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Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Nurse

Posted Wednesday, Apr 7, 2021 by Altierus

Registered nurses (RNs) are the front line of the healthcare system. Working as part of a team with physicians and other practitioners, nurses provide direct patient care in a variety of settings, including hospitals, long-term care facilities, nursing homes and more. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), RNs make up the largest occupation in the healthcare workforce, with more than 3.8 million nurses at work in 2018.[1]

If you’re interested in becoming a registered nurse, you probably have questions. This article provides answers to frequently asked questions about how to become an RN.

Duties of a Registered Nurse

What does a registered nurse do?

RNs are responsible for providing direct care to patients under the supervision of a physician or advance practice registered nurse (APRN), such as a nurse practitioner. In addition to caring for patients, RNs can:

  • Educate patients and their families about health conditions and how to manage them
  • Take part in public health initiatives to educate the public about health issues
  • Participate in nursing research
  • Work with care providers to coordinate care plans
  • Provide emotional support to patients and families

When it comes to what RNs do every day, duties can include everything from giving injections to cleaning wounds to inserting IVs. RNs perform a wide variety of duties to ensure their patients receive safe, high-quality care.

What types of nurses are there?

There are many different kinds of nurses. They include:

  • Practical nurse (LPN) – These nurses provide the most basic care under the supervision of RNs, physicians and others. In some states, practical nurses are known as “vocational” nurses, or LVNs. LPNs or LVNs hold a diploma, not a degree. They must pass the NCLEX-PN® licensing exam in order to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN).
  • Registered nurse (RN) – These nurses provide foundational care. At the entry level, duties may be general and basic, but as RNs gain experience and additional education, they can specialize in a practice area, such as pediatrics or oncology (cancer care). RNs hold at least an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN). All nurses must take and pass the NCLEX-RN®, the national licensing exam for nurses. You can learn more about nursing specialties in our article, Many Ways to Care: Nursing Specialty Paths.
  • Advance practice registered nurse (APRN) – These experienced nurses hold a master’s degree in nursing and also gain additional board certification. APRN roles can include:
    • Nurse practitioners – NPs provide primary care in hospitals, private practice and more. They can specialize in areas such as mental health, pediatric care, and other disciplines.
    • Nurse midwives – Nurse midwives lead care for patients during pregnancy and birth nurse practitioners, who perform primary care, nurse midwives, who take leadership roles in caring for patients during pregnancy/labor, and more.
    • Nurse anaesthetists – Nurse anaesthetists administer anaesthesia during surgical and other procedures.

Where do nurses work?

The vast majority of nurses work in hospitals. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 60% of RNs worked in a hospital in 2019.[2] 18% worked in outpatient care facilities, such as physicians’ offices and clinics, while 7% worked in long-term care or nursing homes. The remainder worked for the government and in education.

How to Become a Registered Nurse (RN)

What do you need to know before becoming a nurse?

To apply to our Associate of Science in Nursing, you need to be a high school graduate or hold a GED. You don’t need to have taken specific classes in high school, but it helps to have some knowledge of human anatomy and basic science.

Do I have to take tests before becoming enrolling?

Most nursing programs require applicants to take a standardized test prior to admission. At Altierus, we require nursing school applicants to take the Health Education Systems, Inc. (HESI)® exam. To be considered for admission, applicants must score a 75 or better on all areas of the exam.[3]

We also require nursing students to complete a criminal background check and provide proof of a physical exam. All your immunizations (vaccines) must be up to date before you start nursing school, too.

How long does it take to become a nurse?

You can become a registered nurse in a little over two years. Students in our Associate of Science in Nursing program usually complete their degree in two years (24 months). After graduation, our nursing students take the NCLEX-RN exam and apply for licensure. This can add a few more months onto the timeline before you are eligible to look for work as an RN.

Can you become a registered nurse without a degree?

It is extremely rare to become an RN without a degree. There was a time when it was possible to become an RN by earning a diploma through a hospital training program.[4] There are still a small number of hospitals that offer this pathway to a nursing qualification, mostly in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.[5] Today, virtually all employers favour nurses with college degrees and is required in the state of Florida.

What are the qualities of a good nurse?

In addition to comprehensive clinical training, nurses need a number of personal qualities for success. These include:

  • Physical stamina
  • Emotional stability
  • Compassion
  • Attention to detail
  • Passion for lifelong learning

You can learn more about the qualities nurses need in our article, Six Qualities of a Great Nurse.

Is 30 (or 40, or 50) too old to become a nurse?

No! There is no cut-off age for beginning a nursing degree. In fact, a demographic survey of nursing schools from the National League for Nursing (NLN) shows that, in 2018, 62.1% of nursing students enrolled in an associate degree program were over age 25.[6]

What is the nursing exam (NCLEX-RN)?

The National Clinical Licensure Examination – Registered Nurse (NCLEX-RN) is the nationwide standardized test all new nursing school graduates must take in order to obtain a license to practice nursing. Students take the NCLEX-RN after graduation. It is administered via computer and consists of at least 75 questions covering four major areas of nursing.

The NCLEX-RN is a challenging test, designed to prove a nursing student’s fitness to practice. At Altierus Career College, we provide our student nurses with comprehensive test prep for this important milestone in a new nurse’s career.

Learn more about the NCLEX-RN in our article, Common Questions about the NCLEX-RN.

Why Become a Nurse?

How much does a registered nurse earn?

Nationwide, the BLS reports that the median annual salary for RNs was $73,300 in May 2019. The bottom 10% of RNs earned less than $52,080, while the top 10% of earners made more than $111,220.[7]

Salaries vary according to employer, location, and nursing specialty. Altierus offers its Associate of Science in Nursing program in Florida, where salaries were as follows:

What Registered Nurses Make in Florida (May 2019)[8]

  • Median: $65,830
  • Bottom 10%: $48,020 or less
  • Top 10%: $91,510 or more

What are some pros and cons of a becoming a nurse?

Pros: Nurses enjoy meaningful work that offers variety, challenge and the satisfaction of helping others. Once you earn your ASN degree, you have the opportunity to continue your professional development through specialization and further education, adding to your potential for job satisfaction. In addition, nurses are one of the most respected professions, topping Gallup polls as the most trusted profession in the U.S. for 18 consecutive years.

Cons: Nursing is physically and emotionally demanding. You will need to walk, lift, bend, and move almost all day. You will also be present for extremely difficult moments in the lives of your patients (along with some of the most wonderful moments). In addition, nurses who work in hospitals can expect to work long shifts, often at night, on weekends and holidays. People need nursing care 24/7.

Is becoming a nurse worth it?

Absolutely. As a nurse, you have the opportunity to make a lifelong impact and benefit others every single day. You can also open the door to a rich, fulfilling professional career path that you can tailor to your interests and passions.

Finally, because nurses are so important in the healthcare system, nursing can also offer a high degree of job security as well as strong earning potential. The BLS projects that demand for RNs should rise by 7% from 2019-2029, adding 221,900 new job openings nationally.[9]

Learn More About Becoming a Registered Nurse

Request more information about Altierus Career College’s Associate of Science in Nursing program in Tampa today!


[1] https://www.aacnnursing.org/News-Information/Fact-Sheets/Nursing-Fact-Sheet

[2] https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm#tab-3

[3] http://docs.altierus.edu/campus/tampa/Tampa%20Altierus%20Career%20College%20Catalog%202020%20Volume%20I%20Version%20III%20&%20%20November%20Addendum%20-%2011.30.20.pdf, p.4

[4] https://www.nursing.upenn.edu/nhhc/education/

[5] https://www.nursingexplorer.com/diploma#:~:text=Many%20of%20the%20remaining%20U.S.,are%20less%20than%20100%20programs.

[6] http://www.nln.org/docs/default-source/default-document-library/proportion-of-student-enrollment-by-age-and-program-type-2018-(pdf)dd2fca5c78366c709642ff00005f0421.pdf?sfvrsn=0

[7] https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm#tab-5

[8] https://www.onetonline.org/link/localwages/29-1141.00?st=FL&g=Go

[9] https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm#tab-6

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