How to become a nurse

Choosing a career can be stressful. Before you spend money on career training you want to know that your investment will pay off. By doing some research in advance you can find out the potential growth of your chosen career and your options for advancement.

A career in nursing may be the choice you’re looking for to secure your future. It offers many opportunities for financial rewards, personal satisfaction, and continuing advancement.

Starting a Nursing Career

To obtain a job as a nurse you’ll need to earn a license or certification. This can vary from a starting level Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) all the way to a Master’s Degree in Nursing.

If you need to get employment quickly a CNA is good way to get started in the health care field.

A Licensed Practical Nurse is the next level of the nursing profession. This license usually requires a one year program of hands-on training.

Both of the above options are a good way to enter the field of nursing. You can “test the waters” and find out if this a field you enjoy enough to make it your permanent career. This is unlike most professions where you need to obtain a four year degree to even enter the industry.

We’ll look at the various licenses in more detail below.

But first, let’s look at some of the biggest reasons for considering a career in nursing.


The nursing profession is held in high regard by the general public. Forbes magazine recently took a survey of the most admired professions. Nursing was number three topped only by doctors at number two and firefighters at number one.

When you become a nurse you enter a profession that is admired and respected.

Though nursing was at one thought of as a profession for women; this has changed over the years. A 2011 report from the U.S. Census shows 330,000 men employed as nurses. This is approximately 9% of the total if all nurses.

Financial Rewards

A career in nursing can provide you with an above average salary. According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics the median salary for a LPN or LVN is $40,380.

The median income of a RN or registered nurse is $64,690 per year or $31.10 per hour.

If you pursue further education and become a Nurse Practitioner the median national income is $89,960.

Even the beginning salary for a CNA is above the national minimum wage.

Best Geographic Area for Nurses

Another benefit of the nursing profession is it is not limited to a specific geographic area. Almost all midsize cities have doctor’s offices, care centers, home health agencies, and even hospitals.

It may be harder to find employment in extremely small cities.

Large cities usually offer the best changes of employment. Also, the pay is usually higher in large urban areas. This may be offset by a higher cost of living, though.

At different times certain areas my find themselves facing an extreme shortage of nurses. They may offer sign on bonuses or higher starting salaries to help fill the void. You can find out about these types of opportunities through online job sites. There are many websites dedicated solely to health care related jobs. It never hurts to sign up with several and see what jobs are available in various areas.

If there is a particular hospital you are interested in working at you can usually find their job listings on their hospital website.

Part-time Opportunities

Because nursing is a highly paid profession many choose to work on a part-time basis. They can make as much money as they would working full-time in a lower paid job. This is a good option for mothers with young children or anyone who doesn’t want to work 40 hours a week.

The Licenses and Certifications Required for Entering the Nursing Field

Below you can read about the various types of nursing licenses and what is required to obtain each one.


The first license you can acquire to start as a nursing professional is a CNA or Certified Nursing Assistant. This can be obtained through a minimal investment of time and money. It’s a good way to get started quickly in the nursing profession.

There are often jobs for CNA’s available in care centers, hospitals, doctor’s offices, and home health agencies.

As a CNA you would perform basic nursing tasks such as taking a patients vital signs and caring for their everyday needs.

Once you have secured a job as a CNA there are many employers who will pay or help subsidize additional training. You may be able to move forward to gaining your LPN or RN status at the expense of your employer.


The next step in a nursing career is a Licensed Practical Nurse or Licensed Vocational Nurse. These are basically the same certifications but different states use different titles.

This license usually requires a year or two to obtain and involves a lot of hands-on training within a medical setting.


A Registered Nurse requires at least two years of training. It includes but is not limited to classes in Psychology, Microbiology, Anatomy, and Psychology as well hands-on training in a medical setting. There is often an opportunity at this level to specialize in a specific area of nursing such as: mental health, pediatrics, orthopedics, cardiology, or oncology.

Cons of the Nursing Profession

There are a few downside to the nursing profession that you should consider in advance.

You will need to take some training and receive a certification or license to enter the field of nursing. You won’t be able to enter this field without investing in some training.

Because hospitals and care centers are open 24 hours a day, 365 days per year; nurses are often required to work nights, weekends, and holidays.

Nursing is a caring profession. If you dislike working with people then this might not be the profession for you. There are administrative jobs that require less interaction than other more hands-on jobs. It is possible to move into these areas; especially if you’re willing to take additional training.

Nursing is also a hands-on career and will usually require a great deal of physical stamina. You will spend many hours on your feet and engage in activities that require lifting, pushing, and pulling. This is especially the case if you work as a CNA or LPN/LVN.

Where do a Nurse Work?

Though hospitals still employ the largest number of nurses; there are many other options for employment.

Doctor’s offices usually have one or two nurses on staff per doctor. The pros of this type of work is you’ll usually have regular work hours of 8:00 to 5:00 Monday through Friday. The down side is the pay is not usually as high as in a hospital. But this can vary greatly depending on your geographic location and the willingness of the doctor to obtain and keep well-trained staff members.

Care centers and nursing homes are a growing employer for nurses. As the population ages and life spans lengthen there is more and more need for these facilities.

Home-health agencies are also on the increase. Many people need only occasional care after a surgery or once a week check-ups. Others are not ready to leave their homes. This has created a boom in home-health services. Some people would rather pay for 24 hour 7 day a week care than have to give up their home and move to a care center.

Out Patient Care Centers are becoming the norm for people needing rehabilitation after an injury or surgery. There are also Out Patient centers for cancer patients receiving chemotherapy. At these centers patents can receive treatment during the day but return home. They do not stay over-night.

Urgent care centers are another growing segment of health care. Due to the overcrowding in hospital ER’s (emergency rooms) a host of urgent care center have popped up all over the country. Many people prefer to go to these centers for small emergencies. The cost is often less and they are helped quicker because they’re not competing against stabbings or heart attacks. Also, they are often located closer to suburban areas as opposed to downtown hospitals. All of these centers employ nurses.

For those of you who may want a less conventional nursing position you might be interested in working as a nurse in the Armed Forces or inside a correctional institution. For the adventure seeker, there is the possibility of working as a travelling nurse by accepting contracts to work in various locations for a specified length of time. Many overseas opportunities are available in the field of nursing.

What Will You do as a Nurse?

Nursing tasks will vary greatly based on your license, skills and where you work. But in general nurses spent a lot of time interacting with and caring for patients.

A nurse is responsible for prepping patients for surgery, monitoring vital signs, administering medications, and helping patients feel comfortable. They are responsible for following doctor’s orders for each patient in their care.

Nurses also help to educate patients. This can include helping a newly diagnosed diabetic learn to take insulin shots or showing a new mom how to nurse their baby.

A nurse also gives emotional support to patients and their families.

Types of Specialization

A career in nursing never has to grow static. There will always be ways to upgrade your skills through additional training.

Some people choose to specialize in particular skills. This will increase the amount of compensation you are able to earn. Plus, you’ll be able to work in the fields that you find the most fulfilling.

You can choose your specialization based on the type of people you want to work with or the field. If you enjoy working with children then you might want to work as a pediatric nurses. Those who enjoy working with the elderly can focus on geriatric care.

A specialization can also be chosen based on working with those who suffer with a certain issue or disease such as:

Oncology – work with those who are fighting cancer with chemo and radiation.

Endocrinology – you can help diabetics learn how to take their medications and improve their diet and nutrition.

Cardiac or ICU nurses – In this area you would learn the special requirements of patients dealing with heart problems and the special monitoring equipment required. Because these jobs are often highly stressful they can command higher salaries.

Neonatology – take care of newborn babies.

Addictions – care for those who need help to overcome addictions to drugs, alcohol, tobacco and other substances.

Dermatology - help patients who have skin problem.

Genetics – provide counseling, screening, and treatment for those afflicted with genetic disorders, such as Huntington’s disease and Cystic Fibrosis.

Many nurses start their careers with a general license but then discover they prefer a certain type of work. They can then take further training to earn the required certifications to work in specific fields.

Future Potential for Growth

In today’s quickly changing world it is important to consider the future of a career as well as the current opportunities. Many mainframe computer operators found themselves needing to retrain as the world moved to personal computers. Computer programmers constantly need to learn new skills as the program languages they trained in become obsolete.

One of the benefits of investing in a health-care profession is that it will always be required. There will always be people needing some sort of medical care. The need for nurses will never end.

According the Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics there is an expected growth of the employment of registered nurses of 26% between the years 2010 and 2020. This is almost double the expected 14% growth rate of all occupations combined.

Part of this expected growth is the number of baby boomers who will need more medical care as they age.

Another aspect of growth is the continued focus on preventive care. People are beginning to realize the importance of good nutrition and regular checkups to prevent the onset of serious health problems.


A career in nursing can be both personally satisfying and financial rewarding. You can choose the level of education you want to pursue to enter the field. There are many opportunities to expand your expertise and move into a specialized field.

The field of nursing will continue to grow over the next ten years making this a viable career choice not only now – but for many years in the future.