How Long Does It Take to Become a Nurse?
Nursing is among the most respected professions, offering solid prospects for personal and career development, consistent job security, and excellent pay. Compared to other jobs in the health care profession, you can get started relatively quickly on the nursing career path. So, how many years of training do you need to be a nurse? It can take as little as a year or two — but that depends on the type of nurse you want to be and your long-term goals.
Choosing a Nursing Career Path
Nursing is a varied field that offers a broad spectrum of career pathways. You can work toward becoming an entry-level registered nurse (RN) or pursue further education or special certifications to advance your career. Your options are seemingly endless and include roles as a nurse practitioner, advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), research nurse, and nurse administrator.
Your path will determine the time and schooling required to achieve your goal. Many entering the nursing profession start as generalist RNs before moving to other roles. You can become an RN in two years, but many employers now prefer nurses with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), which takes four years to complete.
Can You Be a Nurse at 16?
If you're a minor, you cannot become a nurse. Nursing programs take at least one or two years to complete and generally require, at minimum, a high school diploma for entry. Realistically, the earliest age you can become a nurse is when you're nineteen. Labor laws vary by state, and yours may prohibit you from working as a nurse or performing certain nursing functions until you're an adult.
If you're a minor interested in a nursing career, consider volunteering at a hospital or doctor's office or becoming a certified nursing assistant (CNA), which is allowed in some states.
Becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
The fastest way to become a nurse is by securing a position as a licensed practical nurse. LPN programs can be completed in as little as one year but come with certain drawbacks compared to RN programs. LPNs typically earn less than RNs, perform more limited duties, and have fewer opportunities for career advancement.
But if you want to start working in the nursing field as soon as possible, becoming an LPN is a great place to start. If you decide to become an RN later, returning to school or taking an LPN-to-RN program gives you career advancement options.
Once you complete your LPN program, you'll be required to take the National Council Licensure Exam-Practical Nurse (NCLEX-PN). Once you pass the exam, you can apply for licensure as an LPN — a licensed vocational nurse (LVN) in some states — and begin working immediately.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Registered Nurse?
You can become an RN in two years with an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a nursing diploma. These programs offer faster entry into a registered nursing career than a four-year degree but may limit your career advancement options later. Many advanced practice programs, Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) programs, or managerial positions require or prefer candidates with BSN degrees.
However, an ADN program earns you college credit, which can reduce the time needed to get a BSN if you decide to pursue one in the future. Nursing diplomas don't count toward college credits, so if you want to get a BSN later, you'll need to complete a four-year degree or find an RN-to-BSN program that may help accelerate your progress.
Whichever program you choose, your final step will be to pass the National Council Licensure Exam-Registered Nurse (NCLEX-RN). After passing the exam, you can apply for licensure in your state and start working as a registered nurse.
Pursuing an Advanced Practice Nursing Degree
If your goal is to become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), the path will take longer than four years. Besides a BSN and several years of on-the-job experience as a generalist RN, you'll need to earn at least a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). You may also be required to undergo specialized training.
To become a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA), you'll need a BSN, at least one to three years of experience in critical care, and a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) or Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice (DNAP) degree. That means you'll need a minimum of 8 to 10 years of study and training to become a CRNA.
Other specialties like nephrology nurses or advanced areas such as nurse practitioners and certified nurse-midwives have similar timelines — around 6 to 10 years — though the specific degree and experience requirements may vary.
Determine Your Long-Term Career Goals
The most ambitious, prestigious, or high-ranking positions require more time and effort. For instance, if you want to work in high-level hospital administration as a director of nursing, it might take fifteen years or more to obtain the required credentials and experience. Fortunately, you don't need to do it all right away. It's wise and often necessary to gain more clinical or managerial experience after earning a degree or reaching a career milestone. That allows you to achieve your long-term goals at a pace that's practical and beneficial to your health and well-being.
Learn more about the different types of nurses and how to become a nurse.