How to Become a Registered Nurse:
The Definitive Guide

Do you love helping people and thrive in fast-paced environments?

Are you always the first to step up when things get tough?

If this sounds like you, then you might be just the right person to become a Registered Nurse.

Registered Nurses are a crucial part of the medical field, without them, we would all be worse for wear.

Let’s take a look at how to become a Registered Nurse.

What is a Registered Nurse?

As a Registered Nurse, you’ll spend a lot of time with patients in a medical setting.

Many Registered Nurses work in doctor’s offices, hospitals, and home health care businesses, the military, schools, government offices, and many more places where they take care of patients and help diagnose illnesses.

It’s typical for this career to have long hours and barely any breaks, so being a strong person is a prerequisite for the job.

The demand for Registered Nurses will likely continue to grow for many years.


If you’ve ever met a Registered Nurse, you know that they are intelligent and ready to do what needs to be done.

As a Registered Nurse, you can expect many different duties in this career, however, most of the things that a Registered Nurse does in a day include:

  • Providing direct care to patients
  • Assisting doctors with medical exams
  • Offering guidance to patients and family
  • Leading public health campaigns
  • Operating medical monitoring devices
  • Administering medications


The average salary for a Registered Nurse in the United States is around $77,000 a year.

That number can vary depending on how much education, experience, and certifications you have.

Those that are just starting out in the career will likely make less, at around $52,000 a year.

With many years of experience, certain specialties and certifications, it’s possible to make up to $111,000 a year.

Those that work in higher populated areas typically make more money than those working in more rural areas.

For example, Registered Nurses in California make over $100,000 a year.

While most nurses in Idaho make around $69,000 a year.

  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

Annually National Average Salary: $77,460


Average Annual Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
District of Columbia$94,820
New Hampshire$73,880
New Jersey$84,280
New Mexico$73,300
New York$87,840
North Carolina$66,440
North Dakota$66,290
Rhode Island$82,310
South Carolina$64,840
South Dakota$59,540
West Virginia$63,220
Puerto Rico$35,040
Virgin Islands$68,500

Annual Average Salary: Top 5 States

The top earning state in the field is California, where the average salary is $113,240.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

California - $113,240
Hawaii - $104,060
District of Columbia - $94,820
Massachusetts - $93,160
Oregon - $92,960
* Employment conditions in your area may vary. * Salary information based on the May 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey.
Conducted by: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Department of Labor.

How to Become a Registered Nurse

Step 1Complete a Nursing Program

In every state in the United States, you must have a proper education in order to become a Registered Nurse.

Many colleges around the country offer nursing programs, some are even available online.

However, be advised that taking an online class may still mean that you have to do in-person clinicals and lab work, most likely.

Earning an Associate’s degree in Nursing typically takes around two years to complete.

Gaining a Bachelor’s degree can take another two years, but with a Bachelor’s degree, most schools require that students take general education classes as well.

In a typical program, you can expect to take courses such as:

  • Introduction to Professional Nursing
  • Biochemistry
  • Healthcare Law and Physics
  • Health Care Policy
  • Nursing Research

Usually, a nursing program will include clinicals and an internship.

Clinicals provide aspiring nurses to gain hands-on experience, whether with other nursing students or trial patients.

Internships can include working outside of the school in an office setting, while under constant supervision from a Registered Nurse.

Step 2Pass the NCLEX-RN Exam

After graduating from an accredited program, it’s time to take the NCLEX-RN exam.

This exam shows that you are knowledgeable and competent in nursing, which will lead to obtaining your license.

Some of the things to know about the NCLEX-RN exam are:

  • In order to take the exam, you must have passed a nursing program
  • The registration fee is around $200
  • The score is averaged by how many questions you were able to answer in the test, so if you don’t answer all 175 questions- you won’t automatically fail

There are several different topics that will be examined on the test, these topics will include:

  • Physiological Integrity
  • Safe and Effective Care Environment
  • Health Promotion and Maintenance
  • Psychosocial

After passing the exam, it’s time to become a Registered Nurse.

Step 3Obtain a License

Every U.S. state and Washington D.C. require that each nurse is registered in the state that they work in.

Requirements vary by the state, so that is something you’ll need to contact the state board of nursing in your state.

Typically, a background check, legal, and professional checks are done on each inquiring nurse.

If you are worried that having something on your record will get you barred from nursing, don’t fret.

However, if you withhold information, you could get in serious trouble.

It can cost anywhere from $75 to $200 to gain licensure.

Step 4Gain Specializations

After you gain experience working as a Registered Nurse, it’s time to start thinking about specializing in something.

This isn’t a requirement, but many Registered Nurses like to earn certifications or work in specialized fields.

Some of the certifications that a Registered Nurse can acquire include:

  • Certified Pediatric Nurse
  • Certified Oncology Nurse
  • Aids Certified Registered Nurse
  • Psychiatric Nursing

To hold a Certified Pediatric Nurse certification, you’ll need at least 1,800 hours of pediatric experience within the last two years and 3,000 within the last five years.

This exam costs around $295 to complete.

The Certified Oncology Nurse certification requires competency in oncology as well as at least two years’ experience in the field within the last four years.

To become an AIDS Certified Registered Nurse, you’ll need at least two years’ experience within the HIV/AIDS field.

It’s possible that different workplaces have different certifications and specializations, so anything that you are interested in you should go for and check out.


In order to work as a Registered Nurse, you will need a proper education.

This means that you are going to have to enroll in a nursing program.

Many nursing programs can be found at local community colleges, universities, and even online.

A typical Associates degree in Nursing will take around two years to complete, and a Bachelor’s degree can take up to four.

A Bachelor’s degree will require around 60 credit hours, and an Associate’s degree will require around 30 credit hours.

Some of the courses that you can expect to take in a Nursing program include:

  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Chemistry
  • Statistics
  • Nutrition
  • Microbiology
  • Patient Care
  • Psychology

Among others.

Along with typical classroom courses, nursing programs require students to do clinical classes as well.

These clinical classes can provide hands-on experience to aspiring nurses, which will help them to be calm and competent when they begin their careers.

Some programs may even require an internship.

This is often done outside of school hours, sometimes in a hospital or a doctor’s office.

These internships can be paid or provide school credit.

Some things to keep in mind when applying for a nursing program is that they are highly competitive.

It’s often found that you will be placed on a waiting list, if this happens, take the time to brush up on your nursing terminology and learn as much general education as you can.

With an Associates degree in Nursing, some of the careers that you can expect include:

  • Ambulatory nurse
  • Physician’s office nurse
  • Nursing in residential care facilities
  • Educational services nurse

With a Bachelors degree in nursing, the careers that you can expect are:

  • Home health nurse
  • Legal consultant nurse
  • Forensic nurse
  • Case manager

Those that work toward a Bachelor’s degree will likely make more money than Registered Nurses with an Associate’s degree.

Video About The Career

Certification and Licensing

In order to work as a Registered Nurse in the United States, you must hold licensure in the state that you want to work.

Every state has their own website where you can sign up.

In order to be eligible for licensure, you must have a criminal background check, have passed a nursing program, and several other moral etiquette procedures are done.

Taking the NCLEX-RN exam will be your next step in this process.

It’s possible to take this exam online or in person at certain facilities around the country.

This exam can last around 75 minutes and is roughly 175-275 questions-depending on the state where you take the test.

The test is competency-based, which means if you get more right, you’ll have to answer fewer questions.

Once you gain licensure, you can work as a Registered Nurse.

There are several certifications that a Registered Nurse might be interested in.

These can help with promotions and raises, and also shows the competency of the Registered Nurse in the field that they are working.

Some of the certifications that you can obtain as a Registered Nurse include:

  • Ambulatory Care
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist
  • Cardiovascular Nursing
  • Pain Management
  • Occupation Health
  • Pediatric Nursing

Once you have found your niche as a Registered Nurse, you may want to think about working toward one of these, or several other, certifications.

A Registered Nurse with an ambulatory care certification can find themselves working in doctor’s offices or other facilities taking care of patients who have ongoing medical conditions.

A Registered Nurse with a Pediatric Nursing certification will likely find themselves working on the maternity or NICU wards of the hospital.

Each state, and sometimes even each hospital, has its own certifications and specializations.

Having a certification or specializing in one thing can open several doors for promotions and raises.

Certification Example:

nursing ba example

Average Training Program Duration: 2-4 Years

The average training program to become a Registered Nurse lasts around two years.

Most Registered Nurses also work or have clinicals during their schooling, which can cut down on the time that it takes to become a Registered Nurse.

Some Registered Nurses decide that they want to earn a Bachelor’s degree, which can help open more doors in the future.

Earning a Bachelor’s degree can take around four years.

This means that it can take from 2-4 years to become a Registered Nurse.

Popular Degree Programs

Job Outlook

It seems that people who want to become Registered Nurses should start thinking about doing so.

The job is projected to increase by around 12% within the next decade.

This is true because of the baby boomer population aging and requiring more medical care.

There are several more medical facilities and treatments provided today, and likely in the future, which can cause a rise in the growth of this career.

Some of the places that may see the most growth include:

  • Outpatient care facilities
  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Chemotherapy treatment centers
  • Ambulatory care
  • Surgery

However, you can expect growth in all specializations in this career, not just the ones listed.

Employment Growth Projection: 12%


That's a higher than average projected growth of 371,500 jobs.

Should You Become a Registered Nurse?

Overall Satisfaction

Overall Satisfaction: High

Most Registered Nurses find that their jobs are quite enjoyable and they love doing what they do.

The hours can be rough and the workload may be heavy, but being a Registered Nurse brings a smile to many faces.

The reason for that smile is because Registered Nurses love helping others and making their patients feel better.

It seems that the salary makes it enjoyable as well, as many Registered Nurses make a decent amount.

Those that have certifications find that their job satisfaction is higher than Registered Nurses with no certifications.

This could be due to finding a niche of their own enjoyment, or other factors.

Average Salary

Average Salary: High

The average salary in the United States for a Registered Nurse is around $75,000 a year.

Those that work in smaller communities, in smaller doctors’ offices, or don’t have as much experience can expect to make less than that.

The typical new Registered Nurse will likely make around $45,000.

With experience and working for larger hospitals or corporations, a Registered Nurse can make up to $100,000 a year.

Job Growth Outlook

Job Growth Outlook: High

The job growth outlook for Registered Nurses in the United States looks amazing.

It seems that this career will grow around 12 percent within the next decade.

This is accurate for all Registered Nurses in the field.

The demand for this job will continue to grow due to the aging population.

The baby boomer generation is growing older and requires more medical care.

Also, many more facilities are opening, as well as the use of in-home nursing, which will cause a spike in this career outlook.

Education Duration

Education Duration: 2-4 Years

The amount of schooling that you want to do to become a Registered Nurse is up to you.

Most Registered Nurses earn an Associate’s degree, which can take around two years to complete.

Other aspiring Registered Nurses decide that they want to work toward a Bachelor’s degree, which can take around four years to complete.

Those that earn a Bachelor’s degree often find better-paying jobs and more job opportunities in general.

However, the minimum education requirement is an Associate’s degree.

Personal Skills Needed

Personal Skills Needed

In order to work as any type of Registered Nurse, it’s important to have empathy and consideration for other people.

Patients may be sick, tired, difficult, frustrated, and many other emotions.

A Registered Nurse has to push through those emotions and help the patient regardless, this means a nurse has to be strong and ready for action.

Some of the personal skills that a Registered Nurse should have include:

  • Compassion
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Decision-making skills
  • Ability to work with others
  • Attention to detail

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What is the average salary for a Registered Nurse?

For a Registered Nurse in the United States, the average salary is around $75,000 a year.

When just starting out as a Registered Nurse, it is more likely to expect to make around $45,000 to $50,000 a year.

If you work in larger cities or in bigger hospitals, it’s possible to make up to $100,000 as a Registered Nurse.

Having specializations and certifications will bump up that salary as well.

Q. How long does it take to become a Registered Nurse?

It takes around two years to go to school to become a Registered Nurse.

Some Registered Nurses decide to work toward a Bachelor’s degree, which can take another two years to complete.

Gaining experience and credentials while in school will also help reduce the time it takes to become a nurse.

One of the important things to remember is that nursing is a very competitive field.

Even if you can’t get into nursing school right away, taking general education classes can help you in the long run.

Q. What does a Registered Nurse do?

The easier question to answer would be what doesn’t a Registered Nurse do?

You can find a Registered Nurse working with patients, taking vitals, doling out medications, changing bandages, cleaning wounds, and even assisting with surgery.

There’s no end to the role of a Registered Nurse, and that can be difficult for some people.

The hours are long and the job can be demanding.

Q. What is the demand for Registered Nurses?

There will always be a high demand for nurses.

This is because Registered Nurses are an integral part of the medical system.

Across the board for the nursing career, the projection of growth is around 12%.

This is huge and means that there will be more nurses working in facilities around the country within the next ten years.

Q. How much does it cost to become a Registered Nurse?

The cost to become a Registered Nurse can vary depending on where you go to school.

Community colleges and other nursing programs may cost less than obtaining your education through a university.

Some community colleges cost around $15,000 to earn an Associate’s degree.

Universities can cost around $35,000-$45,000 or more to earn a Bachelor’s degree.

Registered Nurse Information by State

Similar Careers

One Comment
  1. Avatar for Antony Raj Antony Raj

    Excellent Info

Leave a Comment

Find a Program