Anna Ravenelle 5 min read Career Advice, Career Path Breakdowns

How to Become a Nurse: Steps to Take from High School 

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When you’re starting to look at colleges, it can be tempting to go for the “best” school—whatever that means. But there are a variety of factors that can make a school a great fit for you that might not make it a good fit for someone else. Of these factors, one of the most important is the academic and career options that an institution has to offer.

 

These options don’t mean much if you aren’t sure what you plan to do after college, however. Unfortunately, many high schoolers are so focused on getting into a “good” school that they fail to think about what they might do at that good school, and after attending that school. That’s why in this series, we’re exploring different career paths and the steps you should take starting in high school to achieve them.

 

What Does a Nurse Do?

 

Nursing is a broad field in medicine that comprises a variety of different roles with different experience and education levels. Nurses are often on the frontlines of patient care and provide healthcare, treatments, and management of the entire patient experience. You probably interact with a nurse when you go for your annual health checkup, as they often take your general health measurements (such as blood pressure), and administer shots. In some cases, a nurse may even perform the same responsibilities as a doctor. The job requires both strong medical knowledge as well as empathy, respect, and compassion to help ensure the patient gets the best care possible.

 

Nursing has many specializations and levels of study. These include:

 

Licensed Nursing Assistant (LNA) / Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

LNAs complete approved nursing assistant programs and then pass knowledge and skills evaluations. The minimum age to become an LNA is 16-18 years old, so some students get certified and work part-time as a nursing assistant while still in high school.

 

Licensed Practical Nurses (LPN)

LPNs work under the supervision of RNs, APRNs, or medical doctors to provide basic and routine care to patients. This job requires graduating from an accredited LPN program, usually two years at a technical school or community college.

 

Registered Nurse (RN)

RNs provide critical healthcare by performing physical exams, administering medication, coordinating with other medical professionals, and more. There are two-year associate’s degree programs, but a four-year bachelor’s of science in nursing degree can secure higher wages and better positions.

 

Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRN) / Nurse Practitioner

APRNs can prescribe medication, treat and diagnose illnesses, and more with less or no supervision from a medical doctor, depending on the state. This requires at least a master’s degree in addition to the education and licenses required to become an RN.

 

We’ll focus on the path to becoming a Registered Nurse (RN) via four-year college for most of this post, but one aspect of the profession that appeals to many prospective nurses is that there is flexibility and room for upward growth. An LPN can work at their current job while taking additional classes needed to become an RN, then get their BSN, in their off hours. This is a good option if four-year school isn’t feasible for you due to finances or family needs.

 

How Much Do Nurses Make?

 

The average salary for a Registered Nurse varies from state to state. According to Nurse.org, the highest, in California, is $102,700, while the lowest is South Dakota at $57,010. Nursing is a profession that sees high job security and will always be necessary.

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How to Become a Nurse

 

High School

 

You can start preparing for a career as a nurse early in high school. You can do this by being strategic with your academics and extracurriculars. With academics, focus on advanced science and math courses that will build your knowledge level early on, particularly anatomy courses that might not be in your school’s required curriculum. This applies to both choosing your classes and where to focus your time doing schoolwork.

 

With extracurriculars, look for science and medicine-based activities at your high school, like HOSA or organizing blood drives. If your school doesn’t have any good option, consider starting your own club. You can also look outside your school: volunteer at nursing homes or in a hospitals, get involved with community organizations devoted to medical causes, or get a job in the field—some nursing homes hire high school students to work in non-medical capacity without any training, or you can look into becoming an LNA and become certified to provide basic services in hospice care, nursing homes, and more.

 

If you aren’t sure you want to be a nurse, you can explore the career through shadowing or informational interviewing. In shadowing, you would observe a nurse at work, following them throughout their day. For informational interviewing, you would chat with a nurse about their career, asking them any questions you have. How can you find a nurse contact though? You can first try calling your doctor’s office to see if you could speak with a nurse about shadowing or informational interviewing. You can also ask your school counselor or parents if they have any resources or connections.

 

College

 

To become a registered nurse, you’ll need to graduate from an accredited program. These can be associate’s or bachelor’s programs, though the coursework of a four-year bachelor’s of nursing degree goes more in depth than the associate’s does, making it more valuable in the workforce, especially as the competition for entry-level RN positions increases. As noted above, there are a variety of different paths that one can take to get the necessary schooling to become an RN with their bachelor’s of nursing, including RN-to-BSN programs. Regardless of which path you end up on, expect to take classes in subjects like biochemistry, health care ethics, nutrition, patient care, psychology, and more.

 

Licenses

 

Most RN programs will help students prepare for the NCLEX-RN exam, which you will need to pass to become a registered nurse. Before taking it, you need to register with the National Council of State Boards of Nursing to receive an Authorization to Test then sign up. Plan to do this well in advance of the exam date. After passing the exam, you will need to obtain a state license in the state(s) you wish to work in. Requirements for licensure vary from state to state, so contact your state board of nursing to find the requirements.

 

Advanced Degrees

 

If you want to advance beyond an RN, you can pursue an advanced degree to become a nurse practitioner. Some APRN hopefuls go straight from undergraduate to graduate study, while others prefer to gain more clinical experience first. Some master’s degree programs allow students to gain RN experience while pursuing the degree. The minimum degree required to become a nurse practitioner is a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), though as with many other fields, further study can yield higher pay and better job opportunities all the way up through a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree, or getting a MSN and a PhD in a related field. Like RNs, nurse practitioners must also be certified, though the certification can come from a variety of professional organizations depending upon one’s area of specialization.

 

One benefit of the nursing profession is that there are so many ways to come to it and progress through the ranks. There are options if a two-year college works better for you than a four-year one. This might be the case if need to work while you study, or if you studied something else in undergrad and come to nursing later on. Or, if you’re aiming for a traditional four-year path, you can take that too!

 

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Anna Ravenelle
Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Anna Ravenelle is a graduate of Cornell University, where she studied English with a concentration in Creative Writing. After spending two application cycles in the CollegeVine applications division, she now uses her admissions experience to help a greater number of students. She resides in New York but her heart has never left New Hampshire, where she grew up.