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How to Become a Nurse

A degree may open the door to a variety of opportunities and diverse career paths. The degree programs offered at CTU will not necessarily lead to the featured careers. This collection of articles is intended to help inform and guide you through the process of determining which level of degree and types of certifications align with your desired career path.

Those interested in pursuing a satisfying occupation with the potential to help people on a daily basis may consider nursing. With an increasing demand for health care services, the employment of registered nurses (RN), in general, is projected to grow much faster than average for all other occupations in the U.S. By 2024, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the job outlook for RNs will grow by 16%.1 When choosing this career path, however, it’s important to consider the educational, certification and skill requirements that may be needed to become a nurse.

Skills and Characteristics

Registered nurses should possess a number of key personal qualities in order to care for patients in a variety of healthcare settings. These essential characteristics include:2

Compassion – Nurses should be kind and empathetic when caring for patients. Compassion can also be helpful when interacting with the family members of ill or injured patients.

Critical-thinking skills – Nurses should be able to assess changes in the health of a patient, including when to take action and when to seek further clinical opinions.

Organized and detail-oriented – Nurses tend to work with multiple patients who have a variety of health concerns. Organizational skills and a detail-oriented manner are needed to ensure that patients get the correct treatments or medicines at the right time.

Physical and emotional stamina – Nurses may be on their feet for most of their shift, so physical endurance is important. Additionally, they often deal with human suffering, emergencies and other pressures. So, emotional resilience and the ability to cope with stress is crucial.

Communication skills – Nurses must be able to communicate effectively with patients, family members and other members of the healthcare team. Nurses need to be able to explain instructions, such as how to take medication, and explain a patient’s needs to physicians and other nurses.2

Required Education

Depending on the specific career path or specialty chosen, becoming a nurse can be achieved in a few different ways. Potential RNs can earn a diploma, associate’s degree or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) from an accredited nursing program. A BSN typically takes four years to obtain, whereas associate’s and diploma programs take two to three years. Each program includes supervised clinical experiences that each candidate must complete.2

A bachelor’s degree can consist of additional education in the physical and social sciences, communication, leadership and critical thinking. These programs frequently offer more clinical experience in nonhospital settings.2

To further a previously earned diploma or associate’s degree in nursing, there are also RN-to-BSN programs available, such as those offered by Colorado Technical University. CTU’s online RN-to-BSN degree program builds on general education and core coursework to help nurses prepare and develop the knowledge and skills needed to expand their practice options for a variety of clinical and administrative leadership activities. The entire program can be completed in as little as nine months.*

Once a student earns his or her degree from an accredited nursing program, they can apply with their state’s board of nursing to take a national exam to become a licensed registered nurse.2

Certifications and Licenses

Before officially becoming a licensed RN, potential nurses must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). A candidate must submit an application for licensure to their state’s board of nursing or regulatory body and then register with Pearson VUE, a third-party test administrator, for the exam.3 Once the state’s board of nursing declares a candidate eligible, the individual will receive an Authorization to Test (ATT) email that must be brought with them on the scheduled test date.4

After passing the NCLEX and becoming licensed, an RN can certify in a variety of specialty areas including but not limited to ambulatory care, gerontology or pediatrics. Certification from a professional association is typically voluntary; however, certification

Job Market for Registered Nurses

In 2014, there were over 2.75 million registered nurses in the U.S.5 The job outlook is projected to grow for a number of reasons. Demand for health care services will increase due to an aging population and the need for education and health care for patients with various chronic conditions, including arthritis, dementia, diabetes and obesity.1

Federal health insurance reform may also cause a surge in the number of people who have access to health care. Thus, the need for nurses in physicians’ offices, clinics and other settings may develop. Additionally, the growing necessity of long-term care facilities and outpatient care centers will increase the need for registered nurses.1

All in all, job opportunities for RNs are expected to be positive. But due to the influx of nurses entering the career field, competition for jobs has increased. Employers may prefer candidates who have experience in a nursing role.1

Though RNs typically perform many of the same duties, job designations can vary. RNs can expect to have any of the following titles: Charge Nurse, Emergency Department RN, Oncology RN, Operating Room RN, Public Health Nurse or Staff Nurse.6

What to Expect on a Day-to-Day Basis

RNs can work in a variety of settings such as hospitals, physicians’ offices, home health care, nursing homes, outpatient clinics, correctional facilities, the military or with different employment options such as a traveling nurse.5, 6 Some facilities provide around-the-clock nursing care, so shift coverage may be required for nights, weekends, holidays or on-call.5

General tasks nurses can expect to perform include assessing patient health needs, developing and implementing care plans, monitoring vital signs, and maintaining healthcare records. Nurses may also complete the following tasks on a daily basis:7

  • Analyze information and evaluate laboratory and test results
  • Oversee care for ill, injured or disabled patients
  • Advise patients on health maintenance and disease prevention
  • Administer medications to patients and monitor for reactions or side effects
  • Coordinate with health care team members to assess, plan, or evaluate care plans
  • Provide emotional support for patients and family members7

No matter the location or scope of work, nursing can be a challenging yet rewarding profession. By coordinating patient care, educating patients, and providing emotional support,5 nurses can expect to make a difference in the lives of others throughout their career.

Earn an RN-to-BSN at Colorado Technical University

Colorado Technical University (CTU) offers online BSN and MSN nursing degrees aimed to provide students with the opportunity to develop necessary tools to deliver evidence-based care and drive change at the bedside and beyond. The Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree program at Colorado Technical University is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education ( Learn more about CTU’s nursing degree programs.

1. "Registered Nurses: Job Outlook." Retrieved from: (Visited 8/28/17). This data represents national figures and is not based on school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary.
2. "How to Become a Registered Nurse." Retrieved from: (Visited 8/28/17).
3. “Application & Registration.” Retrieved from: (Visited 8/28/17).
4. “Authorization to Test.” Retrieved from: (Visited 8/28/17).
5. “Registered Nurses: Summary.” Retrieved from: (Visited 8/28/17). This data represents national figures and is not based on school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary.
6. “Registered Nurses: Work Environment.” Retrieved from: (Visited 8/28/17).
7. “Summary Report for: 29-1141.00 - Registered Nurses.” Retrieved from: (Visited 8/28/17).

*Tuition cost and timing assumes a student will be awarded the maximum qualifying credit for transfer, licensure, prior experiential learning, and professional certifications, will be continuously enrolled, and satisfactorily completes all program requirements for graduation.

For important information about the educational debt, earnings, and completion rates of students who attended this program, go to CTU cannot guarantee employment or salary. Not all programs are available to residents of all states. Financial aid is available for those who qualify.
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