How Long Does It Take to Become an RN?

rn holding clipboard

Perhaps you want to enter the medical field, and you want to be more than a nurse, but you don’t want to spend 11-16 years in medical school to become a doctor. In that case, a career in nursing could still be for you.

Today, many individuals (both men and women) are entering nursing in order to become an RN.

What Is an RN, Anyway?

RN stands for Registered Nurse. The difference between a nurse and Registered Nurse (RN) is that the RN attended nursing school and then passed an exam to become an RN.

Nurses (LVN or LPN) simply graduate from a shorter nursing program.


So You Want To Become an RN?

If you want to get into the medical field but aren’t interested in becoming a doctor, a career as an RN could be for you. There are many valid reasons to become an RN.

Perhaps you aren’t highly skilled in biology and chemistry. Maybe you don’t want the stress that everyone places on the doctors. Most of all, maybe you don’t want to spend 12 years in school but you want to earn a nice living. Nursing is the choice for you!

How Many Years Does It Take to Become an RN?

There are multiple paths to becoming a Registered Nurse. You will probably choose a 2-, 3-, or 4-year program to earn your Nursing degree. You can start with a 2-year Associate’s degree or a 4-year Bachelor’s degree depending on how much training you want. There are also some specialty programs in hospitals that you can complete in 3 years.

After completing your degree, you must take an exam – the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) – to become a registered nurse. The exam only takes one day, but study time beforehand may vary.

So, estimate 2-5 years from beginning school to being a licensed Registered Nurse.

Schooling Options

There are three main avenues to becoming an RN.

First, you could get an Associates Degree in Nursing (ADN) from a 2-year community college. For a 2-year degree, the course work will focus a lot on technical skills you will need as a nurse.

Second, you could go to a 4-year college to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN.) Most BSN programs at 4-year colleges require you to first apply to the college or university, and then after getting accepted and completing the prerequisite courses at the school, you can apply to the nursing program specifically.

For a 4-year degree, you certainly have to do hands-on training like someone in a 2-year program, but there are lots of classes – you’ll have some biology and chemistry, but also communication, psychology, physiology, pharmacology, anatomy, and nutrition.

The third option is a hospital diploma program which typically lasts 3 years. The hospital programs focus on technical skills and give you lots of hands-on experience.

Which Path Is Right For Me?

Whether you take a 2-year or 4-year program, you still have to sit for the same “boards” (exams.) If you pass them, you will be designated a Registered Nurse.

If that’s all that matters to you, you could take a 2-year program. You will pay less for schooling and get to enter the workforce earlier.

But while the ADN is a faster way to get started, putting the time in for a BSN gives you a more comprehensive foundation to build on. If you ever want to advance your career, starting out with a BSN is the way to go.

However, you can often go on to earn a BSN after getting an ADN, and a lot of your 2 years of schooling will apply towards the BSN. What you want to watch out for with hospital diploma programs is that they won’t apply towards a BSN this way.

Finally, much like doctors, RNs are required to take yearly continuing education classes to maintain their licenses. So always remember that your schooling never truly ends no matter which path you take!

Work Weeks, Salary, and Benefits

I have heard that RNs can earn up to $83,000 per year to start. I think that high of a salary only applies in certain locations and is certainly not the norm. I believe an average salary is closer to the $48,000-63,000 range. Either way, though, it’s not bad.

And this is all with a more defined work week. Generally 36-40 hours per week, considered full-time with benefits. Some hospitals run 8 hour shifts, but a lot of hospitals do 12-hour shifts (with three 12-hour days per week considered full-time.) This is highly variable, though, so you can choose to work more or less hours.

Tuition reimbursement is a common benefit for full-time employees at hospitals.

Career Advancement

Some common options for career advancement include becoming an advanced practice nurse, nurse practitioner, or clinical nurse specialist. To enter any of these advanced nursing practices, RNs must earn a master’s degree in nursing.

Basically, more schooling gets you more responsibility, and that gets you more pay.

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