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How to Become a Nurse


Every state and the District of Columbia has a board of nursing with a mission of protecting the public from harm. Governance of the practice of nursing includes:

  • Establishing requirements for initial licensure and retaining: basic education, continuing education and/or competency
  • Interpreting scope of practice parameters, defined by state statute (nurse practice act)
  • Investigating complaints of licensees and disciplinary actions



There is more than one educational pathway leading to eligibility to take the standardized National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX)-RN.

Diploma in Nursing, once the most common route to RN licensure and a nursing career, is available through hospital-based schools of nursing

Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) is a two-year degree offered by community colleges and hospital-based schools of nursing that prepares individuals for a defined technical scope of practice.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BS/BSN) is a four-year degree offered at colleges and universities:

  • Prepares graduates to engage in the full scope of professional nursing practice across all healthcare settings
  • First two years often concentrate on psychology, human growth and development, biology, microbiology, organic chemistry, nutrition, and anatomy and physiology.
  • Final two years often focus on adult acute and chronic disease; maternal/child health; pediatrics; psychiatric/mental health nursing; and community health nursing.
  • Is intended to result in a deeper understanding of the cultural, political, economic,  and social issues that affect patients and influence healthcare delivery
  • Includes nursing theory, physical and behavioral sciences, and humanities with additional content in research, leadership, and may include such topics as healthcare economics, health informatics, and health policy

Offer additional routes to advancing the expertise of registered nurses:

  • Master’s Degree (MSN) programs offer a number of tracks designed to prepare Advanced Practice Nurses, nurse administrators, and nurse educators.
  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) programs are research-focused whose graduates typically teach and/or conduct research
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs focus on clinical practice or leadership roles

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