According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), an average of more than 203,000 new registered nursing positions will be created each year between 2021 and 2031, representing an annual growth of approximately five percent. Despite this fact, the US is currently facing a shortage of RNs—and this shortage is expected to increase in coming years as a greater proportion of our population ages and seeks medical care.

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This is good news for anyone who has considered a career as a registered nurse. Increased demand has translated into high levels of job security and competitive wages. These benefits, paired with a desire to make a difference for patients, is what inspires many to start the journey toward becoming a nurse.

Are you interested in pursuing a career as a registered nurse? If so, it can be helpful to understand the steps that you’ll have to take to get there. Below, we explore the steps to becoming an RN, including a look at how long it will take, so that you can begin planning for your career and your future.

How to Become a Registered Nurse

The exact steps involved in becoming a registered nurse will vary somewhat depending on the state that you live in and where you hope to practice, so it’s important to research the specific requirements. That being said, all states will require aspiring RNs to complete the following requirements.

Is it hard to become a nurse?

Becoming a nurse can be challenging. Nursing programs take time and include clinical experiences, practical hospital training, and theory classes. Aspiring nurses must prepare to care for patients in a fast-paced environment. Even though it's a journey, the satisfaction of being an integral part of the nursing field, helping people, and making a positive impact is worth it.

Steps to becoming a Registered Nurse

As stated above, making this goal a reality involves knowing exactly what is expected of you in your particular state. That being said, all states will require aspiring RNs to complete the following requirements:

  1. Complete an accredited nursing program: A number of different degrees can prepare you for a job as an RN and fulfill this requirement. While earning an associate’s degree in nursing is sometimes technically enough to fulfill this requirement, more and more often employers prefer to hire applicants who have earned their bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN). This fact means that the BSN is often considered to be a de facto requirement for becoming an RN. We explore various nursing degrees that you might consider below.
  2. Pass the NCLEX Exam: After completing your degree, you will need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). This exam is designed to test your knowledge in the field of nursing. If you do not pass the exam the first time, you must wait 45 days before you will be allowed to try again.
  3. Apply for licensure: Once you’ve passed the NCLEX, your final step will be to apply for licensure in whichever state you wish to practice. Depending on the backlog of applications and the process for the state you are applying in, this can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.
Three steps to becoming a registered nurse: complete an accredited nursing program, pass the NCLEX exam, and apply for licensure.

So, How Long Does It Take to Become an RN?

The answer to this question is: It varies. The factor that will impact your timeline the most will be which degree you choose to pursue. Depending on the specific nursing program that you enroll in, it could take anywhere from 16 months to four years to become a registered nurse.

“I chose to earn my BSN, which takes four years,” says ChiChi Akanegbu, who completed her Bachelor of Science in Nursing at Regis College as a part of the Class of 2020. “After that, I needed to take my board exams, which added a bit of time.”

How Fast Can You Become a Registered Nurse?

Many people might think that pursuing an associate’s degree in nursing is the quickest way of becoming a registered nurse, particularly as opposed to earning a four-year BSN. After all, an associate’s degree in nursing takes an average of only two years to complete. But as mentioned above, while an associate’s degree in nursing may fulfill the technical requirements of becoming an RN, more and more employers now require that any new hires earn their BSN in order to be considered for an RN position.

With this in mind, if speed is important to you, you are likely to be better served by pursuing an accelerated BSN program which will allow you to earn your bachelor of science in nursing in less than the standard four years.

For example, Regis College offers multiple degree options which are specifically designed to help students graduate as quickly as possible so that they can start their career, including:

  • RN-to-BS completion program: This program is designed for students who have earned their associate’s degree in nursing but who wish to return to school to complete their BSN. This program can be completed in 12 to 14 months, depending on whether the student has selected a part-time or full-time course load.
  • Accelerated 16-month BS in Nursing for non-nurse college graduates: This program is designed to quickly prepare students who have already earned a bachelor’s degree in a field unrelated to nursing to earn their BSN in just 16 months, making it ideal for career changers.
  • 24-month BS in Nursing for non-nurse college graduates: Like the 16-month BSN discussed above, this degree is another accelerated option for students seeking their BSN. The primary difference between the two programs is that the longer time frame allows for part-time employment.
  • Accelerated direct-entry MSN: By completing this program, students will earn both their BSN and MSN in three years, preparing them for a career not only as an RN, but positioning them for advanced roles such as that of a nurse practitioner as well. This program is especially well-suited for aspiring nurses who have completed a bachelor’s degree in a field unrelated to nursing.

Choosing the Right Program

Whether you choose to pursue a traditional four-year BSN, an accelerated degree, or your MSN, it’s important to first do your homework so that you are sure you are choosing the best program to help you reach your goals.

In selecting a program to enroll in, Akanegbu recommends students find a program that offers a curriculum specifically designed to help them pass the NCLEX.

“Out of everything, I would have to say the most challenging part of becoming an RN was the NCLEX,” she says. “High-quality programs understand the importance of this exam and use that understanding to shape their curriculum so that graduates will be prepared to take and pass the exam.”

Additionally, Akanegbu recommends finding a program where you know you will be learning from faculty who are actively practicing in the field of nursing.

“I feel as though one of the most positive things about Regis’s Nursing program is that our faculty aren't people that have been retired for 10 or so years,” she says. “They’re actively working in hospitals, which means they’re not just going off the textbook, but teaching us about what they've been through and what they continue to experience as a nurse.”

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