How to Become a Nurse

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Nursing can be a rewarding career, both personally and financially, and they're always in demand. There were over 3 million nurses in the U.S. in 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and this is expected to grow by over 275,000 jobs during this decade. So if you've been thinking about a career in nursing, now's a great time to get started. Below, we'll look at how to become a nurse, where to find the best nursing jobs, and more.

If you want to land a job as a nurse, start your search on ZipRecruiter! ZipRecruiter is one of the top rated job search sites and you can upload your resume to their resume database. This allows your resume to be searchable for recruiters and employers who use ZipRecruiter!

get started with ziprecruiter

What Does A Nurse Do?

Nurses are a critical part of the healthcare system, and their tasks vary depending on the size of the practice and their education level. Registered nurses typically do some or all of the following:

  • Assess and document a patient's condition
  • Administer medications and treatments
  • Consult with doctors and other medical staff regarding patient care
  • Help perform and assess diagnostic tests
  • Educate patients on how to manage their conditions

Some nurses specialize in a certain area of medicine, like cardiovascular care, pediatrics, or oncology. If you're interested in pursuing nursing as a career, your first step should be to think about what discipline you'd like to work in. This will help you determine what type of education you need and where you may want to work.

Steps To Become A Nurse

Here are the basic steps involved in becoming a nurse and getting a job in healthcare:

1. Get A Degree

All nurses require some type of degree, whether it's a certified nursing assistant (CNA) program that can be completed in as little as four weeks or a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) that can take four years. In some states, a BSN is required to become a nurse and an employer may require it, even if the state doesn't. So this is usually the best route for those hoping to make a career out of nursing.

It's important to make sure the program you choose is accredited by the state before you apply. If you're not sure, you can check by looking it up on the American Association of Colleges of Nursing website.

2. Pass The Appropriate Exam

Once you've gotten your degree, you can take the NCLEX exam applicable to your nursing discipline. Registered nurses take the NCLEX-RN exam while licensed practical nurses (LPNs) take the NCLEX-PN exam. CNAs have their own separate certificate exam.

You must pass in order to obtain a license in your state. Those who fail can take the test again, though they may have to wait a certain number of days before doing so. Check with the test administrator to learn more about what's on your exam and when you can test again if necessary.

3. Obtain A License In Your State

Nurses who have passed their appropriate examinations can apply to become licensed in their state. They must do this before they become eligible to practice legally. Each state licensing board has its own requirements that nurses must fulfill.

4. Look For Jobs

Join The Break Community

Now that the legal matters are taken care of, you can begin looking for your first nursing job. Think about the town or city where you'd like to work and the type of work environment you'd like. This will help you narrow your results.

There are more and more options to work remotely as a nurse. If you are interested in learning more, check out our guide to the best work from home nursing jobs.

5. Create Your Resume

Nursing resumes aren't too different from any other type of resume. You want to highlight the skills you've learned that will be an asset to potential employers. Whenever possible, work specific keywords and phrases from the job description into your application. If you don't feel confident in your ability to write a resume on your own, you can always turn to a resume writing service instead.

6. Complete The Interview

If an employer is interested in working with you, they'll probably call you in for an interview. They'll ask you questions about your qualifications for the job, but this is also your time to figure out if it's a good fit for you. Ask any questions you have about salary, benefits, work-life balance, and more so you have all the information you need to decide if it's the right position for you.

7. Keep Learning

Nurses have to meet continuing education requirements each year, and some nurses pursue advanced degrees so they can move into a specialty area of nursing. This path isn't right for everyone, but for those who don't mind the extra schooling, it can lead to a substantial increase in pay.

Related: Best Jobs In Healthcare

Where To Find Nursing Jobs

You can find nursing jobs by looking on hospital websites for available positions. Or you can turn to online job boards. Here are some of the best:


ZipRecruiter is a free job site with powerful filters that enable you to quickly narrow down your results based on several criteria. ZipRecruiter is free for job seekers and you can apply for jobs with a single click. You can also upload your resume to their resume database so that recruiters and employers can find you!

get started with ziprecruiter is an online job board that's geared specifically at nursing careers. This site was built by nurses and is still lead by nurses, so the creators and leaders have experience in the nursing field.

Health eCareers

Health eCareers is a healthcare-focused job site that offers jobs for a variety of nursing specialties. This site features 6,500+ employers in their network.

Frequently Asked Questions

What do you need to become a nurse?

In order to become a nurse, you must get a nursing degree, pass an appropriate exam, and then apply for a license in your state.

How long will it take you to be a nurse?

Becoming a nurse can take anywhere from a couple of months to four years, depending on the type of nurse you'd like to become and the level of education you have already.

What kind of nurses get paid the most?

Nurses who pursue advanced degrees, like nurse practitioners and clinical nurse leaders, typically earn the most money.

How long does it take to get your BSN?

On average, it takes about four years to earn a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree.

The Bottom Line

Becoming a nurse takes time, but it can lead to a stable and rewarding career. If you've already completed the basic steps and are ready to begin your job search, check out ZipRecruiter to see what nursing jobs are available in your area.