How to Become a Nurse in the US | A Step-by-Step Guide

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Nayreth Garcia

Content Writer At Gradehacker

How to become a Registered Nurse in the USA?

If your dream is to become a nurse in the US and don’t know where to start, here are the first steps you need to take:

Earn your degree in half the time (yeah, really)

If you still haven’t enrolled in a nursing program, book a free 30-minute call with us and discover how you can be the nursing student who graduates faster!

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Earn your degree in half the time (yeah, really)

If you still haven’t enrolled in a nursing program, book a free 30-minute call with us and discover how you can be the nursing student who graduates faster!

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If you have a passion for helping others and are interested in pursuing a career in healthcare, becoming a registered nurse (RN) may be the right path for you.

RNs play a crucial role in providing patient care, promoting health, and assisting in medical procedures.

The process of becoming one can be overwhelming if you don’t know the right steps. That’s why at Gradehacker, the non-traditional students’ #1 resource, we are dedicated to assisting nursing students at each step of the way.

In this blog, we’ll go in-depth about what you need and how each step works in order to get your nursing license.

What Are The First Steps You Need to Take to Become a Nurse?

If you are first starting this journey and are diving deep into how to get a nursing license, there are some steps you can follow as a guide to know where to go:

1. Research education requirements:

The first step is to research the education requirements for becoming an RN.

In the US, there are three main educational paths:

To become an RN, there are several steps you need to take. Here is a general guide on how to become a registered nurse:

2. Choose the right nursing program:

There are several educational paths you can take to become a registered nurse.

You can pursue an associate degree in nursing (ADN) from a community college, a school diploma from a hospital, or a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) from a university.

Consider your career goals and the time and resources you have available to choose the right program for you.

3. Gain practical experience:

In addition to coursework, you will need to gain hands-on experience through clinical rotations or internships.

This will provide you with real-world experience and help you develop the skills necessary for patient care.

4. Pass the NCLEX-RN exam:

After completing your nursing program, you will need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) in order to become licensed as a registered nurse.

The NCLEX-RN is a standardized exam that tests your knowledge and skills in various areas of nursing practice.

5. Apply for state licensure:

Once you have passed the NCLEX-RN, you will need to apply for state licensure in the state where you plan to practice as a registered nurse.

Each state has its own licensure requirements, so be sure to research and comply with your state’s specific regulations.

6. Continuing education:

Once you have obtained your nursing license, it is important to engage in nursing events to stay updated on the latest advancements in healthcare and maintain your professional competence.

This can include attending conferences, workshops, and seminars and pursuing additional certifications or advanced degrees.

7. Specialize or advance your nursing career:

Don’t forget that after you complete your RN program and get a degree, your nursing path won’t finish there.

Once certified, you have the opportunity to follow a nursing specialty in a specific area of healthcare.

This can include areas such as pediatrics, geriatrics, critical care, obstetrics, and more.

Specializing can open up new career opportunities and allow you to further develop your skills and knowledge in a specific area of interest.

These programs in nursing can help you tremendously advance and define your profession.

Be the nurse who graduates faster gets to live their life sees their family has a six-figure job

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What Are The Different Types of Nursing Degrees?

Nowadays, the number of people applying for nursing education programs is constantly rising.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of registered nurses is projected to grow 6 percent from 2021 to 2031, and on average, about 203,200 openings for registered nurses are projected each year for the next decade.

In 2023, The State University of New York was awarded more than $1.4 million to expand campus healthcare graduate programs with the goal of growing their healthcare workforce by 20 percent over the next three years.

So, It’s pretty clear that the registered nurse job outlook is on the rise.

Nurses definitely play an essential role in the healthcare system, but they count on a variety of healthcare paths.

These are the most common types of degrees in nursing:

Let’s go over each one in detail now.

1. CNA Certificate or Diploma

CNA stands for Certified Nursing Assistant, and it’s most commonly completed at community colleges and vocational schools.

It’s the first level or step you need if you want to get into the nursing field quickly since the entire academic program has a duration of 4 to 12 weeks.

You will learn:

If you are a non-traditional student, you can choose to pursue an online nursing degree.

Just make sure you have an approved location where you can perform the requested clinical practice in person with the best nurse educators for you!

What can you do with a CNA certification?

After completing the program in nursing and getting your certificate, you will qualify to take the CNA exam.

Since you’ll have training in primary healthcare, you can start applying for jobs to work with patients under the supervision of a licensed practical or registered nurse. This will depend on your state laws.

Here are some healthcare facilities where you can start developing your professional goals as a nurse with your CNA Certificate:

2. Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) Certification

An LPN is a Licensed Practical Nurse certificate that you can earn at technical schools, community colleges, and even some clinical experience at hospitals.

The difference between CNA and LPN is that LPN certificates add more knowledge on nursing theory for your profession about the body and healthcare treatment.

This program in nursing includes general medical topics like:

With this type of degree, you will achieve your nursing goals in a timeframe of 12 to 18 months.

With an LPN certificate, you will be able to:

If you plan to earn an advanced degree, it’s important that you get your LPN from an accredited nursing program. The credits from a non-accredited one will make you ineligible to transfer to the next levels of nursing degrees.

Here you can learn more about Nursing School Accreditation and why it’s so important!

What can you do with an LPN certificate?

After you have the LPN certificate in your hands, you’ll be qualified to take the National Council Licensure Examination, better known as the NCLEX-PN.

Passing this exam means that you are eligible for a license and finally start your nursing profession!

Also, you can start applying to different healthcare organizations such as:

If you’d like to learn more about the NCLEX Exam, we have a blog and a video with all the information you need!

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Nursing students get one essay for free

To show you how valuable our 1-1 assistance we can be in your life, we are gifting you a 5-page double-spaced essay. Just submit your request and save hours of work!

3. Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)

The Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) is the minimum nursing degree level required to become a registered nurse (RN).

If you are planning a long-term nursing career, an ADN will suit you. This two-year program is offered in community colleges and different 4-year colleges.

ADN programs have more complete courses in anatomy, biology, and also physiology.

You will need the experience of an RN to develop more challenging procedures for your professional nursing practice, such as:

What can you do with an ADN degree?

With an ADN, you can take the NCLEX-RN, an educational requirement for RN licensure in the entire US.

Most commonly, nurses with an ADN get professional experience at hospitals; however, there are many different places you can work and practice skills, for example:

4. Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is a complete four-year degree especially designed for RNs who aspire to obtain higher roles in the healthcare system and higher salaries.

With a BSN degree, you will have to learn more about specific areas like anatomy, chemistry, and particular skills related to:

You also have different ways to pursue your BSN, from traditional degree programs to fast-track ones, such as an accelerated BSN program specifically designed for students who already have a degree.

We created an article about it so you can know which one accommodates your needs.

What can you do with a BSN degree?

With a BSN, you will have gained so much knowledge and experience in clinical hours that it will allow you to pursue a wide range of job opportunities.

You can apply to other non-traditional roles of nursing, such as:

If you want more information on how you can get an online BSN degree faster, check out our video!

5. Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is the most demanding nursing degree, as it’s specifically designed for nurses who want to tailor their careers to a specific leadership role.

An MSN degree takes two to three years to complete. Still, you are supposed to count on having an RN license or having done a BSN coursework.

Still, you can start your MSN in a fast-paced program that is very demanding. Whether it is RN to MSN or BSN to MSN, you’ll get your Master’s in a shorter time and learn from the best nurse leaders.

What can you do with an MSN degree?

After getting your MSN, you will be able to work as an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN).

It will open many job opportunities in the first line of healthcare and healthcare management positions.

Here are some big job opportunities you can apply for:

If you want to pursue an MSN online degree but are worried about not meeting the standard requirements, read our list of the best programs with low GPA requirements.

6. Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN)

Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) are highly trained and specialized nurses who have obtained a Master of Science in Nursing degree.

These professionals have the knowledge and skills to provide advanced and specialized care to patients.

There are four main types of APRNs:

Nurse Practitioner (NP):

NPs are primary care providers who can diagnose and treat common illnesses and conditions, prescribe medications, and provide preventive care.

They often work in collaboration with physicians to deliver comprehensive healthcare services.

You can learn more about them in the next section.

Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS):

CNSs are experts in a specific area of healthcare, such as oncology, pediatrics, or psychiatric-mental health.

They provide direct patient care, educate other nurses and healthcare professionals, and contribute to research and quality improvement initiatives.

Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM):

CNMs provide comprehensive healthcare services to women throughout their lifespan, including prenatal care, childbirth, and postpartum care.

They also provide gynecological care and family planning services.

Certified Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA):

CRNAs specialize in administering anesthesia to patients undergoing surgical procedures or medical treatments.

They work in various settings, including operating rooms, labor and delivery units, and pain management clinics.

7. Nurse Practitioner License

Once you have completed your LPN program and gained some experience working as a licensed practical nurse, you may choose to further advance your nursing career by obtaining a Nurse Practitioner license.

To become an NP, you must first complete a graduate-level nursing program, such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). These programs typically take about 2-3 years to complete.

During your graduate nursing program, you’ll receive advanced training in areas such as pharmacology, diagnostics, and healthcare management.

With this nursing diploma, you’ll also have the opportunity to specialize in a specific area of nursing, such as family practice, pediatrics, or geriatrics.

Once you have completed your graduate program, you will need to pass a national certification exam specific to your chosen specialty.

This exam is typically administered by a professional nursing organization, such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP).

After passing the certification exam, you will need to apply for licensure as an NP in your state.

The requirements for licensure vary by state but typically include submitting an application, providing proof of education and certification, and passing a background check.

What can you do with an NP license?

Once you are licensed as an NP, you will have the opportunity to provide primary care to patients, diagnose and treat illnesses, prescribe medications, and even perform minor procedures.

NPs often work in collaboration with physicians but also have the ability to practice independently in many states.

Some common settings where NPs practice include primary care clinics, hospitals, specialty clinics, community health centers, and private practices.

NPs can also work in educational settings, research institutions, and government agencies. Becoming one allows for increased autonomy and responsibility in the nursing profession.

NPs often have the opportunity to develop long-term relationships with their patients and provide comprehensive care across the lifespan.

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Save time. Talk directly with us!

Book a free 30-min call and clear out all your questions on how we can make you graduate in half the time!

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Are You Ready to Get Your Nursing Degree?

Becoming a professional nurse is not an easy task.

Getting into any nursing program means full-time study so you can later work in the best healthcare facilities.

It’s a demanding profession, but working in the field of nursing is one of the most rewarding and vital roles, and it’s worth it if it’s your goal!

Whatever you choose, make sure it’s the most suitable option for you and what you want for your future.

We hope this information was useful for you! If you ever need help with your classes or are looking for the best way to earn your degree sooner, don’t hesitate to contact us.

You can learn more about nursing education-related topics here: