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Being a registered nurse means that you’ve earned a license to practice nursing in your state, but there’s so much more to this exciting career. A registered nurse administers hands-on patient care in a variety of settings including hospitals, medical offices, nursing homes, and other facilities. They work with physicians and other members of the health care team to provide the best course of treatment possible. They also help to educate patients and their families about health issues.
A licensed RN has completed the educational requirements—either an associate in nursing degree or a bachelor’s in nursing degree—clinical nursing requirements, and has passed the NCLEX-RN to earn licensure in their state.
RNs provide round-the-clock direct care to patients in hospitals, physicians’ offices, outpatient care centers, and residential care facilities. Their job consists of recognizing abnormalities, assessing patients, and administering medication while maintaining communication with a team of healthcare professionals. They can gain specialized training in oncology, acute and critical care, gerontology, or pediatrics.
After earning a graduate nursing degree, RNs can advance to become clinical nurse specialists, nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives, or nurse anesthetists.
How to Become a Registered Nurse
Becoming a registered nurse requires dedication and time. There are six primary steps you need to take before you can begin working as a registered nurse.
Step One: Choose a nursing education program. Decide which type of nursing degree you will pursue. There are two levels of basic nursing education:
- Associate Degree in Nursing (2-year program)
- Bachelor of Science in Nursing (4-year program)
If you choose an associate degree in nursing, you can be finished in two years or less. However, many people decide to complete a four-year bachelor of science in nursing program, since some employers prefer candidates with the higher degree. For people who already have a bachelor’s degree in another field, there are accelerated programs of study to earn a bachelor’s of science in nursing as well.
Step Two: Verify that your program is accredited. Surprisingly, not every nursing program in the United States is accredited. Most states will only allow nurses to become licensed if they have attended an accredited school. Although there are different educational paths to becoming an RN, it’s important to choose a program of study that is accredited. You can locate your state board of nursing via the National Council of State Boards of Nursing 3 website, and check with them to be sure your program of interest qualifies.
Step Three: Complete on-site and clinical training requirements. During your schooling, you will complete a combination of classroom coursework and supervised clinic hours in a hospital or other healthcare facility. Your school will make sure you complete the minimum number of hours required. According to NurseJournal.com 4 , clinical hour requirements vary, but it’s usually three clinical hours for every hour of classroom instruction.
Step Four: Apply for your state license. The first license you ever apply for is generally called licensure by “examination”. You will apply to a state board of nursing to take the National Certification Licensing Examination (NCLEX) to become licensed in that state. Check with your state’s board of nursing to find out your specific requirements, as not every state has exactly the same requirements.
Almost every state now requires you to complete a Federal criminal background check (with fingerprinting) as well as meet the requirements of graduating from an accredited school of nursing. Once you meet your state’s requirements, you will be allowed to take the NCLEX. You cannot sit for the exam until your state board of nursing declares that you are eligible.
Step Five: Take the NCLEX-RN 5 . Once you are deemed eligible by the state board of nursing you are seeking a license from, you must sit for and pass the NCLEX in order to earn your RN license. Once you pass the NCLEX and meet all additional requirements, you will receive licensure in your state. Some nursing students take an NCLEX review course or use other study techniques prior to taking the test.
In most instances, a nurse only must take the NCLEX once in a lifetime — once you pass the NCLEX, your test result can be used as proof of initial licensure for the rest of your time as an RN. All future attempts to receive licensure in a state other than the original state where you received licensure are called licensure by “endorsement”. This means you can use your NCLEX results from your initial licensure to get endorsed for RN practice in other states.
HOW TO REGISTER FOR THE NCLEX-RN
About 6 weeks prior to graduation, you’ll receive two applications from your nursing school: An application for licensure and an application for the NCLEX-RN® Exam.
On a predetermined date, you will be required to submit the completed forms and the licensure fees to your nursing school. Upon receipt of an ATT (authorization to test), you will be able to schedule your test date and time. Testing is available year-round, 15 hours a day, 6 days a week, in 6-hour time slots.
How Much Does the exam cost?
The cost to take the NCLEX-RN® exam is $200. Additional licensure fees are determined by the individual State Boards of Nursing. Send your completed test application and fee to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. You can register by phone by calling: 1-866-496-2539 in the USA (1-952-681-3815 for outside the USA) between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. (Eastern), Monday through Friday. Phone registrants are required to pay by VISA or Master Card. There is a $9.50 service fee for the phone registration. If you prefer, you may send a personal check, cashier’s check or money order to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.
You’ll receive a postcard acknowledging receipt of registration. You will not be able to schedule an appointment to take the exam until your State Board of Nursing declares you eligible and you receive an Authorization to Test (ATT) in the mail.