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How to Become a Registered Nurse

Responsibilities, Requirements, Certifications, Job Outlook, and Salary

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Becoming a Registered Nurse (RN) is one of the best ways to set yourself up for a career filled with growth opportunities. The list of specialties available to aspiring nurses is surprisingly long. It enables those pursuing it to choose a specialty that appeals directly to their particular passion. Being an RN is a highly challenging career with many important job responsibilities. Being an RN can provide a deep sense of accomplishment and satisfaction for those who welcome and embrace those responsibilities.

Registered Nurses are in practically every field of medicine. They work in a wide variety of environments and care for all manner of patients. In this guide, we will examine the key milestones for becoming a Registered Nurse, including education requirements, certification, the various specialties available, job responsibilities, projected salaries, and job prospects.

Becoming an RN opens the door to a wide variety of rewarding career paths. With so many specialized disciplines available to Registered Nurses, you can easily tailor your education and career in a direction that best suits your interests and passions. To help clarify your nursing dreams, click to see our list of highest-paying nursing jobs.

What is a Registered Nurse?

Why Should I Become a Registered Nurse?

A Registered Nurse is a licensed healthcare professional who assists other healthcare professionals in providing patient care. RNs have earned either an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree in nursing from an accredited nursing school and, upon earning their degree, must pass the NCLEX-RN exam to become officially licensed nurses.

Registered Nurses work with doctors and healthcare practitioners to fulfill a wide range of patient care and administrative duties. They are also often called upon to supervise other nurses and aides. RNs commonly work in hospital or doctor office settings but can also be employed in other areas with the need for licensed nurses.

Registered Nurse: Job Description

What Does a Registered Nurse Do?

Registered Nurses provide patient care, guidance, and health education. Depending on the employer, they generally assist physicians and their staff during medical procedures, monitor the medical conditions of patients, and keep physicians abreast of meaningful changes to a patient’s condition. Registered Nurses often supervise a team of Licensed Practical Nurses, Public Nursing Assistants, Health Unit Coordinators, Medical Assistants, Home Health Aides, and others.

In addition to providing direct care to patients, an RN will also help educate patients and their families about the illness or injury they face. They provide essential wellness information and encourage positive, healthy living strategies to those who need it. Registered Nurses also advocate for their patients and play essential roles in crafting healthcare policies within their communities and the organizations for which they work.

Being a Registered Nurse can be a demanding and sometimes scary job. Registered Nurses must maintain their poise and exercise skill and judgment in emergencies. Most importantly, Registered Nurses must always keep their integrity and empathy, even when patients—or a patient’s family—don’t behave as they should.

Registered Nurse Duties

Some of the day-to-day responsibilities of Registered Nurses include:

  • Observing and documenting a patient’s condition and behavior
  • Acquiring patient medical histories
  • Educating the patients about their condition and treatment plans
  • Performing examinations and diagnostic procedures
  • Reporting the patient’s condition to a physician or nurse practitioner
  • Updating and maintaining medical records
  • Administering medications
  • Treating wounds
  • Directing and supervising Licensed Practical Nurses, Public Nursing Assistants, Health Unit Coordinators, Home Health Aides, and Medical Assistants
  • Providing information to supervisors to help them determine optimized treatment plans

Medical student writing in a notebook

What Specialties Are Available for Registered Nurses?

Registered Nurses can find employment in several different work settings and can choose several specialties for specific training, including, but not limited to:

Where Do Registered Nurses Work?

Registered Nurses can find steady, satisfying employment in a wide variety of settings, including:

  • Hospitals
  • Doctors’ offices
  • Schools
  • Care clinics
  • Hospices
  • Treatment centers
  • Correctional facilities
  • Military bases
  • Senior living facilities
  • Patients’ homes
  • Air/land ambulance transportation companies

Registered Nurse Schooling & Certification

How Long Does It Take to Become a Registered Nurse?

What Degree Do You Need to Be a Home Registered Nurse?

The elevated responsibilities and essential nature of registered nursing require a significant level of education and training. The investment in time and education to achieve certification as a Registered Nurse is significant but worthwhile.

In a broad sense, becoming a Registered Nurse requires earning a nursing degree from an accredited school and then passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). Here are a few specifics about three degree options and licensing required to become a Registered Nurse:

Associate Degree Program

Students’ fastest path to becoming a Registered Nurse is earning an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN). Typically, it takes two years to earn an associate degree. An ADN curriculum will include basic sciences, social sciences, nursing theory, and nursing practice.

Baccalaureate Degree Program

Many employers prefer that RN candidates hold a Bachelor of Science in Nursing Degree (BSN). They also offer higher salary* scales for RNs with a BSN degree than RNs with an ADN. Additionally, BSN degree holders are more likely to have more significant opportunities for promotion, including promotions into management and administration roles. Finally, a BSN degree will be necessary if your nursing goals include achieving a specific nursing specialization and higher education, including Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctoral degrees.

Close up of a woman in scrubs

RN to BSN Program

For Registered Nurses who already hold an ADN and look to further their career opportunities, you should consider enrolling in our RN to BSN program. The program can be completed in as few as 20 months and will equip you with the credentials you need to seek higher-paying management and administrative leadership positions.


Once you’ve earned your nursing degree, the next step toward becoming a Registered Nurse is to apply for a license with your state’s board of nursing. Each state’s board of nursing has its requirements for certification, including completing necessary coursework at an accredited school. Once those standards are met, nurses must take and pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) to obtain a license and practice as a Registered Nurse in that state.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to the education, experience, and certifications you’ll need to become a Registered Nurse:

1. Choose Your Nursing Path

Once you decide to pursue a career as a Registered Nurse, you have an important decision to make: What sort of work environment appeals most to you? Is it a doctor’s office? A hospital? A school? Select a setting that inspires you to reach your full potential.

You’ll then want to decide on what role you want to play as a Registered Nurse. For example, is there a particular type of patient you feel passionately about serving, such as infants, cancer patients, or expectant mothers? Are you inspired to lead and manage other nurses? Or perhaps is being part of a larger medical team better suited to your strengths? These answers will help guide you on the next step of the process.

2. Enroll in an Accredited Nursing Program

Now that you have decided on your path, the next step is to find a nursing school that aligns with your career goals. Review their nursing programs, identify the one that best suits your career direction, and complete an application. The application process is involved and will take time.

You will provide letters of recommendation, write essays, and more. You may also be required to take the TEAS test (Test of Essential Academic Skills). There will also be a vital entrance interview that you must complete. The enrollment process is rigorous but remember: a gratifying, life-long career is more than worth the effort.

3. Earn Your Nursing Degree and Complete Clinicals

Your nursing school curriculum will consist of courses in anatomy, biology, chemistry, nutrition, psychology, and sociology, among others. Beyond classroom study, you’ll need hands-on experience gained by completing a series of nursing clinicals exposing you to the day-to-day demands of being an RN in a healthcare setting.

4. Pass the NCLEX-RN Exam

The last step toward becoming a Registered Nurse is to take and pass the NCLEX-RN (National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses) exam. An ADN or BSN is required before taking the NCLEX-RN. The test is challenging, consists of up to 265 questions covering all aspects of nursing, and takes up to six hours to complete, not including optional breaks at scheduled intervals. The exam itself will require a great deal of critical thinking and memorization.

Registered Nurse Salary

How Much Do Registered Nurses Make?

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual salary* for Registered Nurses is about $83,000, which is about $40 per hour. Annual salaries for Registered Nurses in the 90th percentile can reach as high as $120,000.

Highest Paying Industries for Registered Nurses

According to the BLS, these are the industries where you’re most likely to find the top-paying jobs for Registered Nurses:

Industry Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Nonscheduled air transportation $54.15 $112,630
Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing $50.61 $105,270
Merchant wholesalers $48.67 $101,240
Federal executive branch $46.93 $97,600
Office administrative services $46.46 $96,930

Highest Paying States for Registered Nurses

According to the BLS, Registered Nurses earn the highest average wages in these states:

State Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
California $59.62 $124,000
Hawaii $51.22 $106,530
Oregon $47.42 $98,630
District of Columbia $47.38 $98,540
Alaska $46.74 $97,230

Highest Paying Cities for Registered Nurses

According to the BLS, Registered Nurses earn the highest average annual wage in these cities:

City Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
San Jose, CA $74.63 $155,230
San Francisco, CA $72.90 $151,640
Vallejo, CA $70.37 $146,360
Santa Rosa, CA $68.00 $141,440
Napa, CA $67.15 $139,680
Santa Cruz, CA $67.11 $135,590
Sacramento, CA $65.14 $135,490
Salinas, CA $62.75 $130,520
Modesto, CA $61.41 $127,730
Hanford, CA $60.00 $124,790

Registered Nurse holding a chart

Registered Nurse Job Outlook

What is the Job Outlook for Registered Nurses?

The BLS estimates that the overall employment for registered nurses will grow by 9% by 2030, which is faster than the average growth rate across all other jobs (8%). As the population of America’s Baby Boomers ages and the need to care for patients with chronic conditions increases, it is expected that the demand for Registered Nurses will be high for some time to come.

Start Your RN Career by Earning Your BSN or RN to BSN Diploma

Becoming a Registered Nurse can lead to competitive salaries, but its rewards go well beyond the money you’ll earn. If working with patients and families daily, along with a myriad of other clinical and organizational responsibilities, sounds like the career challenge you’re looking for, becoming a Registered Nurse could be the career path you’ve been seeking.

If you’re ready to take the next step toward becoming a Registered Nurse, you can start by enrolling in the BSN program at Provo College.