a demanding career that requires an extensive time commitment and brings a range of emotional challenges. But if you want to become a part of the healthcare industry and contribute to society’s wellbeing, then nursing is a great career option.

Registered Nurse FAQ

What are some of the most in-demand registered nursing skills?

A registered nurse is expected to have a wide range of technical and soft skills. They include patient care, ICD coding, acute care, communication skills, empathy, and leadership skills.

How long do registered nurses’ shifts typically last?

An RN’s typical shift lasts between eight and 12 hours. If you work longer shifts, you will typically work fewer days each week.

What is the highest-paid registered nurse profession?

A certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) is considered the highest-paid registered nursing profession. CRNAs can earn as high as $212,652 annually.

Do I need a license to become a registered nurse?

Yes, you need to pass the NCLEX and register for a license in your state to become a registered nurse.

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