Becoming a Registered Nurse
Registered nurses take many forms, and nursing roles today can expand far beyond the medical clinic. From hospital-based nursing to home nursing, community nursing and beyond, the career options available to formally trained RNs are vast.
There are three main paths to becoming a registered nurse. The most recommended is the bachelor of science in nursing (BSN), a 4-5 year program covering a wide array of theoretical and technical nursing skills. BSN programs are a minimum requirement for many RN positions. Another option is the associate degree in nursing (ADN), which is usually a two-year program covering the technical aspects of nursing. Less common, but still in use is the diploma, a 3-year program covering basic nursing skills. BSNs and ADNs can be taught at a career college or university, while diplomas are usually administered in hospitals.
All three paths provide adequate training to apply for an entry-level position as a registered nurse, though the BSN path provides the best opportunity for advancement and expansion in the field. Registered nurses holding associate degrees and diplomas sometimes pursue further education in the form of an RN-to-BSN program. In fact, nurses often finish an ADN program to gain entry-level employment, then use their employer's tuition reimbursement benefits to finish their BSN degrees. Of course, the level of education you choose to pursue will depend on the type of nursing you wish to go into.
Prerequisite course work
A typical BSN nursing curriculum consists of two parts: the biological, physical, and social sciences that contributes to the science of nursing, and the liberal arts component that develops the intelligence, social, and cultural aspects of nursing. (ADN and diploma programs, being shorter and less intense than BSN programs, may not include all of the same course material.)
Nursing school requirements differ from one school to the next, but most schools require 1-2 years of prerequisite study before students enroll in the actual nursing program.
Some typical prerequisite course subjects include:
- Anatomy & Physiology
- Social Sciences
- English I & II
- Life Span Psychology
Nursing entrance exams
After completing the prerequisite courses (or transferring the equivalent prior units), students apply to the nursing core program. However, each student must first complete an entrance exam -- this could be the Nursing Entrance Test (NET), a three-hour test that covers basic math, English and reading skills, or the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS), which gauges the student's abilities in math, English, reading and science. Information on the NET test can be found at StudyGuideZone.com, and the TEAS test is explained at TestPrepReview.com. Schools use students' performance on these tests to determine their eligibility for nursing school.
Nursing school programs
Once students enter the nursing program, the curriculum becomes heavier and more intense. Most nursing schools expect their students to complete the following types of courses:
- Introduction to Nursing
- Theoretical Foundations of Nursing
- Health Assessment
- Health and Disease Management
- Family Nursing Theory
- Statistical Applications
- Contemporary Issues and Health Policy
- Nursing Leadership and Management
This portion of a registered nurse's education can last 2-3 years, during which time nursing students are sometimes employed as nurse assistants and other medical professionals.
The NCLEX-RN Exam
After graduating, RN students become licensed by passing the NCLEX-RN (National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses). Administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), this examination measures a student's competence in the key areas of registered nursing, including safety, patient care, physiological and psychosocial integrity, risk reduction and other areas. The exam is computer based and multiple-choice, and many students take preparation classes to help them score higher.
Upon passing the NCLEX-RN, nurses are licensed to practice as entry-level RNs in the state they are licensed for. Registered nurses who wish to practice in another state must pass the NCLEX-RN for that state, unless they are moving between two states that are part of the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC). As of July 2008, the NLC consists of 23 states that recognize the same regulations in nursing, making a license for one of the states applicable to all of them. A list of the states currently involved in the NLC can be found at NCSBN.org.