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5 Steps to Become a Registered Nurse

Congratulations! You’ve made the leap and decided to become a registered nurse (RN). But now that you think about it, you aren’t sure exactly what you should do first to become an RN.

Maybe you know a few nurses and they all seem to have different letters behind their name, and work in such different settings it’s hard to imagine how they ended up in the jobs they currently have.

Some nurses love school and choose a path toward becoming nurse educators. Others are passionate about labor and delivery and love taking care of moms and babies, and still others thrive in the fast past often chaotic setting of the ED. Some nurses love caring for older people and their families and thrive in a hospital environment.

But whatever your interest, you will find the right fit if you stick with it and keep looking.

Here are 5 key steps you can take to become an RN and get started on the nursing career path that’s right for you.

Step 1: Google “How to Become a Nurse”

Thanks Captain Obvious!

But seriously, doing some preliminary research about the type of nursing programs that are available near you will help you narrow down your choices and make a better decision.

First, you’ll need to decide on the type of nursing education you’d like to pursue.

The associate degree in nursing (ADN) is a two-year degree and is offered at many community colleges and is generally a more affordable option than the traditional four-year Bachelor of Science in nursing degree program. You’ll earn your RN designation and can work as a nurse in a variety of healthcare settings.

The Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is a four-year program and one step above an ADN degree. You’ll earn your RN designation and a bachelor’s degree.

Understanding the difference between the two paths to becoming a registered nurse will give you the information you need to decide which type of nursing education is right for you.

One thing to consider when deciding on which type of program is right for you - will the place you eventually want to work pay you more for having a BSN? For example if you have a BSN will you make more money starting out than you would if you have an ADN?

Some institutions might pay a new nurse more for having a BSN, but depending on where you live, most will not. Conversely, some institutions will only hire BSN trained nurses.

It’s a good idea to take this into consideration especially if you are applying for student loans to complete your degree.

Step 2: Consider Getting a Job in Healthcare

Wait, what? I’ve just decided I want to be a nurse, how am I going to jump to getting a job in healthcare?

A great way to gain experience and decide whether pursuing a career in nursing is right for you is to work in healthcare before or while you go to nursing school.

Many nurses work as certified nurse assistants (CNA) prior to becoming a nurse. Not only does this give them the advantage of understanding how to care for patients and how to work on a healthcare team, it gives them a front row seat to the realities of caring for patients day in and day out.

This will also help you decide what type of healthcare setting you’d like to work in. For example, do you love the fast paced action of the emergency department (ED)? Or do you prefer the clinic setting where the patients aren’t as sick? Do you like working with kids or adults? Older people or pregnant moms?

Having the experience and first hand knowledge of the kind of environment you’d like to work in is a huge advantage when it comes to deciding on a nursing school.

It can also make you a stronger candidate when you apply to nursing programs.

Step 3: Apply to Nursing Programs

Now that you’ve decided which type of nursing program is right for you, research the program requirements and application deadlines.

At this stage of the game you don’t need to know exactly what area of nursing you want to pursue, and that’s okay. You’ll learn more about what you like and where you want to practice as you go through clinical rotations in nursing school.

The beauty of getting a nursing degree is that you can switch specialty areas of clinical practice without having to return to school each time you’d like to make a change.

That being said, if school and advanced education is something you are interested in, a career in nursing offers degrees all the way through a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).

There are many options and paths to pursue for your nursing education, but for now just focus on applying to the program of your choice that will get you the skills you need to become a practicing nurse.

Step 4: Apply For Scholarships

Now that you’ve narrowed it down to a few programs, take the time to research scholarships. There are many scholarships available to nursing students, you just have to know where to look and be persistent in applying for them.

One of the most important things to remember about applying for scholarships is the deadline. Include all of the requested information, write a stellar essay, and be sure to meet the deadline to increase your chances of being selected for a scholarship.

And even if you don’t meet the criteria completely, apply. You could be the perfect candidate for the scholarship even if you don’t meet every requirement.

Donna Cardillo, The Inspiration Nurse, has compiled a list of tips and tricks for putting your best foot forward when applying for scholarships.

Step 5: Join Student Nurse Associations

There are many high quality student nurse resources available today. Joining a professional association as a professional nurse is a good idea, and joining one as a student nurse gives you access to resources you’ll need to navigate nursing school.

Nursing associations provide nurses with professional resources, networking opportunities, and the chance to meet other nurses working in your area of interest or expertise.

The National Student Nurse Association (NSNA) is a great place to start researching all of the options available for student nurses.

NSNA also links to a comprehensive list of State Associations and School Chapters for nursing students. This will give you an idea of what is available locally for student nurses and if the school you are interested in has an association you can join.

Learn more about how NurseMuse can support your nursing practice.

There you go! This is by no means a comprehensive list of all of the tasks and ideas you’ll need to consider when deciding on your nursing education, but it’s a good place to start.

Once you’ve decided on your school and have a general idea of your career path, you’ll be able to set more specific goals toward achieving your dream of becoming an RN.

NurseMuse is a web-based learning platform created for nursing students by nurses. Here you’ll learn how to integrate evidence-based nursing practice and build your clinical skills as early as Day 1 of your program.

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Resources: - NurseMuse - Difference between ADN adn BSN - National Student Nurses Association - Scholarship information

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