Become a Nurse

Individuals who become nurses join the largest group of health care professionals in the country – 2.9 million – and as the nation's population is growing, the need for nurses increases.

A shortage of nursing educators means that prospective students may face long waits before finding a place in a qualified nursing program, but with competitive pay rates, the potential to make a real difference in people’s lives, and its essentially recession-proof nature, getting a nursing degree is a worthwhile effort.

10 Part Series on How to Become a Nurse

We've put together a 10 part series on how to become a nurse. From researching the nursing profession to surviving your first year on the job, the series covers everything you need to know about entering the rewarding profession of nursing.

How to Become a CNA

How to Become an LPN

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Over 200 Nursing Fields or Specialties

Nurses are employed in nearly every kind of health care, with work environments and types of patients subject to significant variation. In fact, there are more than 200 fields of nursing in the United States. Nursing professionals must be able to handle the stress of caring for sick and dying patients by being both caring and detached at the same time. They must also pay close attention to detail, be able to communicate effectively, and have the ability to act as supervisors when necessary. Nursing can also be very physically demanding because of the need to move patients and medical equipment. Nurses also typically work shifts that include nights, weekends, and holidays, and many may work “on call,” which means they must be available to work on short notice.

Never a Dull Moment Being a Nurse

Nursing duties include keeping track of patient symptoms and taking medical histories, easing patient suffering, helping other health professionals with diagnostic tests and medical procedures, using medical technology and devices, providing medications, educating people about wellness, and providing emotional support to patients and their families. Over half of all nurses work in hospitals, with significant percentages employed in community health clinics, ambulatory care facilities, or nursing home. About 2.6 percent of nurses are involved with nursing education.

LPNs and RNs

There are two kinds of nursing degrees, the Registered Nurse (RN) degree and the Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) degree. LPNs are usually supervised by RNs.

RNs can also specialize in a particular health care area. The Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) has a Master’s degree and has met the requirements for clinical practice in the relevant specialty. A popular specialty is the Certified Nurse-Midwife (CNM). This nurse has met all clinical requirements for providing gynecological care to healthy women and low-risk obstetrical care.

Other Specialty Areas

Other advanced specialties include the Nurse Practitioner (NP), who provide preventive health care and women’s health care and prescribe medication, as well as diagnose and treat minor injuries and illnesses; the Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS), who treats physical and mental health illness and works in research, education, administration; and Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs), who are responsible for providing over 65 percent of all anesthetics administered to patients every year.

All registered nurses must graduate from an approved educational program and pass a national licensing test, and additional practice requirements may be imposed, varying with each state.