4 Steps to Become a Registered Nurse

A portrait photo of three registered nurses inside a hospital

Do you have a passion for helping people? Are you interested in working in the healthcare field? If so, becoming a registered nurse might be a good career path for you. Though this may be an exciting thought and you might be eager to start working toward this goal, you might not know how exactly to get there. Keep reading to learn more about the requirements and steps you need to follow to become a registered nurse.

1. Understanding What a Registered Nurse Does

Registered nurses (RNs) are an integral part of the healthcare system. They often work as a team with physicians and other healthcare personnel to provide the best possible care for their patients. While RNs have a variety of daily duties, they can perform any of the following tasks throughout the workday:1 

  • Assessing patient conditions 
  • Administering medicines and treatments 
  • Operating and monitoring medical equipment 
  • Performing diagnostic tests and analyzing the results 
  • Setting up plans for future patient care 
  • Teaching patients and families about illness management and home treatment

It’s also entirely possible for an RN to specialize, meaning they will focus on a certain patient demographic. Some specialties include oncology, critical care, public health and neonatal nurses. If you aspire to work with a specific population, make sure to consider your options to find the best fit for your career aspirations.

2. Earning Your Undergraduate Nursing Degree

After you understand the responsibilities you’ll be taking on when you become a registered nurse, the next step is to earn your nursing degree. You can earn your nursing degree in a couple of different ways, depending on your existing experience and your career goals.

Getting a BSN

One way to earn your nursing degree is to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). While earning a bachelor’s degree isn’t always necessary, states and employers may require nurses to have an undergraduate degree. Additionally, having a bachelor’s degree in nursing can make you more competitive when you seek higher-paying positions. 

This degree program will allow you to take a variety of important classes that will teach you the basics of nursing. It will also expose you to clinical situations and scenarios that will help you prepare for your future career as an RN.


Another way to earn your nursing degree is by earning an associate’s degree. Because it takes less time than earning a BSN, this pathway appeals to aspiring nurses who want to get their foot in the door and start working as soon as possible.

However, it’s important to check all the requirements of the state in which you choose to work or with certain employers. If your state does require you to earn a bachelor’s degree and you have already earned your associate’s, enrolling in an RN to BSN program might be a good option. Note that this option is for RNs who have already earned their licensure and want to further their education. 

Accelerated Nursing Program

If you’ve already earned an undergraduate degree but have decided that a career change is the right choice for you, consider an Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program. An ABSN program allows those with a non-nursing college education to earn their nursing degrees at an accelerated pace. Your undergraduate can come from any field and the ABSN will provide you with the necessary skills and experience to pursue your new goal of becoming an RN while building on the core skills you learned in your original degree program.

3. Taking the NCLEX Exam and Obtaining Licensure

After earning your nursing degree, the next step to becoming a registered nurse is to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses, or the NCLEX-RN exam. This is the exam that all potential nurses must take to gain licensure and become eligible to practice. This exam will test your nursing knowledge by having you apply and analyze what you’ve learned.

First, you’ll need to submit an application for licensure to the nursing regulatory body (NRB) where you wish to work, and then you can register for the NCLEX.2 Ensure that you meet all the licensure requirements of your state before doing this.

4. Pursuing Advanced Credentials

Once you’ve passed the NCLEX and earned your nursing license, congrats! You are officially a registered nurse! While you can continue to work as a registered nurse, many nursing professionals choose to pursue advanced credentials to expand their career opportunities.

For example, you could pursue additional licensure or credentials to specialize as a registered nurse with a specific patient population or point-of-care. In addition to this, you could pursue further education and earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree or even a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. 

With some of these advanced credentials and education, you could pursue a career as a specialized nurse practitioner, a nurse educator or nurse researcher. Investigate the requirements of the career you wish to pursue to decide if any of these are good options for your professional goals. 

Grand Canyon University aims to provide an exceptional academic experience for every student. If you would like more information about GCU’s nursing programs, including the Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree, visit the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions or click on the Request More Information button at the top of the page.


Retrieved from:

1U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook, Registered Nurses in February 2022 

2National Council of State Boards of Nursing, Application & Registration in February 2022 

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.