In order to be a RN in the United States, a student must first complete an accredited nursing program. Then, students must take and pass the NCLEX-RN exam to receive a state license to practice. There are many ways to accomplish these requirements and some are faster than others. In general, the time it takes to become a licensed nurse ranges from two to five years, depending on the path you choose, your prior education, and your state’s procedures.
This is the typical path for a traditional nursing student. These students enroll in college or university nursing programs and complete all of their prerequisites, nursing coursework, and clinical requirements as part of this program. A student choosing this method can expect to spend 4 years in nursing school and will typically earn their BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing). These students must still take and pass the NCLEX-RN exam prior to practicing as a nurse.
Students may discover nursing after already receiving a college degree in another subject. These students may seek out programs designed to give them credit for the coursework they have already done and supply them with the courses they need to be prepared as a RN. These degree programs can take as little as 12-18 months. These programs are also popular with students already working in the field of nursing such as LVNs or LPNs.
Another accelerated path to being a RN is a two year nursing program. These are offered at many community colleges and technical schools. In fact, this is the kind of program where I got my start! These programs can take 2-3 years depending on the number of prerequisites required for admission and will usually result in graduates receiving an Associates of Science in Nursing.
Like traditional students, students choosing an accelerated program will still have to take and pass the NCLEX exam in order to become an RN.
Students that received training outside of the US can still take the NCLEX-RN exam providing that they meet specific requirements for the state in which they would like to practice. Many times, this will involve taking a refresher course before being able to take the NCLEX-RN exam. Depending on the education received abroad, this option varies in length.
Taking the NCLEX-RN
After a student has chosen an educational path, then it’s time to apply to take the NCLEX-RN exam. The time it takes to receive an authorization to test varies greatly, from a few weeks to a couple of months, depending on what your state requires for application. You can find your state’s procedure by contacting the board of nursing in your state. Once you receive your authorization to test, you can schedule your test within 30-45 days. Also, remember to figure in some time to prepare for the NCLEX-RN after graduation. Some students like to start preparing right away and others prefer to give themselves more prep time. No matter which approach you take, test preparation can reduce your stress on test day.
Once you take and pass the NCLEX-RN, you will become licensed by the state. Timing on this varies as well, but typically you can expect to get your license within 6 weeks.
There are many paths that lead to entering the nursing profession as a RN. Some of these options are faster than others but all students need to consider the path that will work the best for their personal goals.