The Path to Becoming an Amazing RN: Step by Step from Nursing School to Landing your First Job

The Path to Becoming an Amazing RN: Step by Step from Nursing School to Landing your First Job

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So, you want to be a nurse but are unsure where to begin? Nursing is a respectable and reputable career path, yet getting there can seem daunting.

Here are some questions to ask yourself as you get started:

  • Are you a traditional student going into college after high school or a non-traditional student?

  • Do you have funds to pay for school or do you need scholarships?

  • Do you know what area of nursing you want to pursue?

  • Do you want a faster route or is the traditional 4-year program ok for your timeline?

Your answers to the questions above can guide you to the variety of options available to you.

What Makes Nursing So Great?


Nurses are known as the most trusted profession in healthcare. And, the number of pathways and job options available to nurses is limitless. You may start in one direction and decide it’s not for you- that’s ok- go try something new.


A typical schedule for a nurse is 36 hours per week, arranged as three 12-hour shifts. The beauty of this schedule is that you only work three days per week. The downside is that the 12-hour work days are LONG. If you work in ambulatory (or outpatient) settings, your schedule may look more like a typical Monday-Friday job. Some organizations even offer weekend plans.

Because healthcare organizations never close, nurses are needed to care for patients 24/7, hence the need for day and night shift positions. As with most things, there are pros and cons to each. To highlight a few differences:

  • Night shift comes with a shift differential, which means… more money for you

  • Night shift also usually has less administrative staff on the floor

  • Night shift can be hard on your body and sleep cycle

  • Dayshift provides many learning opportunities


Average nursing pay varies based on geographical location, credentials, the shift your are hired for, specialty, and more. Average salaries based on credentials:

Professional Development

Most healthcare organizations offer professional development opportunities for their nursing staff. Nurses are also required to complete continuing education (CE) credits each year to maintain their licensure. The amount of CEs required may vary by state and are offered as free and paid options from many organizations and publications.

As for career advancement, there are many options if you decide to pursue a graduate degree in the future. Depending on what route you choose, a degree option could be a Master's of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctorate in Nursing (DNP or Ph.D.). Nurses pursuing a graduate degree often seek roles in the following areas:

  • Nurse Practitioner (family, acute care, psychiatric, women’s health, pediatric, etc.)

  • Nurse Educator

  • Nurse Leader

  • Nurse Anesthetist

  • Nurse Administrator

Let’s Talk about Nursing School

There are a variety of nursing programs available to you; licensed practical nurse (LPN) and registered nurse (RN) programs are the most common. RN programs are categorized as either an Associate (ADN) or Bachelor’s degree (BSN).

LPN programs are often offered at trade or community colleges and can be completed in as little as 12 months. Though this would get you into the workforce quicker, LPNs have many limitations. As a result, many hospitals don't hire them and their average salary is significantly lower than that of an RN. LPN limitations include some of the following:

  • Administration of chemotherapy

  • Administration of some blood products

  • Initiation and/or titration of intravenous medicated drips

  • Take verbal orders

RN programs can be offered at community or larger colleges. ADN programs are completed in 24 months, whereas BSN programs are 4-year degree programs. Take note that some healthcare systems require BSN completion within 5 years of being hired, should you take the ADN route.

Key Points to Consider:

  1. Your ability to work while going to school depends on which program you choose. Many nursing students work part-time while in nursing school. In addition to in-person didactic coursework, you will also have clinical rotations. Remember that you’ll need plenty of time to study and complete assignments.

  2. Nursing school can make it difficult to balance responsibilities in your life, but it's certainly not impossible. Time management and organization is critical.

  3. Each nursing program will have its own dress code and uniform. Be sure to educate yourself on the specifics. For some of the best scrubs for clinicals, shop here or read this guide to the perfect set of scrubs !

  4. Prepare for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). The NCLEX is an exam created by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). All nursing school graduates must take and pass the NCLEX in order to become licensed. Many students invest in review courses, nurse tutors, and review books.

Landing Your First Nursing Job

As you think about that first nursing job, a good rule of thumb is to treat each clinical experience like a job interview. You never know what kind of impression you might make.

As you begin the application process, be sure to develop a crisp, professional resume. Some schools and/or organizations offer professional services to assist in resume development and interview coaching. These resources are especially helpful to those who haven’t had a lot of work experience before nursing school. In the meantime, review this guide to nursing interviews .

Final Words

Nursing is such a rewarding career to pursue. Part of why it is so rewarding is the amount of work and energy you put into becoming one. Nursing school is a hard major to pursue, but don’t let that scare you! Yes, it is hard and yes, it will require a lot of dedication and sacrifice, but you can do it! Nurses are a breed like no other; we are the largest and most trusted entity in healthcare for a reason.

So, what are you waiting for? Come join us!

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  1. The Complete Guide to Nursing Job Interviews

  2. A Guide to Perfect Set of Scrubs for Nurses

  3. Moxie Scrubs

  4. RN: Occupational Outlook Handbook

  5. LPN: Occupational Outlook Handbook

  6. NCLEX and other exams

About the Author:

Krystle Maynard is the creator of Innovative RN Solutions and has been a nurse for over a decade. She has specialized in medical-surgical and critical care nursing, in addition to having a long-standing history of being an adjunct faculty member for a college of nursing. Innovative Nurse Solutions focuses on healthcare content writing (such as blogs, E-books, emails, academic coursework, and educational content for healthcare personnel and patients). Krystle also offers tutoring and mentor services for undergraduate and graduate nurses. She lives in Kentucky with her husband and children, and her two favorite hobbies are traveling to various destinations (mainly beaches) and concerts. If you would like to connect, you can reach her on Linked In or visit her website at Innovative RN Solutions.

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