How Long Does it Take to Become a Nurse?

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Lindsay Smith
Last updated at June 20, 2021

A career in nursing is one of the most satisfying careers you could pick. Of the 10,494 nurses surveyed in the Medscape Nurse Career Satisfaction Report 2020, 98% of RNs, and 99.5% report being satisfied with their jobs. So how long does it take to become a nurse?

Nurses get paid well and have several options when it comes to advancing their careers. In fact, nurses enjoy being some of the most liked professionals in the country, according to a Gallup poll in 2018.

If you’re considering becoming a nurse, it’s natural to want to understand how long you will need to attend school or university to get your education. 

But the process of figuring out what degree you should get, how long it will take, and how to get a license can get overwhelming quickly. The answer to the question “how long does it take to become a nurse?” depends on what degree you choose to get.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Nurse?

The amount of time it takes you to become a nurse depends on your short- and long-term career goals. It can take you as little as two years to become a registered nurse. However, if you want to work at a magnet-status medical care facility, you will need to earn your Bachelor’s degree in Science in Nursing, which takes four years.

The field of nursing is broad. There are dozens of specialties a nurse can work in. And getting hired in different specialties requires different qualifications and certificates. 

For this reason, the amount of time required to become a specialty nurse will vary according to the position. In addition, you may need to earn a master’s degree or a doctorate depending on your goal.

There are different levels of nursing, and there are many ways to go about becoming a nurse. I’ve broken down the different levels below to help you understand what education will do for your future as a nurse.

How Long Does it Take to Become an LPN?

It takes about 12-24 months to become an LPN. If you want to start your nursing career quickly, becoming a licensed practical nurse is a great option. 

While LPNs perform many of the same tasks as RNs, LPNs are not responsible for the more advanced duties such as creating care plans, and they usually report to a supervising RN or physician.

Diploma in Practical Nursing 

To become an LPN, getting a Practical Nursing Diploma (PN) is the right way to go. Earning a diploma in practical nursing can take up to two years for part-time students. However, if you join the right program, you may be able to get it in one year and become a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN).

You must bear in mind that regardless of what type of nurse you want to become, you will need to have graduated high school to enroll in a registered nursing program. However, if you haven’t graduated high school, you can get a GED before earning a diploma or degree and becoming an RN.

LPN programs prepare students to play key roles in medical care facilities by providing them with the classroom and hands-on skills they need. A Licensed Practical Nurse can get their BSN later on if they complete an LPN-BSN program. These programs take only three years to complete since the student’s credits from the LPN program count toward the BSN degree.

After completing the program and earning their diploma, students must pass the NCLEX-PN exam to earn their license and start working as nurses.

How Long Does it Take to Become an RN?

It takes two to four years to become a registered nurse. You can become an RN by earning an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).

Nurses with associate degrees and bachelor's degrees have broader scopes of practice than LPNs. Additionally, depending on your degree, your role may vary by location including hospitals, ambulatory care, and clinics.

Associate’s Degree in Nursing

Traditionally, an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN or ASN) program is a two-year-long college-level program

Earning an associate's degree makes you eligible to take the NCLEX-RN. It is administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, and passing it will get you your registered nurse (RN) license. 

However, getting an associate's degree in nursing is only the first step in your career. Most employers prefer giving nursing positions to nurses with a Bachelor of Science degree.

To advance your career and get hired in larger care facilities, you will need to complete your Bachelor of Science in Nursing. You can do this by attending a two-year-bridge RN-BSN program after earning this degree. The credits you earn by completing the degree program and becoming a registered nurse will count toward your Bachelor’s Degree, allowing you to earn it faster.

If you earned enough credits in your ADN program, you might be able to get your BSN in a year instead of two years.

If you decide to become an RN quickly by earning an associate’s degree, make sure you attend a degree program approved by your state’s board of nursing.

Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing

Earning a Bachelor’s Degree of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree is the best way of becoming a Registered Nurse (RN). BSN programs are typically four-year programs. They provide you with the education and training you need to work as an RN in any hospital in and outside the country.

If you’re in the mindset to learn the full professional scope of nursing, the BSN is the degree you must earn. Registered nurses with a BSN degree have the edge over candidates with a diploma or associate degree in nursing. The reason being that they get more job opportunities and earn better salaries.

Besides being a requirement to become an RN and work at a magnet-status hospital, a BSN is required to become eligible for specialized training and enroll in master's and doctorate programs.

It is worth noting that some nursing programs allow students to study part-time and complete most of the coursework online. However, these students must get the required practical experience at a medical care facility nearby to complete their education.

Direct-Entry Bachelor’s Degree Programs

It is important to note that if you have a bachelor’s degree in another field and want to change your career, you will earn your degree by enrolling in a Direct Entry Bachelor of Science in Nursing program. 

In these circumstances, you will not need to study for four years to complete your degree. Direct entry programs take about 18 months to complete. After 18 months of training, you will be eligible to take the NCLEX-RN exam and get your license.

Accelerated Bachelor’s Degree Programs

If you are already a registered nurse, you can earn your BSN by enrolling in an Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program. 

In these circumstances, you will not need to study for four years to complete your degree. Accelerated nursing programs only take 18 months to complete. After 18 months of training, you will be eligible to take the NCLEX-RN exam and get your license.

How Long Does it Take to Become an APRN?

Once you've gotten your BSN, it takes about 18 months to become an APRN. To do so you'll need a graduate-level degree, such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN).

Typically, graduate-level programs are specialized. They are not designed to prepare you for every graduate-level role such as a nurse anesthetist for example. Therefore, most general MSN degrees prepare nurses to work as nurse administrators, nurse managers, or other leadership roles.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Nurse Practitioner?

If you have your BSN, it only takes about 18 months to become a Nurse Practitioner.

The role of the nurse practitioner (NP) is in demand. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the profession is anticipated to grow an impressive 52% by 2029 – one of the fastest-growing in the nation.

As an APRN, you'll need a graduate-level degree with a focus on the nurse practitioner specialty. A direct-entry nurse practitioner program can take between 18 and 36 months to complete when attending full time. And a nurse practitioner bridge program can also take about 36 months depending on your choice of specialization.

Graduate Level Degrees

According to the BLS, registered nurses get paid well, earning a median annual salary of $75,330. If you want to specialize and cater to a specific patient population or help patients recover from a particular ailment, earning a master’s degree or a doctoral degree and getting relevant certifications is the right way to go.

Getting your graduate-level degree from the right school or university will enable you to get any nursing job you want. For example, you can specialize in health research or get trained to become a hospital administrator.

Having a graduate-level education will increase your earning potential. It will also allow you to start a career as a leader in the public health and sector if you choose.

Getting Financial Aid

Regardless of the type of nurse you want to become, you can get financial support for your nursing education. You can also get financial support to attend university even if you’re already working as a Registered Nurse (RN).

You can either apply for a grant or get a scholarship. Applying for both is a good idea if getting training is too burdensome financially.

Applying for a Grant

To get a grant, you must file FAFSA. If you (and your family, if you’re a dependent) showcase financial need, you will qualify to receive aid from the government. Applying for FAFSA also gives the school or university at which you intend to study insight into your financial background.

If deemed necessary by the school or university, it will grant you additional funding you need to become a registered nurse or a graduate. The pool of funds you may be granted aid from includes institutional grants and scholarships.

A student can potentially get two government grants, depending on their financial need. Some government grants you could receive include:

  • The Pell Grant: If you or your family has an annual income of $25,000 or below, you’re eligible to get The Pell Grant. It is awarded to thousands of students a year, and as long you maintain good academic standing, you will continue to receive aid till you earn your degree.
  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant: Applying to FAFSA also makes you eligible to receive aid from the FSEOG. The grant provides financial support to students that show an exceptional need for financial support.
  • State grants: While most states grant nursing students aid after filling out the FAFSA form, states like Texas and New York require students to fill out a separate application to qualify for a state grant.

You must also note that nursing organizations and universities also grant money to students that need financial aid. Therefore, inquiring at the university you want to study at is worth the time and effort, even if you’re an undergraduate student.

Applying for a Scholarship

Scholarships are different from grants. To get a federal grant to become a Registered Nurse (RN), the student must showcase financial need. In contrast, scholarships offered by private organizations, institutions, schools, and communities are often merit- or lifestyle-based. 

In other words, you could receive financial aid for being a mom going back to school or just for being a male nurse wanting to become an RN. You can search for scholarships that you’re eligible for online. 

Applying for both grants and scholarships is the best way to reduce the financial burden of attending university.

How to Find the Right Nursing Program

With qualified health care professionals being in high demand, you will likely find several nursing schools you can attend locally

Be sure the program you’re looking to enroll in is accredited by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. 

The organization has a searchable directory of programs you can filter to find the right program. You can find it on their website or access it here.

When looking for a nursing school, make sure you look at:

  • The accreditation of the nursing school;
  • Schedules of the class;
  • Classroom requirements;
  • Practical requirements;
  • Credit transfer policies; and
  • Future opportunities the school is offering.

Conclusion

The BLS estimates that there are about 3.1 million nurses working in the USA. Per the bureau’s report, the medical industry expects 221,900 additional nursing job openings by 2029. Another study forecasts a shortage of registered nurse workforce until 2030.

In other words, it couldn’t be a better time to become a nurse. 

Becoming a Registered Nurse (RN) takes persistence. However, the excellent compensation and experience of healing patients make attending nursing school and getting the education worth it.