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The Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming a Nurse

Working as a nurse can be one of the most rewarding professions there is. You’re right there on the frontline, helping patients and seeing immediate results. And as opposed to a doctor, who steps in briefly to monitor the overview of a patient’s condition, a nurse contributes to the backbone of healthcare. Without them, the healthcare system would collapse because there would be far less caring, administration, management and organization. It’s a tough job, but it’s also a satisfying one that you can take with you around the world.


The American Nurses Association requires that every single state and the District of Columbia’s nurses be licensed for the following reasons:


  • Establishing requirements for initial licensure and retaining basic education, continuing education and/or competency
  • Interpreting scope of practice parameters, defined by state statute (nurse practice act)
  • Investigating complaints of licensees and disciplinary actions


    Or, in a nutshell, nurses need to become licensed so the public can be kept from harm.

    Becoming Educated, Certified and Qualified

    There are several different ways you can become educated for a nursing profession, and it’s always best to call your desired place of employment to find out exactly what they’re looking for. For example, a hospital will have different requirements than in-home patient care, and both may be different than a rural clinic.


  • Diploma in Nursing: The American Nurses Association calls this “once the most common route to RN licensure and a nursing career”. Students interested in this route would study in hospital-based schools of nursing.
  • Associate Degree in Nursing: You’re taking a higher step with this route, as now you’ll be going off to college and working towards a degree. The ADN works in conjunction with hospital-based schools of nursing and community colleges, and trains you for “a defined technical scope of practice”.
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing: One step higher than an ADN, this four-year degree trains you for the full scope of nursing practice wherever you go.
  • Master of Science in Nursing: For nurses who want to become even more educated, skilled and specialized, the MSN program is for them. Typical students include advanced practice nurses such as nurse-midwives, nurse anaesthetists, clinical nurses specialists, and nurse practitioners.
  • Doctor of Philosophy: This is your PhD, and prepares you for a research-based job in which you’ll be primarily teaching or researching topics in nursing.
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice: You’ll still be getting your PhD, but the kind of job you’ll be doing will be practice-based, such as going into clinical practice or a leadership position.

    What a Typical Program Looks Like

    We’re going to focus mostly on the ADN and BScN programs because they’re the most in-depth and involve a scope of practice.


  • First half of the program I generally focused on fleshing out a background of the human body, such as psychology, human growth and development, biology, microbiology, organic chemistry, nutrition, and anatomy and physiology.
  • The second half is when the program gets more involved with specific nursing aspects, like adult acute and chronic disease, maternal and child heath, pediatrics, psychiatric and mental health nursing, and community health nursing.
  • Learning about other aspects involved with nursing, from healthcare economics and informatics to general health policy. This enables nurses to go into a more administrative role if they’re interested, as well as preparing them for doing the paperwork the right way.
  • Money Talk and Career Opportunities

    The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the following in their 2012 survey:


  • Bottom 10% median salary: $45,040
  • Median salary: $65,470 (for a registered nurse)
  • Top 10% median salary: $94,720

    Here are the top cities to work as a nurse in, in terms of how much you’ll get paid. To see current job openings in each city, just click on the US News link for up-to-date information.


  • 1. San Jose, California: Median salary of $122,290
  • 2. Vallejo, California: Median salary of $119,310
  • 3. Oakland, California: Median salary of $113,520
  • 4. Sacramento, California: Median salary of $110,630
  • 5. San Francisco, California: Median salary of $110,630


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