There are currently nearly 4 million nurses working within the health care industry of the United States. It is the largest health care profession in the country, and for good reason. Nurses make a difference. They are often the first point of contact for anyone seeking medical attention, and they tend to go above and beyond what is typically asked or required of them.

Even though it is the top health care profession, there is always a growing need for nurses. Thankfully, it’s one of the easiest careers to pursue. Nursing courses are offered almost everywhere, including online, and once you’ve completed your coursework you can enter the workforce quickly. Plus, you can choose your own specialty, depending on your interests or passion.

Nurses also have the opportunity to work almost anywhere in the world, and job security will always be there. But, if you’re already interested in pursuing a career in nursing, you likely already have your own reasons to make it your life’s work.

The better question is, how should you get started? What should you expect as you go through your undergraduate studies, and which career path should you take when it’s time to make that choice?

Getting the Education You Need

The amount of education and training you’ll need to become a nurse depends on what type of nurse you’d like to be. For example, to become a Registered Nurse (RN), you’ll need a minimum of an Associate’s Degree.

If you’re already an RN or if you want to pursue something higher, consider getting your BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) at a four-year university or institution. No matter what degree completion you go through, everyone entering the nursing field needs to complete the NCLEX. This is an exam that is required by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. You’ll need to apply to take the exam through the state in which you plan on working. A passing grade is required to become an RN, and the categories include:

  • Safe, effective care environment
  • Psychosocial integrity
  • Physiology integrity
  • Health promotion

Once you are an RN or have received your BSN, you can decide whether you’d like to choose a specialty or continue your education to become a nurse practitioner. Nurse practitioners must complete a Master of Science in Nursing program (MSN). On top of your previous education, the entire timeline can take anywhere from 6-8 years. If you haven’t yet started your educational journey toward becoming a nurse, it’s never too early. Some nursing programs are available online (at least partially). If you know nursing is your passion, you can begin to take courses early and gain experience that will help you once you find yourself in the workforce.

Facing the Realities of Nursing

No matter what level or area of nursing you decide to pursue, there are a few truths you’ll need to understand before you get started. Maybe you’ve been passionate about becoming a nurse since you were a child. Those passions and dreams don’t have to be “squashed,” but knowing as much as possible about the realities of nursing before you break into the field can help you determine if it’s really the right career for you.

First, it’s important to understand that you will always come second. That’s actually one of the reasons many people become nurses: to provide service to others. Doing so can help you to feel fulfilled and satisfied with your work. But, that doesn’t mean it will always be easy. Some potential “drawbacks” to keep in mind about a nursing career include:

  • You’re constantly on your feet, which can cause muscle aches and pains, or even lead to varicose veins.
  • If you work in a busy hospital, you may have irregular hours.
  • Nurses are at a high risk of experiencing workplace burnout.
  • It can sometimes be a “thankless job”.
  • Entry-level RNs only make an average of $41,000 per year.

Nursing can be a demanding profession, depending on where you work. But, most people stay in that profession for years because the rewards outweigh any of the disadvantages. It helps to have certain traits and characteristics to enjoy nursing as a long-term career. You have to enjoy working with different types of people every day and be willing to be a major component in a functional team.

How to Land a Great Nursing Job

Once you’ve completed your education and received your certification to become a nurse, the next step is to find the right job. Thankfully, due to the high demand for nurses across the country, your qualifications will often be enough for you to get hired quickly. Nurses are needed in a variety of settings, including:

  • Hospitals
  • Clinics
  • Nursing homes
  • Local government agencies

Think about the type of setting that would be a good fit for you before applying to different open positions. You may want to start somewhere small to gain experience, especially if you eventually want to continue your training toward a specialty.

Networking is just as important in the health care industry as it is in other business sectors. If you know anyone in the industry, don’t be afraid to reach out to them and market yourself to land a job. Many times, getting the job you want is about “who you know”, so use your connections wisely.

Finally, think about some of the most common questions you could be asked during a job interview. While it’s important to practice your answers for the interview itself, you can also gain more insight into what you really want to achieve out of your career. What are your goals? Why did you want to become a nurse? What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses? By understanding some of those things about yourself, you will have more direction in where you want to take your career.

Nursing is one of the oldest, most stable professions in the country, and it’s still seeing continuous growth. If you are pursuing a career in nursing, keep these ideas in mind to continue your forward progress, and know what to expect as you start your first job.

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