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What is a Nurse?

A nurse is responsible for the care of patient health, from birth to death. In most instances, a nurse spends more time with patients than a doctor. They are also considered to have a far better bedside manner in terms of emotional support. Nurses are required to know a varying degree of medical information from basic to advanced science-related solutions to healthcare issues. The amount and the type of knowledge required will greatly depend on the type of nurse you choose to become.

Nurses are typically the first line of defense in your health. They are the first people you encounter when you go to the doctor or the hospital. These much-needed medical professionals can also provide in-home care to those who are unable to leave the house due to injury, illness, or age. A nurse can work in a wide variety of work environments too, such as a children’s school, corporate headquarters, hotel, doctor’s office, or cruise ship.

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Steps to Becoming a Licensed Nurse

Because of the wide range in types of nursing, the fastest way to become a nurse is to become a certified nursing assistant or a practical nurse, these are also referred to as vocational nurses or a licensed practical nurse. These are considered entry-level nursing positions. To become a practical nurse or a certified nursing assistant, you need to meet minimal education requirements, and, in turn, you will have minimal nursing responsibilities.

All nurses, regardless of level, must complete a nursing exam and a state license to be able to practice nursing. Each employer type will also have a unique set of requirements for career advancement. Once you obtain your first nursing position, you can continue your education to make more money and to attain higher positions. The nursing profession is one of the largest professions in the US. and the demand for these professionals continues to grow yearly and will do so for years to come.

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  • Step 1: Complete a Certificate or Degree

  • Step 2: Pass Professional Exams

  • Step 3: State License and Work Experience

  • Step 4: Continued Education and Training


Step 1: Complete a Certificate or Degree

If you choose to start as a certified nursing assistant or a practical nurse, you must complete a program dedicated to either area. These typically require the completion of a one-year program that is a certificate or a diploma program, or you can choose an associate’s degree in nursing. You have to be sure to complete this program from a college or university that is approved by the state board from where you plan to work. They will typically provide a list of colleges and universities that provide acceptable educational standards. This will also help if you have to move to another state in the future so that your education will be considered acceptable to other state boards.

While becoming a certified nursing assistant or a practical nurse is the fastest way into the nursing profession, most people choose to become a registered nurse as their initial degree path. This can be done by completing a bachelor’s degree. If you already have an associate’s degree, you can complete an associate-to-bachelor’s degree registered nurse program. This will significantly reduce the amount of time it takes to complete a registered nursing bachelor’s degree. Much like an entry-level nursing programs, you must choose a registered nursing program from an accredited college or university that is also approved by the state board to ensure long-term employment as a registered nurse.

Step 2: Pass Professional Exams

Once you complete your nursing program, you will be required to take any number of exams. The type of exam will depend entirely on the nursing program you completed. A certified nursing assistant will have to pass the state competency examination to become licensed. A practical nurse must complete the National Council Licensure Examination, also referred to as the NCLEX-PN exam. This varies slightly to the NCLEX-RN exam that is required for licensed registered nurses.

Keep in mind that all of these exams have a limited timeframe during which to complete them, and you must meet a specific score to pass. The NCLEX-RN has a national pass rate of somewhere between 70 and 75 percent. You will likely be able to retake the exam if you do not pass the first time; however, you will have to wait more than a month to try again. If you wish to become a nurse practitioner, you will have to pass nationally recognized certification exams by professional organizations. A nurse midwife has to complete the American Midwifery Certification Board exam.

Step 3: State License and Work Experience

The first thing to be aware of is that anyone who works as a nurse will require a background check at one or several points throughout the process to become a nurse. Some programs will run a background check before admitting students into their programs. You might then have another at this point before you can obtain a state nursing license. It is also possible your employer will run another background check on you before you start work.

Each state will require a license before you can become employed as a nurse. This is true at every level of nursing. If you move, you will have to contact the state nursing board to determine the steps to acquire a new state license. If you do not have a degree or program completion from an college or university program approved by the state board, you may have to complete additional education or training. Once you have your license, you can find employment. Work experience is an essential component to a successful nursing career, particularly if you seek career advancement and better pay.

Step 4: Continued Education and Training

Higher education is required for most advanced nursing positions and for significant increases in salary. The best paying nursing positions, such as a certified registered nurse anesthetist or a nurse practitioner, will require a master’s degree. It is also possible to advance your career even further with a Ph.D. or a doctorate of nursing degree. These degrees can lead to research positions, professorships, and positions as the head of nursing staff. Additional specialized certificates are another way to advance your career and increase your pay. These certificates exist in a variety of areas, including acute patient care, nurse management, and critical care for patients.

It is also important to consider that many employers require continued education and training to remain employed. Technology, techniques, and processes change almost daily in the healthcare profession. If you are not continually learning, you are being left behind and might even be considered replaceable or a disposable asset. Nurses who want the best jobs with the best pay must continue learning each and every day.

What Does a Nurse Do?

The responsibilities of a nurse will be directly related to the type of nurse you choose to become. Some of the basic daily tasks will be the same for all nurses, including the following:

  • Monitor patient behavior
  • Ask essential mental and physical health questions
  • Provide inoculations
  • Change bandages and wound dressings
  • Promote health education and counseling
  • Administer medication
  • Work with other healthcare professionals
  • Create a comfortable and safe environment
  • Feed patients
  • Monitor equipment

The higher your nursing degree the more responsibilities and flexibility you will have. It is important to note that you will also have to consider other aspects outside of physical assessments. You must consider the overall well-being of care for patients, such as the economic, social, lifestyle, and psychological situations they are currently experiencing that could impact their health. You might also help with the diagnosis and treatment care for patients, create a health plan, and analyze the results of tests.

Skills to Acquire

Many skills you need to be a successful nurse will be the same for all nursing careers. It is important to note that you will require a set of essential soft skills and hard skills. Most soft skills you require are considered the skills associated with your personality, personal characteristics, and bedside mannerisms. The hard skills are the more technical skills you acquire throughout your education and training.

Hard Skills:

  • Acute Care
  • Advanced Cardiac Life Support
  • Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation
  • Case Management
  • Critical Thinking
  • Hospital Experience
  • Life Support
  • Patient and Family Education
  • Telemedicine
  • Treatment Planning

The soft skills you possess is the way you will become an exceptional and in-demand nurse. These skills are often the skills patients use to determine whether or not they feel you are a good nurse rather than the actual medical patient care you provide. Many of these skills are unable to be taught in a genuine manner. Either you possess them, or you do not. Patients can easily detect the difference.

Soft Skills:

  • Adaptability
  • Compassionate
  • Communicate
  • Confidence
  • Creativity
  • Detail-Oriented
  • Empathetic
  • Ethical
  • Interpersonal
  • Kind
  • Multi-tasker
  • Organized
  • Patient
  • Prioritize
  • Problem Solver
  • Professional
  • Stamina

Alternative Paths

It is possible to pursue a number of alternative paths to becoming a nurse. Many people change careers to nursing after they have already completed another degree and have work experience in another industry. In these instances, you will likely be able to transfer many of your completed credits toward a nursing degree, including prerequisites, mathematics, and sciences.

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It is also possible that if you attended but did not complete a nursing program, you can become licensed in a nursing career of a lower level than the nursing program you did not complete. For example, if you studied to become a registered nurse and dropped out during year three or four, you might qualify for a practical nurse licensure. It is also possible that if you have medical experience through military training that some states will grant you licensure for some nursing licenses. Keep in mind, all of these alternative paths will vary from one state to another.

Nursing Careers and Salary

Where Might You Work?


Millions of nurses are employed throughout the US on any given day. The type of employer you are able to work for will depend greatly on your education and training. Most advanced practice registered nurses are employed by hospitals. However, you have plenty of alternative employment possibilities. Companies, hotels, and other businesses are continually searching for ways to attract the best employees and repeat business.

Many of the most progressive businesses will actually hire nurses on staff to care for patients and for their employees. Hotels, cruise ships, and other hospitality companies are also increasingly employing nurses to assist their clients as a way to stand out from the competition. You might also consider working for more traditional employers, such as nursing homes, the government, doctor’s offices, schools, rehab facilities, or in the homes of clients.

Your pay will also be reflective of the type of employer, your education and training, and the number of relevant years of experience you have completed. A certified nurse will make the least amount of money which is roughly a median of $26,600. Others include a practical nurse at $44,000, a registered nurse at $68,000, a nurse midwife at $107,000 and a nurse practitioner also at $107,000. The more education you have and the more in-demand your specialty is, the more money you will make each year.

Potential Career Paths

A nurse has nearly endless possibilities pertaining to their long-term career path. It is incredibly simple and inexpensive to start a career in nursing compared to most other professions and careers. You can start as a certified nursing assistant with very little training and education and continue your education throughout your career as you advance to higher positions with each certificate and degree. Also, keep in mind that you can specialize in nearly any field of medicine as a nurse. This will help make you more employable and increase your pay.

Throughout your career development, it is important to focus on both your hard skills and soft skills to become truly successful in this field of medicine. If you lack in either skill set, you will not be as desirable a nursing candidate as others. Do not forget the importance of networking throughout your climb. References and recommendations will also be critical in your advancement.

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
An LPN, also referred to as a licensed vocational nurse, is an entry-level position in the nursing field who requires constant supervision.

Emergency Room (ER) Nurse
An ER nursing position is one of the most stressful and intense nursing careers as they work in emergency patient care facilities, often in life and death situations.

Surgical Nurse
A surgical nurse is part of a surgical team who provide support during surgical procedures that are either medically required or elective.

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
A pediatric nurse practitioner works with children from birth to the age of 21. These nursing professionals might work independently or with pediatricians to provide complementary care for patients.

Nurse Career Salaries

Occupation Entry-Level Mid-Career Late-Career
Certified Nurses Assistant $19,000 $29,000 $45,000
Licensed Practical Nurse $31,000 $45,000 $61,000
Licensed Vocational Nurse $35,000 $50,000 $67,000
Registered Nurse $45,000 $66,000 $92,000
Nurse Anesthetist $143,000 $160,000 $179,000
Family Practice Nurse $91,000 $102,000 $107,000
Mental Health Nurse $49,000 $67,000 $92,000
General Nurse Practitioner $79,000 $98,000 $122,000
Midwife $91,000 $101,000 $110,000
Nursing Educator $71,000 $74,000 $85,000
Nurse Administrator $73,000 $82,000 $96,000

**Salary info provided by PayScale

Career Outlook

Nursing is one of the most stable jobs in the US with expected growth rates of 15% by 2026. The nursing field continues to be in demand due to the increasingly aging population in the US. It is also a growing field due to the fact that nurses are less expensive than doctors and many people are changing careers to nursing for greater job satisfaction, to help people, for greater job stability, and for better health insurance. These are all positive outlooks of the job; however, some negatives do exist too.

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While employment opportunities exist for nurses everywhere, the types of nurses that are more in demand are jobs as in-home care nurses. These positions do not pay nearly as well as a position as an advanced practice registered nurse in a hospital. You are also more likely to find nursing positions available in low-income neighborhoods and in rural communities rather than more affluent neighborhoods and cities where the job market is highly competitive. It is a demanding job that requires significant stamina and flexible hours and schedules. Any patient care dedicated to the aging population will continue to be in demand; however, these positions are often not the most popular.

Once you land your dream nursing job, fight to keep it through continued education and additional specialized training.

Advancing From Here

Your nursing career could start in a supportive role and end as a health administrator making decisions for the entire organization for which you work. The advancement possibilities are quite extensive. You simply have to continue your education and degree completion. It can be as simple as taking one online class at a time. With the help on online programs from accredited colleges and universities, career advancement has never been easier in the nursing field. Whether you want more responsibility, to specialize in a different nursing sector or you simply want more pay, advancing your nursing career can be highly rewarding and the opportunities are nearly endless.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What does a nurse do?

Nurses will have different responsibilities depending on where they work. The job duties can range from teaching preventative care to helping to diagnose and treat patients.

Where do nurses work?

Nurses can work in many different settings including indirect and direct patient care. Some of the common places nurses work include hospital settings, urgent care, hospice care, clinics, private homes, public schools, pharmacies, and government jobs.

What are the most popular nursing specialties?

Some of the popular nursing specialties are cardiac catheterization lab, post-anesthesia care nursing, maternity, pediatrics, and neonatal intensive care nursing.

What is the job outlook for nurses?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nursing jobs are expected to grow by 7% by 2030. 

What is accreditation and why is it important?

It it important that an accredited entity has reviewed your program to make sure it meets industry standards because many employers will only hire nurses from accredited programs.

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