Nursing is one of the most rewarding and meaningful careers a person can choose. And becoming a Registered Nurse (RN) is considered by many to be the pinnacle of the nursing career—although there are all sorts of specialties and advanced paths you can take once you are an RN, of course.
Becoming an RN isn’t as simple as completing your degree and landing your first job. It’s a complex process, and it can take time. But it’s worth it to help patients and their family members, potentially during some of the hardest times of their lives. That’s why you decided to become a healthcare professional in the first place, after all.
There are various considerations to make when it comes to launching your career as an RN: What kind of education is required? What sort of licensing? How much does it cost? And you’re probably wondering… how long will this all take?
The truth is that the timeline can vary widely depending on what kind of degree you’re going for, the educational institution you choose, the prerequisites you have, and other factors. But the short answer is that it will probably take between two and four years to earn your degree and become an RN.
Let’s break down what educational options are available for becoming an RN, as well as costs and timelines. That way, you can decide what course of action is best for you and your journey to becoming a Registered Nurse.
What Education is Needed to Become an RN?
Anyone wishing to become an RN will need to have a degree from an accredited nursing school. After the degree is completed, students will need to take and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) exam to officially become Registered Nurses. We’ll learn more about the NCLEX-RN exam later.
There are two pathways for prospective nurses to earn their RN designation: An Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN).
RN via ADN
An Associate’s Degree in Nursing consists of a two-year junior college nursing education. The curriculum focuses on core nursing classes as well as clinical placement. These programs are offered at universities and colleges as well as community colleges and other kinds of educational institutions.
The goal of an ADN program is to get nursing students prepared relatively quickly to sit for the NCLEX-RN exam and start working in a medical facility. However, students going the ADN route should be aware that their career opportunities may be limited, especially in major medical facilities and teaching centers, as many employers want RNs with a Bachelor’s degree.
The advantages of becoming an RN via an ADN program include:
- Speed – ADN programs only take two years.
- Cost – Programs are less expensive than BSN programs.
- Convenience – Nurses can complete their ADN while working in a medical facility
Many nurses who earn their Associate’s Degree in Nursing return to school later to earn their Bachelor’s degree. This can open more career opportunities, including leadership roles and higher pay.
RN via BSN
A Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing is considered the “gold standard” in nursing degrees. These degrees typically take three to four years to complete, and they’re offered at traditional universities and colleges. Earning a BSN gives you the best chance of securing employment in whatever kind of medical facility you would like to work in, as many employers are looking for RNs with BSN degrees.
The advantages of becoming an RN via a BSN program include:
- Employment opportunities – Employers often hire BSN nurses over other types of nurses.
- More advanced knowledge – BSN programs are longer and more involved than ADN programs, giving you advanced knowledge and skills, as well as leadership and management experience.
- Career advancement opportunities – RNs that hold BSNs have already completed the prerequisites for earning a Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) and other advanced nursing degrees.
RN Licensing Process and Requirements
Once you’ve chosen a nursing program, you’ll enroll in nursing school and spend the next few years completing coursework in subjects like biology, anatomy, chemistry, nutrition, healthcare ethics, and much more. The final year or so of nursing school usually consists of nursing clinicals, where you’ll work in a real medical facility to gain hands-on experience in the field.
Once all of your educational requirements are complete, you’ll need to pass the NCLEX-RN exam. This is required for RNs who hold ADNs or BSNs. And passing the NCLEX-RN is a required step for obtaining state licensure, which is the next step after passing the NCLEX-RN.
The NCLEX-RN consists of somewhere between 75 and 145 questions testing your knowledge in the nursing field. Once you’ve passed, you’re officially a Registered Nurse. Now, you’ll need to get licensed in the state in which you choose to practice. Requirements vary by state, so do your research to make sure you know what’s required of you.
Note that there is also the Nursing Licensure Compact (NLC), a nationally recognized, multi-state agreement that allows nurses to practice in any of the 34 states that are a part of the agreement. Many nurses choose to secure this licensure; it’s useful for travel nursing, as well as nurses who aren’t sure where they’d like to practice. It’s also beneficial for nurses who want to volunteer in different states or travel to help in the case of natural disasters and epidemics.
How Much Do RN Programs Cost?
The cost of a nursing education is a big factor to consider, whether you’re thinking of earning an ADN or BSN to become an RN. As mentioned above, earning an ADN is far less expensive than earning a BSN, but it may not present as many career opportunities as a nurse with a BSN.
The cost of RN programs will vary depending on the program itself, the type of institution, what’s included in the program fees versus what you have to pay for yourself, and other factors. But according to NurseJournal, ADN programs typically cost between $6,000 – $20,000 total, although it could be costlier if a student attends a private university. BSN programs are more expensive, usually costing at least $40,000 in total and possibly reaching up to $80,000 or above.
Keep in mind that most schools offer financial aid opportunities, scholarships, and discounts for veterans. Additionally, some schools absorb the costs of things like technology fees, parking, insurance, and room and board, while others do not.
How Long Does It Take to Become an RN?
How long it takes to become an RN depends on the type of education you choose. Nurses who choose to earn their ADN will have completed the program in two years, and probably pass the NCLEX-RN and become licensed shortly afterward. Nurses who earn their BSN will probably complete their education in four years, although accelerated programs might only take three years. So, depending on the type of education you select, you’ll usually be able to become an RN in anywhere between two and four years or so.
What Kind of Continuing Education Requirements Are Needed?
Continuing education (CE) requirements for Registered Nurses vary by state. Some states don’t require any CE at all; others may require a certain number of hours per year or every few years. You’ll need to check with the State Board of Nursing for the state you practice in to find details on the particular CE required of you. There is also a summary of each state’s requirements at RN.com.
Certain employers may have continuing education requirements of their own in addition to state CE requirements. Be sure to make yourself aware of an employer’s requirements when you start a nursing job.
How To Become an RN Faster
Obtaining your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is typically the most time-consuming way to become an RN, although it may be the most beneficial in the long run. If you’re interested in becoming an RN faster, you have several options.
- Obtain your ADN. The Associate’s Degree in Nursing is a two-year program that allows you to start working as an RN relatively quickly. You can return to school later to earn your Bachelor’s degree if you so choose.
- Attend an ABSN program. There is another option for earning your BSN faster if you already hold a Bachelor’s degree in another non-nursing-related field—an Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program. This is a fast-paced, rigorous program that allows you to become an RN in as little as 20 months or so. Note that you must already hold a Bachelor’s degree in another field, though.
- Use a bridge program. Do you already hold certification as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) or a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)? You can take advantage of bridge programs to earn your RN licensure faster. These programs utilize the credits you’ve already earned to speed up your educational process—nurses can usually earn their BSN degree in 28 to 32 months or so after they’ve completed these vigorous programs.
Become an RN To Help as Many Patients as Possible
Registered Nurses help patients in a wide variety of healthcare facilities and make a crucial impact on the lives of others every day. You can become an RN in as little as two years through an ADN program, or about four years if you choose to earn your BSN. There are also bridge programs, accelerated programs, and other options to explore if you’d like to become an RN even faster.
The RN field is expected to grow at a rate of 9% between 2020 and 2030, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, so the job outlook is good. Plenty of employment opportunities, room for advancement, and a chance to make an impact on a daily basis: It’s what makes the RN field an attractive, exciting career path.
Want to know more about becoming an RN? Ready to advance your career in healthcare with a trusted advisor as your partner? BOS Medical can help. Contact our recruitment team today to get started.