What Qualifications Do I Need to Become a Nurse?

Updated November 19, 2019
Nursing students talking together on college campus

Evaluate the qualifications you need to become a nurse then decide what type of nursing career you wish to pursue. Education and work requirements vary from one nursing specialty to another, so it's helpful to know what to expect.

What Qualifications Do I Need to Become a Nurse?

There are various qualifications you need in order to become a nurse. The first is a college degree in nursing.

Prerequisites to Attending Nursing School

Regardless what type of nursing occupation you seek, you'll need a nursing degree. You must first have a high school diploma or GED (General Education Development). Depending on the degree program you select, there may be some prerequisites needed to enter nursing school.

  • Prerequisites that are often required for an Associate's degree program include, anatomy, nutrition, physiology, and possibly developmental psychology.
  • A Bachelor's degree program may require coursework in leadership, nursing research, and public health.
  • An advanced nursing degree sometimes requires students to submit a resume, references and present a written personal statement.
  • If the competition is stiff, your grades may play an important part in whether you get accepted into the nursing program.

LPN or LVN Degree

If you wish to be a LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse) or a LVN (Licensed Vocational Nurse) then you need to complete a one-year course. This degree can be obtained through a college or vocational school.

Male nurse at hospital

Duties and Where You Can Work

You will have direct supervision of your patients when you work as an LPN. You will provide direct care to your patients. As an LPN, your work will be supervised and directed by RNs and doctors. The level of supervision will depend on the institute. For example, if you work in decide to work in a facility offering long-term care in a nursing home or extended care facility, you'll most likely work on a team supervised by an RN. If you work in a hospital, your supervision will be more one-on-one. You may decide to work in a physician's office or in private care.

Types of Degree Programs for LPNs

The time factor for earning an LPN degree is less than that for an RN degree. Some LPN degree programs only require 12-15 months to complete. For example, you can apply for a diploma program for an LPN degree that is based on your clinical hours instead of classroom hours. You may go for an Associate's program to earn your LPN degree and it'll 18-24 months to complete.

Limitations of LPN License Vs RN License

In some states, an LPN license restricts the kind of nursing care you can provide unlike an RN degree. For example, an LPN may be prevented from delivering specific medicines. This type of restriction can impact the type of job opportunities available to you.

Licensure for LPN and LVN Degrees

Once you complete the coursework, you'll need to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) to obtain your license. You can then work either for a physician in private practice such as in an office environment or in a hospital or clinic environment. Many people opt for the LPN or LVN so they can be gainfully employed while continuing with their nursing education. Those who opt for this route feel that the experience you gain actually performing duties within a hospital or other medical environment while also attending college classes is invaluable.

RN Degree

An RN (Registered Nurse) is required to obtain either an ASN (Associate of Science in Nursing) or a BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) degree.

RN Duties

As an RN, you'll provide patient care and coordinate the different aspects involved with each patient's needs. You'll be responsible for educating your patients about their conditions, explain any changes in diets and physical activities. You'll also provide your patients as well as their family with emotional support along with any advice that can help improve their situation. You'll also be responsible for the administration of all medicines for your patients.

Career Choices

The career paths open to RNs is broader than the one for LPNs. You might choose to work in a hospital, nursing care facility, outpatient clinic, join a home healthcare service, or possibly join the military to serve as an RN in uniform.

Areas of Specialties

You have the option of specializing in a specific area of treatment such as pediatrics, critical care, ambulatory care, surgery or hospice care. You may prefer to specialize in specific conditions or even medicine and treatment for a specific body organ such as the liver or heart.

Licensing for RN

Just like the LPN option, you'll need to take a licensing exam, the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). Each state has specific requirements for being licenses to practice as an RN in that state. If you're already licensed and wish to apply for a license in a different state, the process is usually called, licensure by endorsement. However, about 25 states accept other state licensing.

ASN Degree Program

The ASN is a two-year degree program. Because of the high demand for nurses, many people opt for this degree since it it the fastest route to becoming a Registered Nurse. You can obtain an ASN through various nursing schools as well as from community and career college programs. Once you graduate from an accredited program, you will need to sit for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). When you pass, and complete any other state requirements, you'll receive your RN license.


The BSN degree has been the subject of debate for decades. Many medical professionals feel that a BSN should be required of all nurses instead of allowing either an ASN or BSN. One of the biggest issues between going for a BSN instead of an ASN is the pay level each receives. Understandably, you'll earn more if you hold a BSN.

Career Advantage of BSN Degree

In addition, the career advantages to holding a BSN degree over an ASN degree are the opportunities for advancement. If you wish to go into other areas of medicine such as administrative, managerial, research, and clinical, but hold an ASN, then you'll be required to go back to college to obtain a BSN. Also, if you wish to go into specialized medicine disciplines previously mentioned, then you'll be required to have a BSN degree as a prerequisite of eligibility.

MSN Nursing Degree

If you wish to go to the next level up from RN, you'll need to pursue a Masters of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree. You may simply wish to enroll in an MSN degree program once you've completed undergraduate school or begin your RN degree and earn your MSN degree at the same time. It takes 2-4 years to complete an MSN degree.

Non-Clinical MSN Degree

A non-clinical MSN degree will take you on the path of a management career. Two career path options for a MSN degree include managing a nursing staff or teach at a nursing school.

Job Opportunities for MSN Degree

You can find a range of jobs available to those with a non-clinical Masters of Science in Nursing (MSN). You may decide to work as a supervisor. Research opportunities may be the career path you prefer.

Advanced Practice Nursing MSN Degree

If you choose to pursue an Advance Practice Nursing (APRN) MSN degree, your career path will be as an advanced practitioner. This could be as a Nurse Practitioner or perhaps a Certified Nurse Midwife.

Career Choices for APRN MSN Degree

If you earn an APRN MSN degree, you can become eligible for more licensure within your chosen field of specialty. Some states will license you to practice independently and even operate your own clinic.

Nurse Practitioner

A Nurse Practitioner (NP) is an RN that's completed specialized training in a field of medicine such as internal medicine, cardiac, pediatrics or another area and holds an MSN degree.

Job Duties and Skills

You can prescribe medications, physical therapy, order most tests such as lab work, CAT Scans, X-rays, EKGs and any other needed tests necessary in the diagnosis process. Because of your advanced training and specialized studies, a NP can serve as a primary direct provider of services in patient care.

Licensing Requirements

If you decide to use your MSN RN degree for a Nurse Practitioner career, you'll need to sit for the national certification exam. There are six areas you can then practice in, acute, gerontology, adult, family, mental health, pediatric care, and school. You can also be certified and take the exam for a Family Nurse Practitioner or Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner.

Where You Can Work

As a Nurse Practitioner, you can work in most medical facilities, such as a hospital outpatient facility, clinic, healthcare technology, physician office, military medical facilities, pharmaceutical company, surgery center, or a research project/facility.

National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC)

The NLNAC is recognized on a national level as an accrediting agency for nursing degree programs. Before you decide to attend any institution for a nursing degree, visit the NLNAC website to verify that the institute program you wish to take is accredited course. You should definitely do some researching before your final decision on which college and coursework to pursue.

Practicing nurse

Seeking Professional Nursing Career Counselors Advice

Not all nursing degree programs are equal. Seek counseling from an unbiased source, either an RN or some other medical professional who's knowledgeable about the skill set you'll need. School counselors are also another great resource to assist you in evaluating specific college programs they offer.

Other Qualifications You Need

There are other qualifications you need in order to be a nurse that aren't related to education and certifications or degrees. These qualifications are personal attributes and characteristics. You need to be:

  • Able to remain calm and keep others calm during crisis
  • Assertive when necessary
  • Authoritative if needed
  • Capable of reasoning with others
  • Concerned about the welfare of others
  • Detail-oriented
  • Easy to talk to
  • Able to keep emotions in check
  • Logical thinker
  • Methodical
  • Organized
  • Personable
  • Positive in your outlook on life

Deciding on Your Degree

As you can see, there are quite a few options when it comes to your career as a nurse. With good information, you can explore each career path and evaluate the requirements and qualifications to become a nurse.

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What Qualifications Do I Need to Become a Nurse?