Is It Hard to Become a Nurse?

December 18, 2022
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
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It’s definitely a good time to think about becoming a nurse. Nursing will continue to be a high demand profession as factors like an aging population, the short-term effects of the pandemic, and emerging health concerns continue to drive a nursing shortage. According to the American Nurses Association, the projected rate for registered nurse employment alone is expected to grow 9% by 2030.

Despite the high demand for nurses, it is still not always seen as an easy field to enter. Nursing is hard work and it requires a high level of dedication to helping people, excellent communication skills, and the right emotional temperament. On top of this, nursing requires extensive education and there is a steep learning curve for the clinical knowledge and skills needed to help patients.

It is possible for anyone who truly wants to become a nurse for the right reasons to reach this goal. The following practical guide can give you a clear understanding of exactly what it takes to become a nurse, and the wide range of career options available.

Requirements to Become a Nurse

If you are interested in becoming a nurse, the first thing you need to ask yourself is if you think you are being called to this line of work. There are many pros and cons to nursing. While it can be a steady career and offer tremendous and rewarding opportunities, it is also not for the faint hearted. Before considering any of the practical steps — from applying to nursing school or securing financial aid — make sure you have a deep desire to help people and do not hold any overly romantic notions about being a nurse.

Types of Nursing Degrees

One of the first things a prospective nurse should think about before applying to nursing school is what type of nursing degree they want to pursue. The level of education you receive as a nurse can have an impact on the types of places you end up working, your specialty, how far you can advance, and how much money you make. Types of nursing degrees include:

  • Certificate Program: Licensed Practical Nurses (LPN) are required to complete a certification program which generally takes less than 12 months to complete.
  • Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN): ADN paths are often two-year programs and are typically focused on guiding nurses toward becoming a registered nurse (RN).
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN): This will generally be a four-year program that is more theory-oriented with an aim toward becoming a registered nurse (RN).
  • Master of Science in Nursing (MSN): A postgraduate nursing program can take up to two to three years to complete after an initial degree, depending on previous education. These programs are primarily designed to train nurses for administrative or management roles, educators, or advanced practice nurses.

When deciding what type of degree to pursue, think about your previous education, current financial resources, and whether you can attend school full time. While some nurses go straight for a master’s degree, many more will take incremental steps. In some cases, nurses may even choose to start out as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) or other roles to gain experience and decide if nursing is right for them.

Getting Into and Completing Nursing School

Once you have decided which type of degree to pursue, start targeting nursing programs that you are a good fit for. This can be a long-term goal depending on whether or not you have completed the necessary prerequisites for the nursing program.

Learn about the admissions requirements for your target programs, apply early, prepare for admission interviews, and make financial plans. Nursing schools can be very selective, so get the best grades you can in prerequisite classes and be prepared for the possibility of multiple admission attempts.

Once you make it into nursing school, study hard, take care of yourself, and try to find a balance between work, school, and life. One of the best things any nurse can do while in school is to be part of a study group to help stay on track.

Examinations and Licensing

Once you have graduated with your degree, you will need to pass the licensing examination for your particular branch of nursing. In the United States and other countries, the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) is the nationwide test needed to become a licensed nurse. There are two types of the test:

  • NCLEX-PN, for LPNs
  • NCLEX-RN, for RNs

This is a difficult and demanding test designed to show that a nurse has the knowledge and skills necessary to practice nursing professionally. Even after finishing the rigors of nursing school, any prospective nurse should take preparing for the NCLEX very seriously.

Starting Your Nursing Journey

Once you are a licensed nurse with a degree, you can start applying and interviewing for nursing jobs! While the demand for nurses is very real, you might not land your dream job right out of nursing school.

Be prepared to start in an entry level job at a hospital or nursing facility. These roles can have demanding hours, challenging patients, and in some cases, limited training. The flip side is that you can learn invaluable skills and gain critical experience that will help you grow and develop down the road.

During the first year, many nurses find that being a nurse is even harder than becoming a nurse. But by working hard, being flexible, having a growth and learning mindset, and keeping the focus squarely on the people you are there to help, it is more than possible to build a fulfilling and rewarding career.

Choosing The Career Path That Is Right for You

From the outset, try to think about where you want to eventually end up as a nurse. Do you want to work in a clinic? Surgery center? Case management? If you can handle the demands and have a passion for helping people in the most serious situations, critical care and trauma nursing might be your match.

One niche that many nurses enter into is home health. More patients than ever before are receiving health care in the home, from pediatric patients to older patients. Home health can offer nurses the following advantages:

  • Flexible schedule
  • One-on-one patient care
  • Independent work environment

Working for a company with a great culture is important in any area of nursing. Especially home health. Always ask about training, support, benefits, and turnover when interviewing with any potential employer.

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