*Original post released on 4/16/2023
So you’re interested in becoming a registered nurse? Well, you’ve chosen to pursue an incredibly rewarding and versatile career full of potential. But how do you get to the end goal and add those “RN” letters behind your last name? In this article, I want to outline the steps you’ll need to take from high school through college, in order to obtain your registered nurse license. I’ve put together an infographic for you to follow along with throughout this article and you can jump in wherever you are in your own nursing journey. Without further ado, let’s dive in and start breaking down the steps involved in becoming a registered nurse!
Maybe you’re a high school student considering a career in the nursing profession, whether your end goal is registered nurse (RN), nurse practitioner (NP), certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA). The first stop in your roadmap to RN is to obtain your GED or high school diploma. While you’re working towards that GED/diploma, you can be researching different nursing programs provided by local (or distant) community colleges and universities. Your ultimate career goal and chosen path will impact which type of program you choose. If you plan to become a RN with a two year degree, you’ll be pursuing and associate’s degree in nursing or ADN which is typically provided through a two year college. On the other hand, if you plan to obtain your bachelor’s degree in the science of nursing or BSN, you’ll attend a four year college or university.
After choosing a nursing program, you’ll need to apply for general admission to that college or university. Once accepted, arrange a meeting with the academic counselor(s) for the nursing program to discuss program requirements, the process for application and admission, and any recommendations they may have to improve your chances of acceptance. Typical requirements for most nursing programs include: specified pre-requisites (anatomy and physiology, chemistry, biology, nutrition, etc.), minimum GPA…often 3.0 or greater, minimum grade required in nursing-specific pre-requisites, letters of recommendation, and volunteer/work experience…preferably in the medical field.
Once you’re in the final semester of your last required pre-requisites, you’ll want to do two major things: construct a well written resume and apply for admission into the nursing program. In your resume, you’ll want to include areas that highlight your academic and work experience, volunteer experience, any honor society or academic organization memberships, and any accolades you may have acquired throughout your pre-nursing time. Now that you’ve prepared your resume, it’s time to submit your application for the nursing program!
Now the dreaded wait for an admission decision…will they accept or reject your application? If accepted, you’ll want to obtain the next semester’s schedule, figure out what your health compliance requirements are in order to begin the courses, what supplies are needed, and to finish your current semester strong. If you’ve received a rejection letter or notice, it’s not the end of the world although disappointing. I suggest arranging a meeting with the academic advisors and/or any interviewers to review your application and provide you with feedback that may improve your chances when applying again. And, please, do apply again! Don’t give up after trying just one time to get into a nursing program. These programs, unfortunately, are designed to cultivate a highly competitive atmosphere to ensure only the best applicants receive admission as a way to achieve high NCLEX passing rates and improve their chances for re-accreditation.
It’s time to begin your program’s courses. This will likely include lectures, simulation labs, and clinicals for many (if not all) of your courses. During your time in the program, it would be who of you to get involved in volunteer work, your student nursing organization, to keep your grades up as high as possible, and to strive for admission to the nursing honor society such as Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society.
Time passes as you make it through to your final semester of the nursing program. This semester, you’ll want to make sure to pursue a preceptorship. If given the option, try to choose a specialty that you’re interested in pursuing as a potential career opportunity upon graduation. Throughout your time in the preceptorship, network with healthcare professionals (HCPs) within the facility and your assigned unit as well as unit management personnel to better career placement opportunities after graduation. If you’ve left a lasting good impression and you are content with the facility/unit, they may consider taking you on as a new grad nurse!
Also during your final semester, the time will come when you are due to submit your application for a new graduate nurse permit through your state’s board of nursing. Doing so will likely require fingerprinting, drug screening, and criminal background screening. All that’s left to do is graduate from your ADN or BSN program and sit for your licensure exam, the NCLEX. Once you’ve passed that exam, you’ll be officially licensed to work as a registered nurse in the state in which you applied for authorization to test. Now you can research, apply and interview for, and accept your very first registered nurse position.
Congratulations! You are now a registered nurse! This is what you’ve been working towards your entire college career and it’s finally come to fruition. Celebrate and put on those new scrubs because the real work is about to begin, but it’s rewarding as ever. Nursing school only prepares you to be a competent entry level registered nurse. I think you’ll find that you will learn more in your first year of nursing than you did during your entire career as a nursing student. While that may seem daunting, your mind is like a sponge and you will be able to adapt and overcome and provide excellent care to your patients. I am confident in your drive, determination, and ability to excel as a nurse.
I hope this helped outline the typical progression of steps involved in pursuing RN licensure! No matter where you are in your journey, you can make it to that finish line. Until next time, happy studying!