Summary of the Qualifications for a Nurse

Nurses provide medical care and emotional support to patients.
Nurses provide medical care and emotional support to patients. (Image: Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)

Nurses make up the largest health care occupation, with 2.6 million registered nurse jobs in 2008, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The bureau sees excellent employment opportunities, with 22 percent growth from 2008 to 2018. Nurses have various advancement opportunities with experience, additional education and good performance. All nurses are required to graduate from an approved nursing program and pass the state licensure exam, among other qualifications.


Aspiring nurses can take one of three common paths to become registered nurses. Aspiring nurses can earn a four-year bachelor's of science degree in nursing, which is offered by many universities and colleges. An associate degree in nursing is the second educational path option and is offered by community and junior colleges. This takes two to three years. Aspiring nurses can also earn a diploma through a diploma program administered in hospitals, which takes about three years.


Nurses in all 50 states and U.S. territories are required to graduate from an approved nursing program and pass the national licensure exam, known as the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX-RN. Eligibility requirements vary by state; nurses should contact their state’s board of nursing for further information on qualifying and taking the exam.

Additional Qualifications

In addition to educational and licensure qualifications, nurses are also need to be responsible, sympathetic, detail oriented and caring. Nurses are required to direct or supervise other hospital staff, and need to properly assess patient conditions. Nurses must be emotionally stable. Nurses should also enjoy learning, becasue continuing education credits are required by some states to maintain licensure. The American Nursing Credentialing Center, as well as the National League of Nursing, offer credentialing opportunities in several specialties for registered nurses.


Nurses can advance to managerial positions with experience and good performance. Nurses commonly advance to head nurses, then to more senior-level administrative roles such as director, chief nurse or vice president. Registered nurses may also advance to practice nurses; all types of advanced practice nurses require at least a master’s degree. Qualifications for various senior or advanced nursing positions vary by state and employer. In some cases, nurses may also advance to the business side of health care.

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