Prerequisites for Nursing: How to Start a Career in Nursing

Nurses provide basic patient care in hospitals, clinics and other healthcare facilities. Required education usually involves 2-4 years of college. All 50 states require nurses to earn licenses.

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Nursing Prerequisites

Aspiring nurses must first graduate from high school or earn the General Educational Development (GED) certificate. To prepare for nursing studies, high school students may consider taking classes in biology and chemistry.

Associate Degree in Nursing

Completing an associate's degree in nursing (ADN) provides a baseline education for students interested in the profession. ADN programs provide a combination of classroom experience and clinical practice that prepares students for nursing careers. Students complete coursework in nursing skills, pharmacology and anatomy. During their clinical experience, aspiring nurses plan and provide care for patients in healthcare facilities.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing

While ADNs generally take two years to complete, Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degrees are typically earned in four years. BSN degree programs offer extensive training, and graduates are prepared to take on more challenging roles. Common topics include patient health assessment, pathophysiology and adult health issues. BSN programs may require students to complete comprehensive clinical training for all types of patients, including patients in mental healthcare facilities.


After graduating from nursing school, aspiring nurses must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). Students looking to become practical nurses (PNs) take the NCLEX-PN, while students interested in becoming registered nurses (RNs) sit for the NCLEX-RN. Some states may have additional requirements for licensure; candidates may contact their state boards for more specific information. Once licensed, nurses must complete continuing education to maintain their skills and stay abreast of medical changes and advancements.

Career Advancement Requirements

Registered nurses with a BSN may enroll in 1-2 year master's degree programs to specialize as clinical nurse specialists, nurse anesthetists or other advanced nursing professionals. Courses may delve into topics in pediatrics, internal medicine and women's health. Upon completion of the program, an RN is required to pass a certification exam and obtain licensure from the state as a nurse practitioner.

In 2012, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that employment growth for RNs is expected to be 19% and for licensed PNs 25% between 2012-2022. An aging population and growing demand for preventive care are factors likely contributing to this projected growth. As of May 2012, the BLS states, the median annual salary for RNs was $65,470 and for PNs $41,540.

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