How Long Does it Take to Become a Nurse

Written by: Applied Nursing Research Editorial Team   •  May 19, 2024

How Long Does It Take to Become a Nurse

Are you considering a career in healthcare and wondering, “How long does it take to become a nurse?” You’re not alone. Nursing is a rewarding profession that offers a unique blend of medical expertise and compassionate care. But before you don those scrubs and step into this fulfilling role, it’s crucial to understand the time commitment involved. 

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through the various types of nursing careers, the educational paths available, and the steps you’ll need to take to become a qualified nurse. Whether you’re looking to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN), a registered nurse (RN), or even an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), we’ve got you covered.

What Is a Nurse?

A nurse is a healthcare professional trained to provide a range of services, from basic patient care to specialized medical procedures. But nursing is more than just a job; it’s a calling. Nurses are the backbone of the healthcare system, often serving as the first point of contact for patients and playing a critical role in their treatment and recovery.

The Role of a Nurse

Nurses work closely with doctors and other healthcare providers to administer medications, monitor patient conditions, and provide emotional support to patients and their families. They are trained to observe and interpret symptoms, conduct diagnostic tests, and implement care plans. Nurses also educate patients about their conditions and the treatments they will undergo, ensuring that patients are well-informed and comfortable throughout their healthcare journey.

A Brief History of Nursing

The concept of nursing dates back to ancient times, but the profession as we know it today has evolved significantly. Florence Nightingale, often considered the founder of modern nursing, revolutionized the field by introducing sanitation and hygiene practices in hospitals during the 19th century. Since then, nursing has grown into a highly specialized and respected profession, with various roles and responsibilities that continue to expand with advancements in medical science.

The Importance of Nurses in Healthcare

Nurses are indispensable in healthcare settings, often juggling multiple responsibilities that extend beyond clinical care. They act as mediators between patients and doctors, manage healthcare teams, and even participate in medical research. Their diverse skill set and adaptability make them invaluable members of the healthcare community.

By now, you should have a clearer understanding of what a nurse is and the vital role they play in healthcare. As we delve deeper into this guide, we’ll explore the different types of nurses, the educational paths you can take, and answer the burning question: “How many years of schooling does it take to become a nurse?” So, if you’re ready to embark on this rewarding career path, read on to discover the steps you’ll need to take to make your nursing dreams a reality.

What Are the Types of Nurses?

Nursing is a diverse field with various specializations and roles. Understanding these can help you make an informed decision about your career path. Below are some of the most common types of nurses you’ll encounter in the healthcare system.

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

  • Role: LPNs provide basic nursing care under the supervision of registered nurses and doctors.

  • Work Settings: Often found in nursing homes, hospitals, and clinics.

  • Specializations: Geriatric care, pediatric care, and more.

  • Educational Requirements: Typically a one-year diploma or certificate program.

Registered Nurse (RN)

  • Role: RNs have a broader scope of practice compared to LPNs and can perform diagnostic tests, administer medications, and develop patient care plans.

  • Work Settings: Hospitals, clinics, schools, and specialized care facilities.

  • Specializations: Emergency room, oncology, pediatrics, and more.

  • Educational Requirements: Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).

Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN)

  • Role: APRNs have advanced training and education, allowing them to perform tasks that RNs cannot, such as prescribing medication.

  • Work Settings: Various, including private practices and specialized clinics.

  • Specializations: Nurse practitioner (NP), clinical nurse specialist (CNS), nurse anesthetist, and nurse midwife.

  • Educational Requirements: Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).

Nurse Practitioner (NP)

  • Role: NPs can diagnose and treat illnesses, often serving as primary care providers.

  • Work Settings: Private practices, hospitals, and specialized clinics.

  • Specializations: Family care, women’s health, and acute care.

  • Educational Requirements: Master’s degree or higher.

Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)

  • Role: CNSs focus on specialized areas of nursing, often serving as consultants.

  • Work Settings: Hospitals, research institutions, and educational settings.

  • Specializations: Diabetes, oncology, and psychiatric care.

  • Educational Requirements: Master’s degree or higher.

What Does a Nurse Do?

Nursing is a multifaceted profession that goes beyond administering medication and taking vitals. Let’s delve into the various responsibilities and roles that nurses often take on.

General Responsibilities

  • Patient Assessment: Conducting initial assessments to understand a patient’s condition and needs.

  • Care Planning: Developing and implementing care plans in collaboration with a healthcare team.

  • Medication Administration: Safely administering medications and treatments prescribed by physicians.

  • Patient Education: Educating patients and families about treatment plans, medications, and lifestyle changes.

  • Monitoring: Keeping track of a patient’s vital signs, symptoms, and responses to treatment.

Specialized Roles Based on Types of Nurses

For LPNs:

  • Wound care

  • Basic medication administration

  • Patient hygiene and comfort

For RNs:

  • Diagnostic tests

  • Advanced medication administration

  • Surgical assistance

For APRNs:

  • Prescribing medication

  • Specialized diagnostic tests

  • Advanced patient consultations

Beyond Clinical Care: The Extended Roles of Nurses

  • Research: Many nurses engage in medical research to improve patient care techniques.

  • Management: Experienced nurses often move into managerial roles, overseeing nursing staff and healthcare operations.

  • Education: Some nurses choose to educate the next generation of healthcare professionals, working as instructors or professors.

How to Become a Nurse

Embarking on a nursing career is a multi-step process that requires careful planning and dedication. Below, we outline the essential steps you’ll need to take to become a qualified nurse.

Educational Requirements

Before you can enroll in a nursing program, there are some prerequisites you’ll need to meet:

  • High School Diploma or GED: This is the minimum educational requirement for most nursing programs.

  • Prerequisite Courses: Some programs may require you to complete courses in biology, chemistry, or math before admission.

Choosing the Right Nursing Program

Selecting the right educational program is crucial for your career. Here are some factors to consider:

  • Accreditation: Make sure the program is accredited by a recognized nursing body.

  • Program Length: Programs can range from one year for LPNs to four years for a BSN.

  • Clinical Experience: Look for programs that offer hands-on clinical experience.

Passing the NCLEX Exam

The National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) is a must-pass exam for all aspiring nurses in the United States.

  • What is the NCLEX?: It’s a standardized exam that tests your nursing skills and knowledge.

  • Preparation: Many opt for NCLEX prep courses and practice exams to prepare.

State Licensure

After passing the NCLEX, you’ll need to obtain a state license to practice.

  • Requirements: These vary by state but generally include passing the NCLEX and undergoing a background check.

  • Application: The process usually involves submitting proof of education and passing the NCLEX, along with an application fee.

Specialization and Certification

While not mandatory, many nurses choose to specialize in specific areas of healthcare.

  • Types of Certifications: These range from pediatric nursing to oncology.

  • Benefits: Specialization can lead to higher salaries and more job opportunities.

Nursing Degrees

Nursing education comes in various shapes and sizes, each with its own set of prerequisites, durations, and outcomes. Here’s a closer look at the degrees you can pursue.

Diploma in Nursing

  • Overview: This is often the quickest route into nursing, focusing on fundamental skills and knowledge.

  • Duration: Typically takes about one year to complete.

Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)

  • Overview: Provides a broader educational background than a diploma, including liberal arts subjects.

  • Duration: Usually takes two years to complete.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

  • Overview: A BSN provides a comprehensive education in nursing, including leadership and critical thinking skills.

  • Duration: Typically a four-year program.

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

  • Overview: An MSN prepares you for advanced practice roles like Nurse Practitioner or Clinical Nurse Specialist.

  • Duration: Generally takes two years following a BSN.

Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)

  • Overview: A DNP is one of the highest levels of education in nursing, focusing on advanced practice and leadership skills.

  • Duration: Typically takes three to four years after completing an MSN.

How Many Years of Schooling Does it Take to Become a Nurse?

One of the most frequently asked questions about entering the nursing field is, “How many years of schooling does it take to become a nurse?” The answer varies depending on the type of nurse you aim to become and any specializations you pursue. Let’s break it down by the most common nursing roles.

Licensed Practical/Vocational Nurse (LPN/LVN)

  • Duration: 1 to 2 years

  • Programs: LPN/LVN programs are typically offered at community colleges and vocational schools.

  • Details: These programs focus on basic nursing skills and prepare you for entry-level positions.

Registered Nurse (RN)

  • Duration: 2 to 4 years

  • Programs: An Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) takes about 2 years, while a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) takes about 4 years.

  • Details: Both ADN and BSN programs offer a mix of classroom instruction and clinical experience.

Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN)

  • Duration: 6 to 8 years

  • Programs: Becoming an APRN requires a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), which can take 2 to 4 years after obtaining a BSN.

  • Details: APRN roles require specialized education and training, often including a focus on research, leadership, or specific medical specializations.

By understanding the time commitment involved in each educational path, you can plan your career more effectively. Keep in mind that these durations are approximate and can vary based on factors like part-time study or accelerated programs.

Why Become a Nurse?

If you’re contemplating a career in nursing, you may be wondering what makes it a worthwhile profession. Here are some compelling reasons to consider.

Personal Fulfillment

  • Making a Difference: Nurses often say that the ability to positively impact lives is one of the most rewarding aspects of the job.

  • Human Connection: The close relationships formed with patients and families can be incredibly fulfilling.

Job Security

  • High Demand: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the nursing field is expected to grow by 6% over the next ten years.

  • Diverse Opportunities: With a range of specializations and work settings, nurses have numerous career paths to choose from.

Versatility in Career Options

  • Work Settings: From hospitals and clinics to schools and research institutions, nurses have a wide array of workplaces to choose from.

  • Specializations: Whether you’re interested in pediatrics, oncology, or emergency care, there’s likely a nursing specialization that aligns with your interests.

Financial Benefits

  • Competitive Salaries: Nurses often earn competitive salaries, with advanced roles like APRNs earning even higher wages.

  • Benefits: Many nursing positions offer benefits like health insurance, retirement plans, and tuition reimbursement.

Where Do Nurses Work?

Nursing is a versatile career, offering a variety of work settings depending on your interests, specializations, and career goals. Here’s a look at some common places where nurses work.


  • Roles: From emergency rooms to specialized departments like cardiology, nurses in hospitals have a range of responsibilities.

  • Advantages: Opportunity for specialization, higher salaries, and access to advanced medical equipment.

  • Challenges: Longer hours, high-stress situations, and more demanding physical work.

Clinics and Outpatient Centers

  • Roles: Nurses here often focus on preventative care, minor treatments, and patient education.

  • Advantages: Regular working hours and less stressful environments.

  • Challenges: Limited scope for specialization and potentially lower salaries compared to hospital settings.

Nursing Homes and Long-Term Care Facilities

  • Roles: Nurses in these settings often focus on geriatric care, including managing chronic illnesses and providing end-of-life care.

  • Advantages: Stronger relationships with patients due to long-term care.

  • Challenges: Emotional toll of dealing with severely ill or end-of-life patients.

Schools and Educational Institutions

  • Roles: School nurses focus on student health, including basic first aid, screenings, and health education.

  • Advantages: Regular working hours aligned with the academic calendar.

  • Challenges: Limited medical resources and a broad age range of patients (students).

Private Practices

  • Roles: Nurses in private practices often work closely with a single healthcare provider.

  • Advantages: More personalized patient care and regular working hours.

  • Challenges: Smaller teams may mean more administrative responsibilities.

By understanding the various work settings available, you can better align your career path with your lifestyle and professional aspirations.

Nursing Salary

When considering a career in nursing, it’s essential to understand the financial aspects, including salary expectations and growth potential. Here’s what you need to know.

Average Salary

Based on data from the BLS, the average annual salary for registered nurses is approximately $81,220 as of 2022. The salary range is from $61,250 to $129,400.

Highest Nursing Salary

  • Specializations: Nurse anesthetists, nurse practitioners, and nurse midwives often command the highest salaries.

  • Factors: Geographic location, years of experience, and level of education can significantly impact earning potential.

Highest Paying States

  • California: Average mean wage of approximately $133,340.

  • Hawaii: Average mean wage of around $113,220.

  • Massachusetts: Average mean wage of about $104,150.

Understanding the salary landscape can help you make informed decisions about specializations, further education, and even relocation for better job opportunities. With competitive salaries and a range of work settings, nursing offers a financially rewarding career for those willing to invest in the necessary education and training.

Nursing Career and Job Growth

The nursing field is not just emotionally rewarding; it also offers robust career growth and stability. Here’s what you can expect in terms of career advancement and job market trends.

Ten-Year Job Growth Projection

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for registered nurses is projected to grow by 6% from 2022 to 2032, faster than the average for all occupations. This growth is attributed to an aging population, increased emphasis on preventive care, and healthcare services’ expansion.

Fields Within Nursing That Are Growing the Fastest

  • Geriatric Nursing: As the population ages, there’s a growing need for nurses who specialize in elder care.

  • Critical Care Nursing: With advancements in medicine, critical care units are expanding, requiring more specialized nurses.

  • Telehealth Nursing: The rise of telehealth services, especially post-pandemic, has created new opportunities for remote nursing roles.

  • Oncology Nursing: As cancer treatments advance, specialized oncology nurses are in high demand.

Career Advancement Opportunities

  • Management Roles: Experienced nurses can move into administrative positions, such as nurse manager or director of nursing.

  • Educational Roles: Those with advanced degrees can teach at nursing schools or offer specialized training.

  • Specialized Certifications: Obtaining additional certifications can open doors to specialized roles and higher salaries.

Understanding the career growth landscape can help you plan for the future, whether you’re considering further education, specialization, or even a career shift within the nursing field.

Nursing FAQ

If you’re considering a career in nursing, you probably have a lot of questions. Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about becoming a nurse.

What Degree Do I Need to Become a Nurse?

  • LPN/LVN: A diploma or certificate in practical nursing

  • RN: An Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

  • APRN: A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or higher

What Do Nurses Do?

  • Clinical Care: Includes patient assessment, administering medications, and monitoring patient progress

  • Patient Education: Providing information about healthcare management and preventive measures

  • Specialized Roles: Depending on education and certification, roles can range from research to management

How Long Does it Take to Become a Nurse?

  • LPN/LVN: 1 to 2 years

  • RN: 2 to 4 years

  • APRN: 6 to 8 years

How Much Do Nurses Make?

  • Average Salary: Approximately $75,330 per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

  • Salary Range: $52,080 to $111,220, depending on factors like location, specialization, and experience.

What Skills Do I Need to Be a Nurse?

  • Soft Skills: Empathy, communication, and resilience

  • Technical Skills: Proficiency in medical procedures, patient care, and technology

  • Critical Thinking: Ability to make quick, informed decisions in high-stakes situations

Are There Internship Opportunities for Nurses?

  • Clinical Rotations: Most nursing programs include clinical rotations as part of the curriculum.

  • Externships: Some hospitals and healthcare facilities offer externships for nursing students to gain real-world experience.

  • Residency Programs: For newly graduated nurses, residency programs offer a structured environment to transition into professional roles.

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