Registered Nurse (RN): Educational Requirements for Registered Nurses

Registered nurses (RNs) are healthcare professionals that care for patients and educate them about their health conditions. Becoming an RN entails completion of a postsecondary program and licensure. Read on to learn about the education options and licensing requirements for RNs.

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Educational Requirements for Registered Nurses

Nursing students may choose from a variety of education options to become a registered nurse. Some teaching hospitals offer 3-year diploma programs in nursing; however, these programs are rare. Most RNs earn associate degrees or bachelor's degrees in nursing.

Associate Degree in Nursing

Many registered nurses enter the profession by earning an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN). ADN programs are available at community and vocational colleges and typically last 2-3 years. They combine classroom instruction with hands-on training in hospitals, clinics or other healthcare settings. Common courses include:

  • Adult and family health
  • Psychiatric nursing
  • Pharmacology
  • Human development
  • Anatomy and physiology

Bachelor of Science in Nursing

Aspiring registered nurses may choose to gain more comprehensive training by earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), RNs who hold diplomas or associate degrees tend to pursue bachelor's degrees later in their careers ( These degree programs are particularly beneficial to students who wish to pursue clinical or administrative positions.

Offered at colleges and universities, BSN programs typically take four years to complete; however, students who are already licensed as RNs may be able to complete accelerated programs. BSN programs focus on more advanced nursing methodology and clinical training, compared to lower-level degree programs. They also equip students with the administrative and critical thinking skills necessary for advanced positions in the field. Courses may include:

  • Community health
  • Leadership in nursing
  • Healthcare management
  • Nursing research
  • Health assessment
  • Professional issues in nursing

Licensure Requirements for Registered Nurses

To practice in the profession, registered nurses must become licensed. While licensure requirements vary according to state, they typically include passage of a state-approved training program and the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). Administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, the NCLEX-RN covers topics like psychosocial and physiological integrity, health promotion and infection control ( Depending on the state, RNs may be required to meet additional licensure requirements.

Salary and Career Information

The BLS estimated a 26% job growth for RNs in the year 2010-2020. Registered nurses earned $65,470 as a median annual wage in May 2012, according to the BLS.

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    • Pennsylvania (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at University of Pennsylvania include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Post Degree Certificate: First Professional Certificate, Post Master's Certificate, Postbaccalaureate Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Associate, Bachelor
    • Medical and Health Professions
      • Dental
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      • Medical Residency Programs
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        • Pediatric Nursing
        • Registered Nurse
      • Public Health and Safety
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  • School locations:
    • North Carolina (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at Duke University include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Post Degree Certificate: Postbaccalaureate Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Medical and Health Professions
      • Medical Diagnostic and Treatment Professions
      • Medical Residency Programs
      • Nursing Professions
        • Nurse Anesthetist
        • Registered Nurse
      • Therapeutic and Rehabilitation Professions

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