Paving the Way to Becoming a Nurse [+ Requirements & FAQs]

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Nurses play a critical role in our society today - providing expert care from birth to the end of life, educating the public and patients on preventing injury and illnesses, and being advocates for health promotion within every community. Approximately 3 million nurses have been working in the field that makes up the backbone of the U.S. healthcare industry, according to a report in August 2021. 

It can be quite hard to get into nursing school for a variety of reasons. Besides the shortage of schools, the competition for entry into nursing programs is intense, even for students with high scores. Despite the great challenges in the very beginning, this can be a highly rewarding profession. If you're also seeking employment in this field, keep scrolling for the ultimate guide to becoming a nurse, including nursing education requirements and other essential qualifications.

Step 1: Choose Your Nursing Career Path

There are a variety of jobs within this field that you can take up once you've met all nursing degree requirements. Knowing exactly what you enjoy working on and understanding what tasks you're going to handle will help you nail down the right position.

We will walk you through the duties and responsibilities of 10 different nursing jobs.

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

  • Feed, bathe, and dress patients with low mobility 
  • Prepare each patient's room with necessary items like blankets, pillows, and medical equipment while keeping their rooms tidy
  • Take and record patient vital signs, and report them to the nursing and medical staff
  • Make sure they have regular meals and take proper medications
  • Assist patients with mobility needs like transferring them from wheelchair to bed or adjusting their beds 
  • Take patients out for a walk

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) & Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN)

  • Record patients' medical history and monitor their vitals 
  • Maintain the cleanliness and comfort of patients, including bathing, dressing, changing bandages, serving meals, and assisting with mobility
  • Assist nursing and medical staff with basic medical tasks if necessary
  • Perform ongoing assessments of the patient’s physical and mental health 
  • Explain procedures and treatment protocols to patients and their families

Surgical Assistant

  • Apply dressings for the patients 
  • Maintain a sterile operating field and disinfect the incision site
  • Provide pre and post-operative care to patients
  • Handle some clerical work such as record keeping and handling the phone calls
  • Perform and report the patient's ongoing assessments including observation, physical examination, test results as well as their response to procedural intervention

Home Care Registered Nurse

  • Travel to patients’ homes and provide them with healthcare services according to physicians' instructions 
  • Monitor patients’ health conditions and report them to the supervision physicians
  • Administer medications, dress wounds, monitor vital signs, and other essential tests
  • Communicate with patients’ family members about the ongoing care or aftercare of the patients
  • Work closely with healthcare professionals to provide the best possible care plans

Emergency Room Registered Nurse

  • Maintain a highly quick response to a medical emergency
  • Assist with initial insurance paperwork
  • Treat critical injuries, allergic reactions, trauma, etc.
  • Perform minor medical operations at the request of the doctors
  • Ensure the emergency room complies with the care standards 
  • Communicate with doctors and patients to keep them updated on test results and treatment plans

Intensive Care Unit Registered Nurse

  • Monitor and evaluate the patient’s progress, and regularly deliver updates to doctors, patients, and their family members
  • Respond to a medical emergency and alert the appropriate doctors when needed
  • Begin treatment and monitor doses
  • Care for the needs of patients throughout their recovery in the ICU unit
  • Handle all necessary paperwork before transferring a patient.
  • Create and implement effective care plans

Labor and Delivery Nurse

  • Monitor patients before, during, and after their labor
  • Assess patients in triage for preterm labor, active labor, rupture of membranes, pregnancy complications, etc.
  • Help patients with breathing techniques, induction assistance, epidural assistance, pain management, education, and delivery support
  • Ensure the operating room, including the patient's bed, is clean before and after the birthing process
  • Collaborate with the care management team, including anesthesiologist, physician or midwife, lactation nurse, and charge nurse
  • Provide immediate care to newborns

Critical Care Registered Nurse

  • Assist with healthcare team members in patient care plans 
  • Provide medical attention and basic care to patients in the intensive care unit of hospitals and healthcare facilities
  • Prepare and administer prescribed medications
  • Monitor patients for any sudden or subtle changes in patients’ medical conditions like ventilation, renal, and cardiac status
  • Deliver regular updates to doctors, patients, and their family members

Clinical Nurse Specialist

  • Optimize patient care by supervising nursing staff and consulting with patient care managers
  • Perform ongoing health assessments and develop specialized treatment plans after patient examinations
  • Develop nursing practices, policies, and procedures
  • Analyze patient data and outcomes to improve clinical recommendations
  • Educate patients and their families on how to best manage their conditions

Nurse Practitioner

  • Perform physical exams and diagnostic procedures
  • Develop and implement patient care plans based on test results 
  • Document all patients' medical histories and symptoms
  • Monitor and operate medical equipment
  • Consult with healthcare professionals and patients' families

Step 2: Meet Nursing Degree Requirements

Nurse education requirements might vary depending on your nursing specialty. Below are the 4 different types of degrees and majors that are needed to become a nurse.

Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)

The Associate’s degree in Nursing is a 2-year degree that will give you a solid foundation for a career in the healthcare section. Once you’ve earned this degree, you are eligible to take the NCLEX-RN examination which must be passed to become licensed by the State.

As a minimum nurse education requirement, this degree provides opportunities to work in entry-level nursing positions such as: 

  • Certified Nursing Assistant
  • Licensed Vocational/Practical Nurse
  • Hospice Nurse
  • Home Health Nurse
  • Paramedic

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

The Bachelor of Science in Nursing is for students who are seeking to become an RN or those who already earn an Associate Degree in Nursing and want to meet further nurse education requirements. This type of degree provides you with the skills you need to play a more advanced role in nursing leadership, education, and research.

With a BSN, you can have more job opportunities in this field, for example: 

  • Public Health Nurse
  • Surgical Nurse
  • ICU Nurse
  • Nurse Manager
  • Health Educator

Accelerated Nursing Program

This program is designed to provide students with the opportunity to earn their Bachelor of Science in Nursing or Master of Science in Nursing in a shorter time compared to traditional on-campus college programs. Those who already have undergraduate degrees in other majors but wish to become a nurse are also eligible for this program.

For example, you're currently working as a CNA, LPN, or LVN with aspirations of becoming an RN. Another case is you’re an RN but in the process of becoming a nurse practitioner or APRN. 

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

If you've completed a BSN degree, you can pursue an MSN program that allows you to specialize in various areas and further develop your knowledge and skills through intense practice and theoretical classes. This is also a nursing degree requirement for those who want to continue with doctoral studies. 

Possible careers with a nursing master's degree include:

  • Nurse Practitioner
  • Nurse Researcher
  • Nurse Administrator
  • Nurse Educator
  • Certified Nurse Midwife

Step 3: Get a Nursing Certification/License

The National Council Licensure Examination, abbreviated as NCLEX, refers to one of the two standardized tests that nurses need to pass if they want to become registered nurses or licensed practical nurses.

Check out the table below to see specific types of nursing certifications for different careers and specialties.

Nursing CareerNursing Certification
Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)CNA program
Licensed Practical Nurse / Licensed Vocational NurseLPN programs
Surgical AssistantCSA
Home Care Registered NurseRN-BC
ER NurseACLS, PALS & BLS
ICU NurseCCRN
Labor and Delivery NurseRNC-OB
Critical Care Registered NurseCCRN (adult)
Clinical Nurse SpecialistCertification of Clinical Nurse Specialist
Nurse PractitionerANP-BC & AGACNP-BC

Step 4: Apply for a Nursing Job

Once you’ve met all educational qualifications for nursing, start off your job search! 

There’re plenty of job boards where you can look for employment opportunities and learn about nursing degree requirements as well, for example:

Besides these platforms, career centers are highly recommended whether you're a newbie looking for an entry-level job or an experienced nurse looking to change your specialty. They not only help you find a suitable job but also provide in-person advising, mentoring, and coaching.

Another way to look for nursing jobs is by making personal connections with other nurses and healthcare providers. You can do so either in real life or on social media, which is likely to open many doors for nursing career opportunities. 

The next steps you need to nail in your job search are to create a strong nursing resume for the specific role and to practice for your interview. While it’s important to prove that you’ve met all nurse education requirements throughout your application, you have to show the hiring manager your qualifications for nursing at the interview.

Step 5: Participate in Further Training Programs

Looking to level up your nursing education because you’re working towards career advancement, or thinking about changing your path in the field? If so, the best way to meet these goals is to enroll in additional training programs which provide you with new knowledge or sharpen the skills you already use every day as a nurse.

Here are 3 examples of additional training programs for nurses:

  • LPN-to-RN: Upon the completion of accredited registered nurse programs, LPNs have to pass the NCLEX-RN to work as licensed nurses.
  • LPN-to-ADN: An ADN will allow you to seek nursing licensure if you're looking to become an entry-level RN. This additional training program may also offer you some opportunities to manage LPNs.
  • LPN-to-BSN: This is a flexible, hybrid degree program that suits those currently working as licensed practical nurses and who want to earn a bachelor's degree in nursing.

FAQs about Becoming a Nurse

1. How long does it take to be a nurse?

  • How long does it take to become an RN?

2 to 4 years - depending on your clinical experience and the registered nurse education requirements in where you’re based.  

  • How long does it take to become a CNA?

4 to 12 weeks - including classroom and clinical work, and depending on your regional guidelines.

  • How long does it take to become an LPN?

12 months for a full-time licensed practical nurse (LPN) training program which provides you with basic nursing skills through a combination of coursework and clinical experiences.

2. How much do nurses make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median average pay for nurses is $77,600 per year (equally $37.31 per hour). Multiple factors affect the salary of nursing jobs, including: 

  • Type of nursing degree/program 
  • Hands-on experience
  • Specialty
  • Region & location
  • etc.

3. What is the difference between a doctor and a nurse practitioner?

Both professionals can work together to deliver patient care - recording patients’ medical histories and symptoms and diagnosing their health issues. 

With that being said, nurse practitioners generally wear more hats, including patient diagnoses, specialty care, and treatments, as well as administrative or educational roles.

With CakeResume, we provide you with the best resume builder, hundreds of free professional resume templates, and resume examples that help showcase the best you. Landing your dream job will be a piece of cake!

--- Originally written by May Luong ---

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