Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Nurse

Nursing is a popular career choice that can offer several attractive job perks.
person getting his blood check

Nursing is a popular career choice that can offer several attractive job perks. Some of the biggest benefits of becoming a nurse include excellent job security, diverse job opportunities, excellent training and career progression. Nurses also perform meaningful work and have a unique opportunity to help others and save lives daily. This makes nursing a highly rewarding and fulfilling career for many people. That being said, the field of nursing is demanding and aspiring nurses must be passionate and committed to their careers. Training as a nurse is not easy, but the time and effort required are worth it for many people. If you’re considering a rewarding career in nursing, then here is the ultimate guide to becoming a nurse. 

Understand the job role 

The first step is to do research and gain an understanding of what nurses do on a day-to-day basis. The role of a nurse is diverse but some key responsibilities involve:

  • Assessing patients and providing a medical diagnosis. 
  • Creating tailored treatment plans based on a patient’s needs. 
  • Making a record of a patient’s medical history and vital signs.
  • Communicating with various members of the healthcare team including doctors, nursing assistants, physical therapists and healthcare administration staff. 
  • Using medical tools and equipment to perform treatment on patients. 

It is essential that you have a thorough understanding of the job role and what would be involved. This will help you determine whether a career in nursing is right for you. You should also be aware that nurses are often required to work unsociable hours which may involve evenings and weekends. For some, this may be a perk as it can provide greater flexibility and the opportunity to increase earnings through shift work. However, some people prefer to work a standard 9-5 job. You must consider whether you are prepared to work irregular and unsociable hours. You can learn more about the role of a nurse by reading articles and guidance on career websites or searching for information online. 

Gain work experience 

One of the most effective ways to learn about nursing and gain an insight into the industry is through completing work placements in a healthcare setting. Not only will work experience help you decide whether a nursing career is suitable for you, but it will also play an essential role in helping you secure a place on the top nursing degree programs. Nursing schools expect applicants to have hands-on experience and want students to be proactive when it comes to building their experience. Fortunately, there are dozens of ways to get nursing experience. According to experts at nursejournal.com, you can gain experience in nursing by applying for internships, signing up for mentorship programs and applying for positions within hospitals. Volunteering within a healthcare setting can also be an excellent way to expand your experience and boost your nursing resume. Keep in mind that work placements are the perfect opportunity to make connections with people in the nursing field. Make an effort to build and maintain lasting relationships and gain as much as you can from placements. Many graduate nurses secure their first role through a connection made during an internship or work placement.

Enroll in a nursing program 

To become a qualified nurse, students must graduate from an accredited nursing program. There are various routes to qualification including bachelor’s nursing degrees, nursing diplomas and associate degrees. The majority of nurses complete a bachelor’s degree in nursing. This typically requires four years of full-time study. Nursing programs involve intensive training and assessments and are designed to equip student nurses with the skills and expertise needed to work in a clinical setting and provide efficient patient care. Another popular option is to complete an online nursing program. The main benefit of online courses is that you can complete learning tasks at your own pace and fit study around your other commitments. This makes online courses a great alternative for students in employment or with families. You may also have the option to enroll in an accelerated course and complete your nursing program in as little as one year. Take a look at this list of second degree nursing programs to compare the top online courses available. 

Apply for state licensure 

Graduate nurses must then apply for state licensure before being able to practice. Before this, all nurses must take and pass the NCLEX-RN examination which is set by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. The test involves around 119 questions which must be completed in under six hours. It is possible to do practice questions online to prepare for the test. If you fail the exam, you can apply to resit it after 45 days have passed. The test is designed to check that graduate nurses have the skills and knowledge to practice nursing safely and efficiently. Once you have passed the NCLEX-RN examination, you can apply for a license. Each state sets different requirements for licensure i.e. some states will require a full background check before issuing a license. You should look online to check what is required in the location you wish to practice. 

Find employment 

Once you have received your nursing license, you can start looking for employment within the nursing industry. The majority of nurses work with hospitals, but you may also find employment opportunities in private practices, care facilities and home healthcare services. As mentioned, there is a high demand for nursing professionals so you are likely to have plenty of job opportunities once qualified. That being said, there is still competition for the top positions, so you should make an effort to write an attractive resume and stand out from your peers. Remember to also leverage any connections made through internships and placements when searching for employment in the nursing field. 

Consider nursing specialties 

Many qualified nurses choose to specialize in a particular area of nursing. Choosing a specialism will allow you to develop your skills and focus on an area of nursing that you are passionate about. Specialist nurses have the opportunity to become experts in their chosen field and often enjoy higher earning potential when compared to general nurses. For example, research by the BLS found that registered nurses earn an average of $71, 730 per year whereas nurse anesthetists can expect to earn around $167,950. Specializing in a particular nursing niche is a big investment that often requires the completion of a master’s degree. For that reason, the decision to become a specialist nurse should not be taken lightly and you must do plenty of research before choosing a niche. Some of the most popular nursing specialties include neonatal nurse, clinical nurse, midwife-nurse and critical nurse. You should gain experience in any areas of nursing that you are interested in before deciding that you want to specialize in the field. Becoming a specialist nurse takes time and dedication, but it can bring about some fantastic rewards.

Progress your nursing career 

Nurses have plenty of opportunities when it comes to advancing their careers. As mentioned above, many registered nurses with a few years of experience decide to further their career by going down the specialization route. There is also a huge selection of online courses, qualifications, and workshops that nurses can complete to enhance their skills, boost their expertise and improve their resume. For instance, nurses can earn a master’s degree to advance their skills and prepare them for leadership roles within the nursing field. Fortunately, many nursing training courses are available online and offer flexible remote learning. This makes them ideal for nurses already in employment who are unable to attend college-based programs. Nurses who choose to complete additional qualifications typically enjoy higher salaries and better job opportunities. 

Be aware of the risk of burnout 

Working as a nurse is extremely rewarding, but it can also be demanding and this can take a toll on your physical and mental health. Nurses should be aware of the symptoms of burnout and take steps to protect their health and wellbeing. One way to minimize the risk of burnout is by maintaining a work-life balance. Try to keep your work and personal life separate, avoid taking work home with you and enjoy activities in your free time. You must make time for yourself and factor adequate relaxation time into your schedule. This will allow you to unwind, destress and return to work prepared to face the demands of nursing. 


The need for skilled nurses is growing and there is a massive demand for qualified nurses all around the world. This means that nurses enjoy numerous perks including job security, high earning potential and diverse job opportunities. Nurses also perform meaningful work and have a positive impact on the lives of others. For that reason, nursing professionals often enjoy high job satisfaction in the workplace. Training as a nurse is hard work, but it can offer a satisfying and fulfilling career path for people with the passion and drive to become a successful nurse. 

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