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How to Become a Registered Nurse (RN)

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.

To become an RN, either an associate's degree in nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is required. It's also required to become licensed. This can be done by passing the NCLEX-RN exam.

For those who have an affinity for caring for others, nursing may be an ideal profession. Registered nurses (RNs) can expect to see job growth that’s much faster than average through 2024, and in some cases, may need a four-year degree to begin a journey on this career path.1 However, before deciding on a career in nursing, it is important to recognize the qualities and job requirements of being an RN.

Skills and Characteristics

It takes a special type of person to choose a career in which they care for strangers on a daily basis. No matter how kind, caring or understanding a nurse is, they may routinely have patients or situations to deal with which can be mentally taxing. Nurses must have compassion when caring for patients as well as the emotional stability to cope with suffering, emergencies and other stresses.2

A wide spectrum of clinical and administrative skills may be necessary for an effective nursing career. Communication plays a major role. Nurses need to be able to explain complex subjects in simple and easy-to-understand ways and actively listen to the patient’s words to successfully interpret symptoms and concerns. A nurse's communication skills may be tested by patients, their families, attending physicians and even co-workers. Critical thinking is also crucial, as nurses often work in situations requiring quick decision-making or corrective action.2

Other fundamental skills that may be required for a registered nurse are the abilities to be detail-oriented and organized. RNs regularly find themselves working with a variety of patients who must receive the correct treatments and medicines at the right time. RNs must juggle various patient needs to ensure that each patient is given the appropriate care.2

Required Education

In order to become an RN, a prospective nurse must graduate from an accredited nursing program. A prospective RN can earn an associate degree in nursing (ADN), a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or a diploma from an approved nursing program. A BSN includes additional education in the physical and social sciences, communication, leadership and critical thinking designed to help students develop deeper knowledge in the area of study and a broader skill set.2

Here are some general subjects most nursing students can expect to cover in their coursework: 2

  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Microbiology
  • Chemistry
  • Nutrition
  • Psychology2

Certifications and Licenses

After earning a degree through an accredited nursing program, an RN must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). This exam is given by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.2 While students will want to study for this exam to be as prepared as possible, college nursing programs are designed to teach everything that a prospective RN needs to know in order to pass the exam.

The NCLEX is conducted on a computer with six hours allotted to complete the test.3 As of July 2017, the exam had a 88.40% pass rate for U.S. educated candidates taking it for the first time.4 Once a person has successfully passed the NCLEX, he or she will need to register with their local state board of nursing to begin the process of obtaining their state nursing license. RN licensing protocol varies by state, so prospective nurses should check the board of nursing website for the state to find out if it's necessary to complete additional steps.2

Job Market for Registered Nurses

The job market outlook for registered nurses is better than average. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that job opportunities will increase by 16% through 2024. This increase can be attributed to baby boomers living longer, rising rates of chronic ailments such as diabetes and obesity, and a surge in overall focus on preventative health care. In 2014, the number of jobs for a registered nurse was 2.75 million, according to the BLS.1

What to Expect on a Day-to-Day Basis

Daily tasks for RNs may vary depending on the work environment and the type of patients for which they provide care. However, in general, nurses provide and coordinate patient care, educate patients about health conditions, and provide advice and emotional support to patients and family members.5 Some settings where RNs might work include:

  • Hospitals
  • Physicians’ offices
  • Home health care services
  • Nursing care facilities
  • Patients’ homes
  • Schools
  • Community centers6

Though specific tasks and specialties vary, a nurse's core responsibilities remain the same no matter the setting. RNs are often responsible for recording a patient’s medical history and symptoms, administering medicine and treatments, developing plans for patient care, teaching patients and families how to manage an illness or injury. They also consult and collaborate with physicians and other healthcare professionals.5

The types of patients a nurse treats can also differ. For example, an oncology nurse may work with cancer patients or a geriatric nurse may work with the elderly. Some RNs can combine more than one specialty, such as a pediatric oncology nurse, working with children and teens who have cancer.5

The list of responsibilities for a nurse may be lengthy, but for those that have the strength and compassion to meet these challenges, a career in nursing may be rewarding.

RN-to-BSN Program at CTU

CTU offers an RN-to-BSN degree program built on prior foundational nursing knowledge. This program designed to provide students with the 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 online nursing programs.

1. "Registered Nurses: Summary." Retrieved from: (Visited 8/10ss/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 8/10/17).
3. “Exam Day.” Retrieved from: (Visited 8/10/17).
4. “Number of Candidates Taking NCLEX Examination and Percent Passing, by Type of Candidate.” Retrieved from: (Visited 8/10/17).
5. “What Registered Nurses Do.” Retrieved from: (Visited 8/10/17).
6. “Registered Nurses: Work Environment.” Retrieved from: (Visited 8/10/17).

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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