What Does it Take to Become a Nurse?

headshot of male nurse wearing mask and scrubs

There is a demand for qualified nursing professionals in the U.S., making this a great time to explore nursing degree programs. Beyond the abundant job opportunities and lucrative wages, a career in nursing can be personally fulfilling. You’ll have the opportunity to effect positive change in the lives of others in your community. If you want to become a nurse, you must first obtain the knowledge and skills necessary to provide safe and effective care. These are earned through the successful completion of a degree in nursing and passing the NCLEX board exam to obtain an RN license.

What to Study in High School for a Nursing Career

You do not have to wait until you have graduated from high school to begin working toward a nursing career. Talk to your guidance counselor about course offerings that support your career aspirations. For example, science and mathematics classes will be helpful for you. Try to take courses such as anatomy and physiology, psychology, biology, chemistry, algebra and geometry. Note that communication skills are also critical for nurses, so take a communications class if it’s available in your school.

In addition, you can use your after-school time to explore internship and volunteer opportunities. Check your local hospitals and clinics for possibilities. For example, you might volunteer to work the front desk at a hospital where you will greet incoming patients, visitors and provide directions. Hospitals also rely on volunteers to assist in transporting patients and offering support to families. Long-term care facilities also rely on volunteers to participate in activities that encourage socialization and engagement among residents such as crafts and poetry workshops for residents. These opportunities can introduce you to the healthcare field and make your resume more impressive.

What to Study in College

Aspiring nurses must meet the educational requirements to sit for the NCLEX nursing licensure exam. Technically, it is possible to sit for the exam with just a two-year associate degree in nursing. However, you will likely have to return to school to earn your bachelor’s degree later to take advantage of greater career opportunities. Depending on your career aspirations, it may make more sense to earn a bachelor's degree from the start. Consider enrolling in a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (Pre-Licensure) degree program, also called a BSN degree.

This nursing degree will teach you everything you need to know to be successful as a nurse. You’ll study general science topics including biology and pathophysiology, as well as nursing-specific subjects such as health assessment, pharmacology and informatics. A nursing degree is a rigorous program of study. It can be helpful to forge relationships with fellow students who are seeking the same degree path and interested in forming a study group.

How to Obtain Nursing Licensure

Individuals who wish to work as registered nurses (RNs) must obtain appropriate licensure. Once you graduate from a nursing degree program, you’ll be qualified to pursue licensure. The National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) is the national exam that nurses must pass to secure licensure. However, eligibility requirements to sit for the NCLEX are determined on a state-by-state basis. You’ll need to contact the nursing regulatory body (NRB) for the state in which you plan to practice. You will submit a license application to the NRB and then register with Pearson, the company that administers the NCLEX.

The NCLEX is a challenging exam. In the months or weeks leading up to your exam date, you should plan to spend as much time as possible studying. It’s important to familiarize yourself with the format of the exam, as well. Invest in an NCLEX study guide, attend review sessions available to you, and work through the practice questions.

Why You Should Pursue Continuing Education Opportunities

Even after you successfully land a job in the nursing field, you’ll want to periodically explore continuing education opportunities. For healthcare professionals, continuing education is critical for better patient outcomes. The good news is that employers encourage continuing education and often provide opportunities to attend workshops or provide tuition reimbursement for nurses to enroll in continuing education programs. Consider using your employer’s tuition reimbursement program to pursue a graduate degree or certificate.

Nursing students can benefit from flexible degree and certificate programs with online and on-campus classes. For example, you might earn a Graduate Certificate of Completion in Health Care Quality and Patient Safety. Earning this certificate demonstrates your dedication to providing the best possible patient care. You will get an in-depth look at the methods of quality improvement in healthcare, patient data safety tracking and the implementation of patient safety initiatives.

Another certificate you might consider is the Graduate Certificate of Completion in Geropsychology. Geropsychology explores the unique cognitive, behavioral and developmental needs and changes of older adults. It’s an ideal certificate for those who wish to work with long-term care facility residents.

At some point, you may wish to go back to school to earn your master’s degree in nursing. Later, you can enhance your academic qualifications further by pursuing post-master’s certificates, such as the Post-Master of Science in Nursing: Nursing Education Certificate program or the Post-Master of Science in Nursing: Family Nurse Practitioner Certificate program. These explore teaching the next generation of nurses and providing primary healthcare services, respectively.

If you imagine yourself in a profession that allows you to serve your community and promote the wellness of your neighbors, consider starting your nursing education at Grand Canyon University. In the College of Nursing and Healthcare Professions, you will acquire an important foundations through our Bachelor of Science in Nursing (Pre-Licensure) degree program. After securing licensure and gaining practical experience in the field, you may wish to earn your graduate nursing degree at GCU. We offer multiple specialization options, including the Master of Science in Nursing with an Emphasis in Healthcare Quality and Patient Safety. To learn more, click on the Request Information button on this page.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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