How to Become a Registered Nurse

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Registered nurses, or RNs, are part of the medical team that cares for patients. Common tasks include gathering a patient's medical history, administering medications, operating medical equipment and performing diagnostic tests. Specific tasks vary based on specialty and employer. For example, neonatology nurses care for infants while critical care nurses work with people who need intensive care.

Nursing Education Requirements

  • All registered nurses complete a nursing education program. They must at least complete a diploma program, but may complete an associate or bachelor's degree. These degrees prepare a nurse for an entry-level position. Nurses with a bachelor's degree usually have greater employment opportunities.

    The diploma and associate degree typically take two to three years to complete. A Bachelor of Science in Nursing requires four years of education. All nursing programs include coursework in anatomy, physiology, chemistry, psychology and nutrition. Nurses also complete clinical experience under the supervision of licensed medical professionals. Bachelor's degree programs require additional coursework in sciences, communication and critical thinking.

Skills and Qualifications

  • Successful nurses are compassionate and emotionally stable to assist patients each day who may be in pain. They must be able to remain calm in emergency situations and pay attention to details when recording patient information or treating patients. Strong communication skills are necessary to communicate with patients and their families. Nurses also need enough physical strength to perform tasks such as helping to lift a patient.

Certification and Licensure

  • A state license is required to practice nursing. In addition to completing the required education, nurses must take the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX-RN, to obtain a license. Some states may have additional requirements.

    Nurses may also get certified in a specialty area. Certification typically requires passing an examination. Some areas of specialization include medical-surgical nursing, forensic nursing, pediatric nursing and cardiac-vascular nursing.

Employment Opportunities and Outlook

  • Most nurses are employed in hospitals, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Other employment opportunities are available in doctors' offices, residential care facilities, home health-care companies and government agencies, such as correctional facilities and the military.

    The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects employment for registered nurses to increase by 19 percent between 2012 and 2022. This is greater than the 11 percent predicted employment growth for all occupations during the same time period.

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