This is a big question. Becoming a nurse is no small task. You’ll find it to be one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of your life. And it’s important to note that there is no singular path to becoming a nurse. It’s different for everyone. So you’ll have to take some time and do some research to determine the best route for you.
In the most basic sense, to become a nurse you need to accomplish the following:
- Earn a diploma in nursing, an Associate Degree in Nursing, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing or complete the necessary coursework required by your state board of nursing.
- Take and pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN)
It may appear to be only a two-step process, but a lot of time and effort goes in to each step.
Let’s take a closer look at the education requirements of step one.
What you’ll need to get started
When applying to most nursing programs, you may need any of the following items:
- Your high school diploma (or GED)
- A cumulative grade point average (GPA) of 3.2 or higher on a 4.0 scale
- Scores from recognized standardized tests such as the SAT, ACT, HESI Admission Assessment (A2), NET or TEAS
- A completed application form
- A completed essay
- To submit to a background check and drug test
- To take part in an interview process
After submitting the necessary materials, your application will go to a committee which will evaluate your qualifications. Students are then selected for acceptance into the program. The majority of schools will have a limited number of seats available for a nursing program and will not be able to take all qualified applicants.
Please note: not all programs have the same requirements. Some programs may require other information or materials not listed here. Be sure to check with the institution of your choice before applying.
Here’s a brief overview of some of the more common degree programs that some schools offer.
Diploma in Nursing
A nursing diploma is awarded by hospital-based nursing schools. Though once widespread, there are few locations supporting this type of program today. Coursework typically centers on hands-on experiences in medical facilities and does not involve the broader general education classes found in traditional colleges. Full-time students can complete the program in an average of three years.
Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)
Earning your ADN is a relatively quick way to put yourself in line for taking the NCLEX-RN and becoming a nurse. Most programs will run two to three years, depending on how many courses you take in a given semester. Due to supplementary general education coursework, graduates will also have an additional knowledge base to build upon for continued learning if they choose to obtain their Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree in the future.
Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
A BSN is a four-year degree which can be earned at accredited colleges and universities. These programs prepare nurses to engage in the full scope of professional nursing practices across all healthcare settings by requiring additional general education courses. Like both the diploma and ADN programs, the BSN program is entry-level and features clinical learning experiences. Additionally, only by earning your BSN will you also have the option to further your education by earning a Master of Science in Nursing Degree in a specialty of your choice (educator, executive, healthcare, etc.).
Once you’ve completed one of the above programs, you’ll need to take the NCLEX-RN in order to receive your license to be a registered nurse. The NCLEX-RN is developed and owned by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). The exam is designed to test the knowledge, skills and abilities necessary for the safe and effective practice of entry-level nursing. Scoring is determined by test takers’ ability to think critically about choices nurses must make.
The NCLEX-RN is broken down into various sections covering key content, including:
- Management of Care
- Safety and Infection Control
- Health Promotion and Maintenance
- Psychosocial Integrity
- Basic Care and Comfort
- Pharmacological and Parenteral Therapies
- Reduction of Risk Potential
- Physiological Adaptation
The test is administered by computerized adaptive testing (CAT) which allows for each candidate’s test to be uniquely created as the exam itself proceeds. Each exam will include a minimum of 75 and a maximum of 265 questions during the six-hour time period. Question formats will vary among multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, ordered response and hot spots. All questions may also involve multimedia such as charts, tables, graphics, sound and video.
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