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What are the Requirements to Become a Nurse in the United States?

By Carol Francois
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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To become a nurse in the United States, you must obtain a nursing license for the state you want to work in. All nursing candidates must meet specific education and experience criteria to be eligible to complete the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) exam. A minimum score of 70% is required to pass this exam.

The educational criterion for US-trained candidates is a minimum 3-year degree or diploma in nursing studies from an accredited nursing school. Acceptance into an accredited school requires graduation from high school and advanced credits in English, biology, science and math. There are two options in nursing education: registered nurse and practical nurse or nursing assistant.

As part of their training, everyone wanting to become a nurse must have between 40 to 80 clinical experience hours in pediatrics, obstetrics, and psychiatry. These hours are required in addition to the standard hours for medical, surgical, and community nursing rotations. The actual rotations are scheduled through the nursing school, which should have an association with several local hospitals.

Foreign-trained nurses who want to work in the US must pass the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS) certification program, in addition to all the requirements listed above. The certification program has three parts: credentials evaluation, a one day qualifying exam of nursing knowledge, and an English language proficiency exam. The nursing exam has 260 multiple choice questions and is held four times per year.

The NCLEX-RN exam is administered on behalf of the state board of nursing by VUE Pearson. The test itself is computerized multiple choice. It is designed to test your knowledge of nursing practices, state laws and standard of care guidelines.

Preparatory classes are available to help prospective nurses pass the exam. Candidates should spend a minimum of five hours per week preparing for this exam for at least six weeks. The test is timed, with a strict limit on the amount of time allowed.

Explore the different specialties that are available once you become a nurse. Additional education provides opportunities for higher-paying positions in the field. Continuing education is part of managing your career to take advantage of promotion opportunities.

Talk with a career counselor about the steps required in your state to become a nurse. Nursing is a challenging career that provides many opportunities for career advancement, education, and world travel. Many career counselors recommend personal aptitude testing before you start taking classes.

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Discussion Comments
By anon325438 — On Mar 16, 2013

Could you tell me please the system of nursing in the USA and how to become nurse? I graduated from medical university and am actually a general physician.

By orangey03 — On Sep 10, 2012

Wow, it sounds like nurses have to go through a lot more training than I realized! The testing process sounds grueling, too.

I've often wondered why there are so many "nurse wanted" ads in the classified section of my newspaper. I guess it is because many new nurses are still working on their training and certification!

By OeKc05 — On Sep 10, 2012

I think that having a love for working with people is essential to becoming a nurse. If you dislike working with the public, then why become a nurse at all?

Some nurses are just plain rude and bossy. I think they became nurses so that they could have someone to boss around all day.

I wish that nursing programs would require candidates to have social skills and certain personality types. This might cut down on the number of rude nurses out there.

By healthy4life — On Sep 09, 2012

@giddion - Don't panic. Many community colleges will let you take the courses that you need in order to qualify for their nursing programs.

My aunt got her degree from a community college. She did have to take more classes than most students per semester in order to qualify, but she pulled it off. She was really dedicated to becoming a nurse, and it was worth the extra effort.

By giddion — On Sep 08, 2012

Oh, no! I wanted to become a registered nurse, but I am in my senior year of high school, and I haven't gotten any advanced credits in the courses mentioned!

Is it too late for me? Can I still become a nurse, even though I can't possibly add on classes at this late date?

By SZapper — On Aug 24, 2012

@JaneAir - That's a good point. You should definitely do some research about whatever nursing program you choose. I would look into more than the NCLEX-RN pass rate though.

Do some research on the price of the program, job placement rates after graduation, and class size. You can also research online forums to find out what other students thought about the program. That way you can get a more well rounded view of potential nursing programs.

By JaneAir — On Aug 23, 2012

If you want to become a nurse, you should look carefully at the programs in your area. I'm pretty sure all nursing programs have to publish statistics about their graduates pass rates on the NCLEX-RN. Try to pick a program with a higher pass rate to give yourself a better chance of passing too!

By betterment — On Aug 23, 2012

@Pharoah - I never even thought of that. But I can definitely see cost being a consideration for someone who wants to become a registered nurse. Most people don't have a ton of extra money to spend on education, and a lot of people are reluctant to get student loans.

Of course, if you're in this position, most community colleges have nursing programs that cost far less than a four year university program would.

By Pharoah — On Aug 22, 2012

I was looking into becoming a registered nurse a couple of years ago, and I discovered there are some new kinds of programs out there. Nurses are really in demand right now, so some school are offering accelerated Bachelor's degrees in nursing to people who already have a bachelor's degree in something else.

Also, some schools have master's degree programs that are geared to students that already have a bachelor's in another field. This can be beneficial, because from what I understand you can't get financial aid for a second bachelor's degree, but you might still be eligible for financial aid if you're going for a master's degree.

By KoiwiGal — On Jun 05, 2011

@irontoenail - You make some excellent and true points, but you have also left out a few things.

For one, nurses often suffer from burn out. Depending on the work they do, of course. They might be working with terminally ill children, or the elderly. They have the most contact with the patients, they are the ones who end up getting attached, more than anyone else involved in patient care.

Often they are understaffed and end up working long, long hours with less pay than you might think. And the responsibility can be crushing.

Nursing is a noble profession but I know I won't be becoming a nurse any time soon.

I have only respect for those who do.

By irontoenail — On Jun 03, 2011

Nursing really is and has almost always been one of the best professions you can go into for a number of reasons. It pays as well as most jobs for the amount of training you do. You are able to continue in it to much better paid positions with more responsibilities, or if you prefer, you can stay working at a lower level which also has its benefits.

You are always in demand, all over the world. There are volunteering opportunities galore, or you could temp or whatever you want.

Plus, you are helping people. There are not many jobs where you can say that you are measurably making people's lives better every day.

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