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How do I become a nurse?

There are many paths to becoming a nurse, depending on the type of career desired.

Practical experience is a major part of becoming a nurse. [Jupiter Images, 2009]
Jupiter Images, 2009
Practical experience is a major part of becoming a nurse.

How do I Become a Nurse?

When one asks "how do I become a nurse?", it is often in seeking specific career steps to take to become a part of this rewarding profession. In fact, the education, training and licensing required to become a nurse is well-documented, and so the steps to take are fairly clear.

Steps in Becoming a Nurse

Although knowing the steps in becoming a nurse are easy, doing them is more difficult. It requires focused dedication and hard work. A student must establish a long-term plan that includes education and a strong personal support system. The basic steps include:

  • Investigation of the schools in the student's area that offer nursing programs.
  • A visit to the schools to determine which one offers the best program for the student.
  • Establish a support system that may include transportation, child care, and time for studying.
  • Through consistent class attendance, studying, and completion of the mandatory clinical hours (time spent at hospitals and clinics), complete the program requirements.
  • Register for, take and pass the appropriate, required NCLEX (National Council Licensure Exam) exam. Depending upon the type of nurse a student is studying to be, the NCLEX exam is different.
  • Apply for the required nursing license in the state where the student intends to work.
  • Conduct a job search campaign to begin work.


Completing a nursing program is insufficient for anyone to become a nurse. Like doctors and lawyers, all nurses must be licensed in order to practice. This is done through the passing of the NCLEX exam. Most nursing programs review the elements of this exam in the final courses of a nursing program. However, many individual programs are available that can give a nursing student additional preparation. Kaplan Nursing offers a variety of comprehensive and supplemental materials to assist in the study process. Some are on ground while others can be done online or at home. More information on this very important exam and how it works can be obtained through the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.

Types of Schools and Training a Potential Nurse Needs

State boards of nursing regulate all nursing programs in their respective states. For example, the Arizona Board of Nursing determines what nursing schools are permitted in the State of Arizona. All states are run similarly. These boards also regulate individual nurse licenses.

Nursing programs can be as short as a diploma or as long as a master's degree. In the case of a master's degree, a bachelor's degree in nursing must be obtained first. Students can select from a wide variety of schools in order to obtain their degree. In Ohio, a student may enter the nursing program at the University of Cincinnati, a public college, or elect to receive the credential from a private school such as Brown Mackie College - Cincinnati. These types of choices are available in all states. A comprehensive guide to all nursing schools and careers can be located at All Nursing Schools. In nearly all cases a high school diploma or GED is required for entrance.

Some nursing programs are online. To search for that type of opportunity, a student can go to Careers in Health. However, no nursing program can be one hundred percent online. This is because clinical hours are required. Clinical hours are hours that all nursing students spend in hospitals, nursing homes and clinics so that they can actually apply what they are learning in school. These hours are supervised by a licensed nurse and rotate in and out of various medical disciplines. Students will have opportunities to work with seniors, pregnant mothers, children, heart patients and so on.

Types of Nursing Professions

There are two primary types of nursing professions a student can consider. Once is a practical nurse and the other is a registered nurse. A registered nurse has completed at least an associate's degree and has passed the NCLEX-RN exam. They are able to supervise practical nurses. A practical nurse must have completed at least a nursing diploma program and have successfully passed the NCLEX-PN exam. They do not have the same level of responsibilities or privileges as a registered nurse. Many nursing programs offer practical nursing programs that roll into registered nursing programs.

Other Considerations

When selecting a nursing school, students should ask several critical questions in order to determine if the program will successfully advance them toward their chosen career. One of the most important facts to find out is the schools pass rate on the NCLEX exam. Schools are required to keep this information and if the pass rate is too low, the student will want to consider schools that may have higher rates. Another fact to consider is if there is a waiting list to get into clinical sites.

The demand for nurses is so high that schools sometimes over-enroll in order to meet that demand. Over enrollment can result in students completing the theory part of the program and then having to wait months before entering the clinical portion. Wait time certainly delays the graduation date which may have implications for repayment of any student loans. The more informed a student is on the front end, the smarter their choice will be in selecting the best nursing school.

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