How to Become a Registered Nurse (RN) in 3 Steps

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Become an RN in just three main steps. First, you’ll need to earn your nursing degree. A nursing school program consists of coursework combined with experiential learning components, like labs and clinical rotations. Then, you’ll need to pass the NCLEX-RN. Finally, obtain licensure from your state.

nurse listens to patient's heart rate

Thinking about switching careers? If you’re looking for a meaningful career that you can feel proud of, you might consider pursuing a job in the health care field, such as nursing. As a registered nurse (RN), you would help people through challenging situations and learn how to take better care of their health. Nursing is a well-respected position with many opportunities for specialization and advancement.

If you’re interested in learning how to become a nurse, you’ll be pleased to discover that the process is straightforward. In fact, there are just three main steps to becoming a nurse.

The length of time it takes can vary, however. If you have prior non-nursing college education, you may be eligible for Harding University’s accelerated Bachelor of Science in nursing (ABSN) program. This allows you to fast-track the process to become an RN. Below, you can further explore how to become an RN fast — in as few as 16 months at Harding.

person's hand holding stethoscope

Not quite sure if nursing is right for you? Check out these 7 reasons to become a nurse.

1. Earn Your Nursing Degree to Become an RN

To become an RN, you first must find the nursing program that’s right for you. If you have prior non-nursing college education, you’ll likely want to look for an accelerated nursing program, such as the ABSN program at Harding.

Once you’ve identified a possible nursing program, it’s crucial to confirm that it holds accreditation from either the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). For example, Harding’s 16-month ABSN curriculum is accredited by the CCNE.

Next, you’ll need to go through the admissions process, matriculate and earn your nursing degree. While a traditional BSN program typically takes four years to complete, an ABSN program compresses the same high-quality nursing curriculum into 16 months. To succeed, it’s important to stay organized and use your time effectively.

Nursing School Curriculum

To earn your nursing degree, you must first complete a nursing program. While nursing curricula vary depending on the school, they share similarities to ensure quality across accredited institutions.

For example, Harding’s ABSN curriculum consists of online coursework blended with experiential learning components: nursing skills labs, simulation labs and clinical rotations.

harding nursing student searching for equipment

Nursing skills labs are designed to teach you how to perform patient care tasks and how to exercise nursing judgment. You’ll learn skills like inserting IV lines and conducting patient assessments. Meanwhile, simulation labs mimic actual patient care scenarios, so you can practice what to do and how to do it without the risk of harm to a real patient.

In addition to labs, you’ll complete a series of in-person clinical rotations at nearby health care facilities. These clinical placements allow you to provide direct patient care under the close supervision of a clinical instructor. It’s one of the most important steps to becoming an RN, as you’ll experience real-world clinical situations. Plus, you’ll work on developing a professional demeanor and time management skills.

Gain Real-World Experience as a Student

In addition to sharpening your organization and time management skills, clinical placements challenge you to expand the nursing skills acquired through simulation labs. You’ll gain practical experience in a variety of clinical settings and explore a specialization to see what interests you.

Throughout Harding’s 16-month program, you’ll interact with patients from all walks of life in rotations that focus on nursing specialties such as:

  • Adult health
  • Community health
  • Mental health
  • Obstetrics
  • Pediatrics

It's crucial to network as much as you can throughout your clinical rotations if you want to make the most of these experiences. You never know who could assist you in finding employment after graduation.

What are nursing clinicals like? Read more to learn what to expect.

nurse holding patient chart

If you’ve kept up with your coursework and performed satisfactorily on the experiential learning components, you may graduate in 16 months. Not long after graduation, you’ll be ready to tackle the next step to becoming an RN: the NCLEX-RN.

2. Pass the NCLEX-RN Exam

During your time in the ABSN program, you’ll study and prepare for the NCLEX. The exam lasts until you demonstrate your nursing competency. Think of it this way: the fewer questions you answer incorrectly, the faster you’ll finish the exam.

The NCLEX can include topics such as:

  • Promotion of health
  • Psychosocial and psychological integrity
  • Reduction of risk potential
  • Physiological adaptation
  • Maintaining a safe and effective environment
  • Management of care
  • Safety and infection control

Although you’re not required to take the NCLEX immediately after graduating, it’s a good idea to do so within two months of receiving your diploma so crucial nursing principles are fresh.

nursing students holding books walking down the hall

3. Obtain Licensure to Complete the Steps to Becoming a Nurse

After you pass the NCLEX, the next step in the process of how to become a registered nurse is to obtain nursing licensure from your state board of nursing. But did you know that it may be possible to start working as a nurse before obtaining licensure if you choose to attend a nursing school in Arkansas, such as Harding?

The Arkansas State Board of Nursing allows nursing school graduates to apply for a temporary permit that allows them to work between the time they graduate and the time they receive the results of the first licensing exam they’re eligible to take.

Temporary permits aside, you’ll still need to apply for an official nursing license after passing the NCLEX. Each state establishes their own processes for applying. In Arkansas, you must apply via the online portal and the school must submit your official transcripts to the licensure board’s ABSN office.

Note that you will not receive a paper copy of your license in Arkansas. Instead, you can verify your licensure status online.

How to Become an RN Fast at Harding

nursing student smiling while administering oxygen to manikin

Now that you know how to become an RN fast, it’s time to act and begin working toward your dream career. At Harding University, you can become an RN faster than at other nursing schools.

Plus, thanks to our hybrid online approach, it’s more convenient to work through the curriculum. You can complete coursework online and work through experiential learning components designed to instill excellent clinical skills. Our nursing instructors go above and beyond to support the success of our students.

Find out if earning a nursing degree in as few as 16 months could be the right choice for you. Contact our admissions counselors today and take the first step to becoming a nurse.