How to Become a Nurse
The level of training and schooling required in the nursing field depends on the level of nursing you are pursuing.
Certified nurse assistants (CNAs) typically pursue a certificate or diploma in nursing from a junior college or hospital training program. These programs may last from a few months to a year, and prepare nursing students for basic employment as a nurse assistant.
Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) may be in training from 9 to 24 months, earning a certificate or associate degree in nursing. They are trained in basic nursing care as well as some minor medical procedures. Like nursing assistants, LPNs often choose to continue their nursing education while they work.
Registered nurses (RNs) typically earn either a bachelor’s or master’s degree in nursing. RNs often start out as CNAs or LPNs, continuing to go to nursing school while they work. Once they become RNs, they may still choose to continue their nursing education in order to pursue some of the career specializations available to RNs.
Nursing school course loads vary by position, school and specialty, but in general classes for nursing students include subjects such as:
- First aid
- Administering medications
- Cultural and spiritual issues
- Laboratory testing
- Intravenous infusion therapy
- Body mechanics
- Communication skills
- Resident rights
Post-RN classes include more specialized subject matter for nursing specialties such as public health nursing, child nursing or infant care.
After completing the classroom portion of nursing school, but before graduating from the program entirely, nursing students gain real-world experience through externships in hospitals or other health care facilities. Externships are usually assigned by the school you’re attending, last anywhere from a few weeks to several months, and are not usually paid. However, they are considered highly valuable experience, and nurses are often later placed at their externship sites.
Nurse Licensing and Certification
After graduation, nursing students must pass a state examination to become licensed.
Nurse licensing involves passing the NCLEX-PN for licensed practical nurses, or the NCLEX-RN for registered nurses. The NCLEX is administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), and entrance requires graduation from a state-approved nursing program.
Nurses may be licensed in more than one state, but some states recognize other states’ nursing licenses.
Further post-graduate certification or education may be pursued by RNs who wish to work in specialty areas, such as anesthesia, clinical nursing or midwifery.