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How do you become a nurse in the US?


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In the US, to be a Registered Nurse (RN) you need to have accredited training as an RN and then pass the nursing exams to be able to apply for a state license to practice as an RN in that state.

Many RNs and others in the medical field recommend taking initial steps to experience the "inside" of providing health care to patients, but this isn't a requirement to become a nurse. If you want to be sure you like working in the medical field, and are emotionally prepared for it, you could first enroll in a course to obtain a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) certificate. This will qualify you for jobs as a nursing assistant, providing help to patients with the basic activities of daily living, such as bathing, feeding, turning, incontinence care, taking vital signs, and non-skilled treatments, etc.

If you want to get even more experience before training as an RN, you could take another preliminary step to become a Licensed Practical Nurse/Licensed Vocational Nurse (LPN/LVN), which is a shorter program than training as an RN. This will give you more theory as well as more training and experience in patient assessments, skilled treatments, medication administration, and other nursing care that does not require an RN license. Then, as the final step, you could add to your training in an accelerated RN program designed specifically for experienced LPNs/LVNs who want to become RNs.

At any step in this process, or even immediately after high school, you could apply to enroll in an RN program, be accepted, graduate to become a graduate nurse, take and pass your exams, and become licensed as an RN. The US state board licensing exams for Registered Nurses are standardized across the states nowadays, using the National Licensing exam called NCLEX-RN.

As mentioned above, you actually don't have to follow the sequential steps outlined above. Taking it slowly and going through those different levels of training and experience may be suggested by some and for some, to prepare to become an RN, but it is not required. You can go straight from high school into a program to study to become a nurse; even to become an RN.
There are three options to become a registered nurse as follows.

  • diploma program (typically three years, not recommended for individuals who do not have an already existing degree)
  • associate degree (two years as a full-time student once the student starts the professional phase of the program)
  • bachelor's degree (BSN) (four years as a full-time student)

For the source and more detailed information concerning your request, click on the related links section (U.S. Department of Labor) indicated at the bottom of this answer box.