Registered Nurses (RNs) are the backbone of the healthcare system, providing essential patient care in various settings such as hospitals, clinics, and nursing homes. As an RN, you will be responsible for assessing patients’ conditions, administering medications, and developing care plans, among other duties. This article will outline the steps you need to take to become a successful RN.
Understanding the Role of a Registered Nurse
RNs work in various healthcare settings and their primary responsibilities include:
- Assessing patients’ health conditions and needs
- Developing and implementing nursing care plans
- Administering medications and treatments
- Monitoring and evaluating patients’ progress
- Collaborating with physicians and other healthcare professionals
- Supervising and delegating tasks to licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and certified nursing assistants (CNAs)
- Providing patient education and emotional support
To be successful as an RN, you should possess the following qualities:
- Compassion and empathy for patients and their families
- Strong critical thinking and problem-solving skills
- Excellent communication and interpersonal skills
- Attention to detail and the ability to follow instructions
- Adaptability and resilience when working in a challenging and fast-paced environment
Educational Requirements and Training
Obtain a High School Diploma or GED
To pursue a career in nursing, you must first complete your high school education or obtain a General Educational Development (GED) certificate. This will prepare you for the prerequisite coursework required in nursing programs.
Choose a Nursing Education Path
There are three primary paths to becoming an RN:
- Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN): An ADN program typically takes two years to complete and is offered by community colleges and some universities. This is the shortest path to becoming an RN, but may limit your career advancement opportunities compared to a BSN degree.
- Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN): A BSN program typically takes four years to complete and is offered by universities. This degree path provides more extensive education and training, which can lead to greater career opportunities and higher earning potential.
- Direct-Entry Master of Science in Nursing (MSN): For individuals who already hold a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field, some universities offer direct-entry MSN programs. These programs typically take two to three years to complete and allow you to earn both a BSN and an MSN.
Complete Prerequisite Courses
Before enrolling in a nursing program, you may be required to complete prerequisite courses in subjects such as biology, chemistry, anatomy, and physiology. These courses provide a strong foundation in the sciences, which is essential for success in nursing school.
Enroll in a Nursing Program
Once you have chosen your preferred nursing education path and completed the necessary prerequisites, you can enroll in a nursing program. These programs typically include both classroom instruction and clinical experiences. The curriculum covers essential topics such as:
- Nursing theory and practice
- Health assessment
- Medical-surgical nursing
- Pediatric nursing
- Maternity nursing
- Mental health nursing
Ensure that the nursing program you choose is accredited by either the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). This is a requirement for licensure and ensures that the program meets national standards for nursing education.
Complete Clinical Hours
As part of your nursing program, you will be required to complete a certain number of clinical hours under the supervision of an experienced nurse. The required hours vary depending on the program and degree level, but typically ranges from 500 to 800 hours. Clinical experiences provide hands-on training in various healthcare settings, such as hospitals, nursing homes, and clinics, allowing you to apply the skills and knowledge you’ve learned in the classroom to real-life patient care situations.
Pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN)
After completing your nursing program, you must pass the NCLEX-RN to become licensed as an RN. The NCLEX-RN is a computer-adaptive exam that tests your nursing knowledge and skills, focusing on patient safety, health promotion, and disease prevention. The exam consists of multiple-choice questions and alternate item formats such as fill-in-the-blank and multiple response questions.
To prepare for the NCLEX-RN, consider using study guides, practice exams, and review courses. Many nursing programs also provide resources and support to help students prepare for the exam.
Obtain State Licensure
After passing the NCLEX-RN, you must apply for licensure through your state’s board of nursing. This process typically involves submitting an application form, proof of completion of an accredited nursing program, NCLEX-RN exam results, and a background check. Some states may also require additional exams, such as a jurisprudence exam, which tests your knowledge of state nursing laws and regulations.
Upon approval of your application, you will receive your RN license and be legally authorized to practice nursing in your state.
Prepare Your Resume and Cover Letter
Create a professional resume and cover letter highlighting your nursing education, clinical experience, and relevant certifications or speciality training. Emphasize the skills and qualities that make you a strong candidate for an RN position, such as your critical thinking abilities, effective communication skills, and adaptability.
Apply for RN Positions
Begin your job search by applying for RN positions in various healthcare settings, such as hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and home healthcare agencies. You can search for job openings through online job boards, healthcare facility websites, or professional nursing organizations.
Attend Job Fairs and Networking Events
Job fairs and networking events can be valuable opportunities to connect with potential employers and learn about job openings in your area. Bring copies of your resume and be prepared to discuss your qualifications and interest in working as an RN.
Utilize Your Nursing Program’s Resources
Many nursing programs offer job placement assistance or have connections with local healthcare facilities. Reach out to your instructors or the program’s career services department to inquire about job leads or networking opportunities.
Advancing Your Career
Pursue Continuing Education
As an RN, staying up-to-date on the latest developments in patient care and healthcare practices is essential. Many states require RNs to complete certain continuing education hours to maintain their license. In addition to meeting these requirements, pursuing additional training in areas such as critical care, wound care, or infection control can enhance your skills and make you more marketable to employers.
Obtain Specialty Certifications
Specialized certifications can help you advance your career and increase your earning potential. Some popular certifications for RNs include:
- Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN)
- Oncology Certified Nurse (OCN)
- Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
- Certified Nurse Educator (CNE)
Consider Pursuing an Advanced Practice Nursing Degree
If you are interested in furthering your career in healthcare, consider pursuing an advanced practice nursing degree, such as a Nurse Practitioner (NP), Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS), or Certified Nurse-Midwife (CNM). These roles offer increased responsibilities.