Registered Nurses


Education and Training Requirements

High School

If you are interested in becoming a registered nurse, you should take mathematics and science courses, including biology, chemistry, and physics. Health courses will also be helpful. English and speech courses should not be neglected because you must be able to communicate well with patients. Take computer science classes because nurses frequently use computers to "chart" patients and complete continuing education classes and seminars.  

Postsecondary Training

There are three basic kinds of training programs that you may choose from to become a registered nurse: associate's degree, diploma, and bachelor's degree. Deciding on which of the three training programs to pursue depends on your career goals. A bachelor's degree in nursing is required for most supervisory or administrative positions, for jobs in public health agencies, and for admission to graduate nursing programs. A master's degree is usually necessary to prepare for a nursing specialty or to teach. For some specialties, such as nursing research, a Ph.D. is essential.

There are many bachelor's degree programs in nursing in the United States, which can take up to five years to complete, in some cases. The graduate of this program receives a bachelor of science in nursing (B.S.N.) degree. The associate degree in nursing (A.D.N.) is awarded after completion of a two-year study program that is usually offered in a junior or community college. Nursing students receive hospital training at cooperating hospitals in the general vicinity of the community college. The diploma program, which usually lasts three years, is conducted by hospitals and independent schools, although the number of these programs is declining. At the conclusion of each of these programs, you become a graduate nurse, but not, however, a registered nurse. To obtain the RN designation you must pass a licensing examination required in all states.

Nurses can pursue postgraduate training that allows them to specialize in certain areas, such as emergency room, operating room, premature nursery, or psychiatric nursing. This training is sometimes offered through hospital on-the-job training programs.

Other Education or Training

Registered nurses must continue to learn throughout their careers in order to keep their skills up to date and comply with licensing and certification and recertification requirements. Many nursing association provide continuing education (CE) opportunities in the form of Web-based educational courses, conferences, seminars, webinars, and workshops. Contact nursing associations in your practice area for information on CE opportunities. 

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

Many professional nursing associations provide voluntary certification to registered nurses. For example, the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing awards the certified transport registered nurse designation to those who pass an examination and meet other requirements. The American Nurses Credentialing Center, a subsidiary of the American Nurses Association, provides a variety of certification credentials. 

All states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories require a license to practice nursing. To obtain a license, graduates of approved nursing schools must pass a national examination. Nurses may be licensed by more than one state. In some states, continuing education is a condition for license renewal. Different titles require different education and training levels.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Nursing students should gain experience by completing several nursing internships, or clinical rotations (ideally in their practice specialty, such as emergency nursing), as part of their postsecondary training. 

You should enjoy working with people, and be especially sensitive and effective in working with those who may experience fear or anger because of an illness. Patience, compassion, and calmness are qualities needed by anyone working in this career. In addition, you must be able to give directions as well as follow instructions and work as part of a health care team. Anyone interested in becoming a registered nurse should also have a strong desire to continue learning, because new tests, procedures, and technologies are constantly being developed within medicine.