Healthcare organizations in the United States employ approximately 3.2 million registered nurses (RNs) as of 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, with many current nurses planning to retire soon or change jobs, entry-level nurses will be needed to fill this workforce gap and care for patients in various types of healthcare settings. 

For individuals who want to know how to become a nurse, the journey begins by earning an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. Programs for these degrees can take as little as 18 to 21 months to complete (with required prerequisites). Upon graduation, individuals must pass a national exam to gain state licensure and qualify for entry-level RN positions. 

Nursing students can gain practical experience through volunteer opportunities or internships. Some employers require nurses to hold basic lifesaving and resuscitation certifications. Specialty certifications are generally optional but are a way to stand out and focus on an area of interest. 

What Does a Nurse Do?

The duties of a nurse vary depending on where they work and the type of healthcare they provide. Entry-level RNs work under the supervision of higher-ranking nurses or physicians while they gain experience. Nurses’ common tasks include the following:

  • Monitoring and taking patients’ vital signs
  • Performing patients’ health assessments and physical exams
  • Communicating with patients and their families on treatments and procedures
  • Documenting patients’ information
  • Preparing patients’ charts for physicians 
  • Administering medications to patients and inserting their intravenous (IV) lines
  • Consulting with physicians on their orders
  • Drawing blood from patients

Depending on the facility, nurses’ other responsibilities may include serving meals to patients, dressing or undressing them, and inserting their feeding tubes. Nurses typically work in shifts and spend many hours standing, bending, or walking.

Nurse Work Settings

Nearly 60% of RNs work in hospitals, according to the BLS. However, ambulatory care settings, which include doctor’s offices, outpatient care centers, and home healthcare facilities, rank as the second biggest employer group at 18% of the nursing workforce. Other work settings include nursing and residential care facilities (6%), government organizations (5%), and educational service organizations (3%). 

Some nurses don’t have a permanent workplace and instead work as travel nurses, traveling to other cities, states, or facilities to care for patients. 

Fundamental Skills

RNs need to have a diverse set of practical and clinical skills to be able to deliver the care that patients of various ages and illness levels require. Key skills for RNs include the following:

  • Communication skills: Nurses must be able to effectively express themselves, both verbally and in writing, to members of the healthcare team and to patients and their families. 
  • Critical thinking skills: Nurses should be able to make sound clinical judgments after evaluating patients’ conditions so they can deliver appropriate interventions. 
  • Organizational skills: Nurses need to be organized to juggle the healthcare needs of different patients, including maintaining their medical records and treatment plans. 
  • Emotional stability: Along with having compassion, nurses should be emotionally stable to be able to remain calm in stressful situations and display concern when working with patients.

Fundamental clinical skills for nurses include proficiency in medication administration, emergency response, wound care, health assessment, and patient care procedures. Nursing school programs train students to perform and become competent in these areas. 

Steps to Become a Nurse

Becoming a registered nurse requires dedication and compassion. There are also several training and licensure steps aspiring nurses must take, starting with pursuing the right education.

1. Earn a Degree

Prospective RNs can opt to earn an associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing to prepare for licensure. Depending on the school, nursing programs can be completed online, on campus, or via hybrid learning. As for how long it takes to become an RN, a student’s degree level and part-time or full-time status can affect the length of time it takes them to complete the nursing program. Some accelerated ADN and BSN programs can take as little as 18 or 21 months to complete, respectively.

Prospective students should seek an approved program that holds nursing school accreditation. This criteria is often a requirement for nurse licensure. It also demonstrates that the school values higher education and that the nursing program has met rigorous academic standards.  

2. Pass the NCLEX-RN

Following graduation, individuals need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) to qualify for state licensure. All nurses must be licensed to enter the workforce. The NCLEX-RN consists of 75 to 245 questions across these categories: safe and effective care environment, health promotion and maintenance, psychosocial integrity, and physiological integrity.

3. Gain Certification

Many employers seek RN candidates who have cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), basic life support (BLS), or advanced cardiac life support (ACLS) credentials. Nurses can also gain an optional certification in a specialty area such as pediatrics or emergency care. Being certified demonstrates expertise in a given area and may enhance a nurse’s career opportunities. 

Job Outlook for Nurses

Employment of RNs is expected to grow 6% from 2022 to 2032, according to the BLS. Over this decade, approximately 193,100 job openings are projected to be available each year due to nurses leaving the workforce and an increased demand for healthcare services. 

Nurses will be needed primarily in outpatient care centers and hospitals to care for individuals with chronic health conditions, such as obesity and diabetes. In addition, the growing population of older adults will need nurses to care for them in assisted living facilities.  

Begin Your Nursing Career With a Degree From Denver College of Nursing

Anyone interested in how to become a nurse should know that the first step is pursuing the right education. Denver College of Nursing’s Associate Degree in Nursing program can be completed in as little as 18 months, providing an efficient way to earn your registered nurse credentials and start gaining real-world experience. 

In addition to the ADN program — which is available at our Denver, Colorado, location — DCN also offers a Bachelor of Science in Nursing completion program that can be completed in as little as 21 months with full-time study at our Denver and Houston, Texas, campuses. Both programs prepare students for the NCLEX-RN exam. And both consist of practical work and courses in areas such as pharmacology, health assessment, nutrition, nursing concepts, and leadership. 

If you’re ready to step into the healthcare field, discover how Denver College of Nursing can train you to pursue a fulfilling career as a nurse. 

Recommended Readings
How Long Does It Take to Become a Registered Nurse?
What Is a BSN Completion Program and How Does It Work?
Tips for Applying to Nursing School

American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Nursing Workforce Fact Sheet
American Nurses Association, “Nursing Career Pathways”
Indeed, “7 Nursing Certifications for New Graduates”
National Council of State Boards of Nursing, “NCLEX-RN Test Plan”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses
ZipRecruiter, What Is an Entry Level RN and How to Become One