How To Become a Registered Nurse (RN)

What Is an RN?

A registered nurse is responsible for managing and coordinating the various aspects of a patient’s care. An RN can assess patients, request medical tests, make diagnoses and administer treatments. RNs work alongside the healthcare team in caring for the patient.

For patients, and particularly for hospitalized patients, RNs are the most frequent point of contact within the healthcare system. Patients rely on nurses to help them understand their diagnoses and treatment recommendations, learn how to take care of themselves, make healthy lifestyle changes, and navigate the healthcare system.

However, registered nurses provide much more than just patient care. They often work with patients during some of the most difficult and trying times of their lives. RNs are an important resource for patients’ family members who rely on nurses to keep them informed of their loved one’s condition.

3.2 million jobs

As of 2022, registered nurses held approximately 3.2 million jobs in the U.S.1

What Does an RN Do?

When researching how to become an RN, it is valuable to know the specific job tasks of an RN that you will be expected to perform, as well as explore, what does an RN do? Nurses not only provide patient care, but also educate patients to help them understand how to manage their injuries, illnesses or chronic medical conditions once they are discharged. A day in the life of a registered nurse will vary by area of specialization, but in general, it may include any of the following:

Registered Nurse students standing in a simulation room

Assessing the condition of patients and conducting physical examinations.

Nursing Diagnosis

Using information from tests and examinations, nurses use their judgment to provide nursing diagnosis.


Reviewing, developing and contributing to patient care plans, performing tests and procedures, administering medications and setting up intravenous infusions.


Putting care plans into action, implementing goals and providing direct care to the patient.


Assessing the effectiveness of the treatment; may also include evaluations and care plan adjustments.

Nurses are expected to demonstrate sound nursing judgment and clinical best practices. They must also carefully follow all regulations, including those issued by professional nursing associations and their own healthcare organizations, as well as federal, state and local authorities.

What Education and Experience Does a Registered Nurse Need?

Those wondering how to become an RN should understand the educational requirements. Aspiring nurses must first complete a nursing degree from an accredited university. After earning your degree, you will need to complete and pass the NCLEX-RN® exam in order to gain licensure and practice as a registered nurse.

If you’re aspiring to become a nurse and are still in high school, connect with your school counseling team. They can help suggest classes that may be applicable to a career as a registered nurse, such as various science courses. You may also consider completing Certified Nursing Assistant training in high school, as this can be a valuable introduction into the nursing and healthcare field.

Aspiring nurses need formal education and training before they can take the NCLEX-RN® exam to become an RN. While some may choose to earn an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), which can qualify them for the exam, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) can provide you with a more advanced understanding of the nursing field, focusing on both hands-on learning and in-depth nursing theory.

After passing your NCLEX-RN® and becoming licensed as a nursing professional, you will be able to begin entry-level work as a registered nurse. Your job responsibilities as an entry-level nurse may include tasks such as providing and coordinating treatment, performing various skills and providing patient education.2

The nursing field also offers many opportunities to specialize, which may require additional education or certificates. For instance, if you thrive in a fast-paced work environment with patients in critical condition, you may seek to become an emergency room (ER) nurse. Or perhaps your family has been affected by cancer, inspiring you to specialize in oncology.

This educational route can lead you to a variety of different options as a nursing professional in the healthcare field. You can be prepared to apply your advanced knowledge and skills to serve others in your community in a variety of ways.

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Best Degrees for a Registered Nurse

There are many different nursing degree options available to you that can help you on your way to becoming a registered nurse. You first want to earn your Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree.

An undergraduate nursing degree will also teach you holistic, evidence-based practices so you can provide quality care to your patients.

  • Nursing foundations
  • Health assessment
  • Behavioral health nursing
  • Research and evidence-based nursing practices
  • Leadership and ethics in nursing
  • Population/community health

GCU Recommends These Degree Programs for Registered Nurses

Depending on your previous education and experience, one nursing program may be more ideal for you than another. Our pre-licensure degree programs are designed to provide you with a solid foundation in nursing studies and other important components of the healthcare field, ultimately helping to prepare you for a career as a nursing professional.

Bachelor’s Program (Two Tracks)

What Skills Does a Registered Nurse Need?

Registered nurses require a diverse set of skills to be able to properly and effectively perform a multitude of critical tasks. Along with the technical skills that nurses learn from their degree programs, there are other soft skills they must possess, including:3

  • Communication
  • Critical thinking
  • Confidence
  • Teamwork
  • Professionalism
  • Empathy
  • Conflict resolution
  • Adaptability
  • Ability to take initiative
  • Resilience
Two registered nurses walking in a hospital

Median Annual Wage


Median annual wage for registered nurses as of May 20234

Any projected RN salary will ultimately depend on various factors, such as location and the specific healthcare organization where the nurse will be working. However, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), registered nurses had a median annual wage of $86,070 in May 2023.4

Projected Job Growth


Estimated job growth for registered nurses from 2022 to 20325

The healthcare field is expected to continue to grow for the foreseeable future. The BLS estimates job growth for registered nurses to increase by about 6% from 2022 to 2032, faster than average, accounting for about 177,400 new jobs in the field.5

Where Do Registered Nurse Work?

RNs can work in a wide variety of healthcare settings, from primary care practices to plastic surgery offices to emergency rooms. Some of these common workplace possibilities include:1


As of 2022, about 59% of nurses work in a state, local or private hospital setting.1 This makes this workplace setting the largest employer of registered nurses.

Ambulatory healthcare services

These settings include physicians' offices, home healthcare and outpatient care centers, and can include a variety of different nursing positions and specialties. Approximately 18% of registered nurses work in this sector.1

Residential care

Residential care facilities are typically smaller facilities that house senior residents who require care, but not necessarily around the clock. Registered nurses and nurses make up a critical part of their care teams.

Educational services

This can include state, local and private educational settings. Registered nurses may find themselves serving those who work at or attend different educational settings, such as school districts or universities.

Advancement Opportunities Within Nursing

GCU also offers advanced nursing degree programs for those looking to pursue advanced learning and potentially position themselves for more extensive job opportunities. These nursing offerings include programs such as the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree, offered with a variety of emphases options, such as health informatics, leadership in healthcare systems and nursing education. These options can help you specialize in your area of interest as a nursing professional.

Group of nursing students

If you feel called to make a positive difference in the health of your community as a registered nurse, consider earning your nursing degree at Grand Canyon University. The College of Nursing and Health Care Professions offers various registered nursing degree options to suit a diverse range of learners.

1 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (n.d.). Registered nurses. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Retrieved Feb. 27, 2024.

2 Deering, M. (2024, Feb. 23). Guide to entry-level nursing. NurseJournal. Retrieved Feb. 27, 2024.

3 Bonsall, L. (2021, Jan. 16). Essential skills for nurses: Skills that are anything but “soft.” NursingCenter. Retrieved Jan. 26, 2024.

4 The earnings referenced were reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (“BLS”), Registered Nurses, as of May 2023, retrieved April 22, 2024. Due to COVID-19, data from 2020 to 2023 may be atypical compared to prior years. BLS calculates the median using salaries of workers nationwide with varying levels of education and experience. It does not reflect the earnings of GCU graduates as registered nurses, nor does it reflect earnings of workers in one city or region of the country or a typical entry-level salary. Median income is the statistical midpoint for the range of salaries in a specific occupation. It represents what you would earn if you were paid more money than half the workers in an occupation, and less than half the workers in an occupation. It may give you a basis to estimate what you might earn at some point if you enter this career. Grand Canyon University can make no guarantees on individual graduates’ salaries. Your employability will be determined by numerous factors over which GCU has no control, such as the employer the graduate chooses to apply to, the graduate’s experience level, individual characteristics, skills, etc., against a pool of candidates.

5 COVID-19 has adversely affected the global economy and data from 2020 to 2022 may be atypical compared to prior years. Accordingly, data shown is effective September 2023, which can be found here: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Registered Nurses, retrieved on Jan. 26, 2024.