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Registered Nurse Resource – Everything You Need To Know Before You Become A Registered Nurse

In order to become a registered nurse (RN), candidates usually need a bachelor’s or associate degree in nursing though some students choose to earn diplomas from approved nursing programs instead. These programs may be offered in a traditional on-campus format, online, or in a blended format that incorporates campus- and web-based learning.

Regardless of their chosen pathway, RNs should complete courses in fields such as anatomy and physiology, chemistry, and nutrition. Once they complete their studies, RN candidates must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) in order to be licensed. A license is required to work as an RN in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories. In addition to licensing, RNs may choose to become certified in gerontology, pediatrics, or other specialized fields.

RNs are in high demand. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that jobs for RNs will rise 15% adding more than 430,000 new positions between 2016 and 2026. In addition, nurses earn salaries above the national average. RNs can choose from several specialized roles, including critical care nurses who work in intensive-care units, neonatology nurses that care for newborns and infants, and rehabilitation nurses who care for patients with temporary or permanent disabilities.

If you wish to become a registered nurse, you can enroll in many different educational programs from the diploma to doctoral level. However, all will culminate with the NCLEX-RN exam. There are several pathways you can follow in order to take the NCLEX-RN exam, as well as various other resources you may need if you are thinking about becoming a registered nurse.

RN Education Pathways

You can become a registered nurse using the following educational methods:


A diploma in nursing provides students with basic nursing knowledge and hands-on practical nursing experience in a clinical setting. A nursing diploma program typically takes two to three years to complete, depending on a student’s enrollment status. Nursing diploma students enroll in courses covering topics such as lifespan nursing concepts, nursing informatics, basic pharmacology and psychology, and public health. A large portion of the nursing diploma program involves direct patient care, often through hospitals or health providers with ties to the school.

A nursing diploma program prepares students to pass the NCLEX-RN, a basic requirement for nursing professionals throughout the U.S. and Canada. An RN license qualifies holders for several entry-level nursing positions and further studies in the nursing field.

Since diploma programs immerse students in direct patient care, students graduate from the program with practical nursing skills that prove invaluable not only in a hospital setting but in other clinical environments as well. Additionally, completing a nursing diploma program gives students the chance to enter the workforce sooner. Students who wish to pursue further studies can do so while already working in the field.


An associate degree in nursing (ADN) prepares students to enter the workforce after just two years of full-time enrollment. Many employers prefer nurses with an associate degree over those with just a diploma. ADN programs require students to complete a certain number of clinical hours in order to graduate. However, the required number of clinical hours varies between schools.

Like most associate degrees, an ADN consists of 60 credits. An ADN curriculum includes foundational nursing courses such as anatomy, microbiology, pharmacology, behavioral health, and maternal and child nursing care. In addition, an ADN program also includes general liberal arts classes like English literature, history, writing and communications, and psychology. After completing an ADN program, students usually take the NCLEX-RN to obtain their registered nurse license.

An ADN prepares students for employment in the nursing field immediately after graduation. However, most ADN programs also provide students with an excellent foundation for further studies in nursing or in a closely related field. Many universities with four-year nursing programs maintain articulation agreements with two-year colleges that help ADN graduates transition to a four-year nursing program.


A bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) features 120 credits and typically takes four years of full-time enrollment to complete. However, licensed registered nurses with an associate degree in nursing can usually earn a BSN after just two years of full-time study. Many hospitals and other health-based organizations prefer nurses with BSN degrees. In addition to more job options, nurses with a BSN degree are also more likely to be promoted and entrusted with greater responsibilities.

Many colleges and universities now offer online RN-to-BSN programs. Nurses no longer have to stop working while pursuing their BSN degree, since they can more easily fit online classes around their busy schedules. A typical BSN curriculum includes courses on topics such as emergency care; health assessment; nutrition; public and global health; and family, community, and population-based care.

The amount of clinical or practicum hours in an RN-to-BSN program can vary greatly between schools. Most programs require students to follow a rotation-based clinical program. Student nurses train in different departments or clinical specialty areas, such as pediatrics or obstetrics, to gain a broad understanding of the nursing field and their professional duties and responsibilities.


The nursing field consists of several different specializations, and employers increasingly seek nurses with training in a specific nursing area. A master of science in nursing degree (MSN) gives nurses the opportunity to specialize in a particular medical arena, such as anesthesiology, mental health, or acute care. Nurses can also use an MSN to develop the necessary skills to work within a specific lifespan sector like gerontology or pediatrics. Nurses who opt to specialize in nondirect care aspects of the nursing profession, as nurse educators or clinical nurse leaders, also benefit from earning an MSN.

Registered nurses often qualify for RN-to-MSN programs. The length of the program depends on the type of nursing degree students have at the start of the program, the number of credits they can transfer, and their enrollment status. RNs with an associate degree or diploma in nursing typically complete an RN-to-MSN program in three to four years. RNs with a nonnursing bachelor’s degree can complete the program in two to three years. Students with a BSN degree typically take two years to earn an MSN degree.

Most MSN degrees require students to complete a practicum, usually comprised of several hundred hours of clinical nursing experience. The required number of hours varies between schools but often comes to at least 500. Regardless of a student’s specialty area or the population, they wish to work with, MSN students usually enroll in courses in pharmacology, health care policy, ethics, and advanced health assessment.


There are two terminal degrees in nursing doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) and doctor of nursing practice (DNP). Both degrees present the holder as an expert in the nursing field and thus qualified for a variety of leadership and top administrative nursing positions. A Ph.D. in nursing prepares nurses to pursue careers in research-oriented sectors such as academia or research organizations. A Ph.D. can take four to six years to complete. Ph.D. candidates often must write a dissertation.

A DNP degree, on the other hand, prepares nurses for the highest level of nursing practice in a clinical setting. The degree typically takes two to three years to complete. Most schools require DNP candidates to complete an evidence-based practice project.

Doctorate students enroll in courses that focus on their specialization area, but most programs offer classes that cover common advanced nursing topics. Some of these classes include the following: health policy and advocacy, principles of epidemiology and environmental health, fundamentals of comprehensive care across the lifespan, and intellectual and conceptual foundations of nursing science.

BSN-to-DNP and Ph.D. in nursing programs usually require the completion of at least 60 credits and a minimum of 1,000 practicum hours. Some of these programs award an interim MSN degree, while others move students straight to the doctorate program as soon as they meet the requirements. Nurses with an MSN degree may take fewer classes, depending on the number of credits they can transfer to the doctorate program. Many schools require MSN-to-DNP or Ph.D. students to complete a minimum of 500 clinical work hours.

Content shared from Nurse Journal – For more information visit


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