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How to Become a Nurse

If you’d like to become a registered nurse, there are three major educational paths that can take you to your goal. These include:

Bachelor’s of science degree in nursing (BSN). This program is offered by colleges and universities, and takes about four years to complete.

Associate degree in nursing (ADN). Offered by community and junior colleges, this program takes about two to three years to complete.

Diploma program. Offered by hospitals, a diploma program takes about three years to complete.

Completing any of these programs will qualify you for an entry-level staff nurse position. (You must also pass a national nursing exam—the NCLEX-RN—in order to receive a nursing license.) However, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) and many other professional organizations consider the BSN degree to be the minimum educational requirement for a professional nurse.

The college curriculum of the BSN degree includes “a broad spectrum of scientific, critical-thinking, humanistic, communication, and leadership skills, including specific courses on community health nursing not typically included in diploma or associate-degree tracks,” according to the AACN. This course of study, the AACN believes, is essential for developing the abilities nurses need today. Advancement opportunities will be greater with a BSN degree, and some nursing positions are only open to those with a bachelor’s degree or higher. (Many nurses with an ADN or diploma later enter a bachelor’s program so that they can qualify for a broader range of positions, sometimes taking advantage of tuition reimbursement programs offered by their employers.)

Obtaining a college degree in nursing isn’t your only choice—but it may be the best one if you’re interested in a wider range of possibilities and advancement in your nursing career.


Related Career Resources

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Nurse Career Information

Nursing Outlook & Salary Information

Nurse Career Traits

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