Nurses are continually ranked as the most trusted profession according to annual Gallup polls. In addition, a Medscape survey shows that 94% of registered nurses are glad they chose a career in nursing.
Considering the critical role that nurses play in health care, this is likely no surprise. If you’ve been dreaming of a way to serve others and make a difference, then nursing might be the right career for you.
If you’re curious about nursing as a second career, then we can help. This guide will explore everything you need to transition into this rewarding field.
- Why to leave current career to become a nurse
- How to become a registered nurse
- Examples of where registered nurses can work
- How to leave your current job
Why to leave current career to become a nurse
Nursing provides an incredible variety of career options, from bedside nursing to research. Many nurses appreciate the ability to grow and explore different options as their careers advance.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurses earn an annual average salary of $82,750. Nurses with additional education, experience, and certifications can earn even more. The need for nurses is increasing, with an expected growth of 6% between 2021 and 2031.
Many nurses start their careers in other fields. These “second-degree nurses” add enormous value since they bring a wealth of experience from other disciplines. Employers appreciate the maturity these new nurses bring to the table.
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How to become a registered nurse
There are three main steps to becoming a registered nurse. Depending on your background and previous education, the process can take anywhere from 18 months to four years.
Obtain a nursing degree
You will need to look at Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) programs. You can expect to spend roughly four years to earn this degree.
If you already have a bachelor’s degree in a different field, then you may be eligible for an Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN). These intensive programs allow you to complete a nursing degree in 14 – 18 months.
You may be tempted by Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) programs, which can be completed more quickly than BSN programs. Many employers strongly prefer BSN-prepared nurses.
The US Army, US Navy, and US Air Force all require nurses to have a BSN, and the Veteran’s Administration (the largest employer of nurses in the US) requires nurses to have a BSN to advance beyond entry-level. Magnet hospitals, which are recognized for nursing excellence, have also moved to only hire nurses with BSN degrees.
Employment opportunities and earning potential are much higher for BSN-prepared nurses, so it’s worth taking the extra time to obtain your bachelor’s degree.
Curious about what you could earn as a nurse? Start by comparing nursing salaries in your preferred locations with our Nurse Salary Estimator.
Pass the NCLEX-RN
Once you’ve graduated from nursing school, it’s time to take your boards. The NCLEX-RN is an exam that assesses whether you have the knowledge to practice safely as a nurse.
When researching possible nursing schools, review their NCLEX pass rate. This will help you determine if the school provides enough instruction and preparation to successfully pass the exam.
When you’re ready, check out our resources to help you prepare for the NCLEX exam.
Apply for your nursing license
Once you have your BSN and have passed the NCLEX-RN, you’re in the home stretch! The last step is to apply for a nursing license in the state you want to work.
Many states participate in the Nurse Licensure Compact. This allows nurses to practice in multiple states with one license. This is very useful if you plan to work as a travel nurse, a remote nurse, or may move residences in the future.
Examples of where registered nurses can work
Registered nurses work in a variety of settings. One of the best things about this career path is the flexibility. It’s not uncommon for a nurse to start out in direct patient care and then switch to something new later on.
Some examples of specialties include:
Some nurses even work remotely from home!
How to leave your current job
If you’re considering a new career in nursing, it can be tricky to leave your current job. Thankfully, there are a number of steps you can take before ever breathing a word to your coworkers.
Before jumping into a new career, it’s important to make sure it’s a good fit. After all, you don’t want to spend thousands of dollars on a new degree before realizing you faint at the sight of blood.
If you’re interested in nursing as a second career, consider volunteering for different health organizations first. Not only does this look great on your resume, it can also give you a clue into the types of nursing work you enjoy most.
Some options even offer part-time work possibilities that can help pay your way through nursing school.
Volunteer and part-time work options include:
- Volunteer emergency medical services (EMS)
- 911 operator volunteer
- Nursing home volunteer
- Red Cross blood drive volunteer
- Local medical reserve corp
- Project Sunshine
- Ronald McDonald House
You can also search for local volunteer needs in your community.
Research and apply to nursing schools
It’s important to apply to the right nursing school that will help you achieve your career goals.
Research local and online nursing school options. Consider whether you prefer an in-person experience or if you prefer to attend classes online.
Some questions to ask the recruiters at your potential schools include:
- What scholarship or grant opportunities are available to students? Some schools partner with local hospitals where you receive a tuition discount in exchange for committing to work a certain number of years at the hospital. There are also many more outside grants and scholarships available for you to research.
- What is the NCLEX pass rate for graduates? This can help you understand how well-prepared their students are for licensure after graduation.
- Do you assist students with obtaining clinical placements? Clinical placements can be difficult to find, and it’s helpful to work with a school that will match you with a quality placement as you gain experience.
- What career resources are available for students before and after graduation? It’s helpful to attend a school that has a proven track record of helping its students find and apply for jobs.
Take prerequisite courses
If you are applying for a second-degree program, you will likely need to complete a few prerequisite courses depending on your first bachelor’s degree.
It’s important to research the requirements for the particular schools you’re interested in as they can differ greatly.
Some prerequisites must be completed within a certain time frame prior to application, so be sure to check the dates on your transcript.
Common prerequisite courses include:
- Anatomy & Physiology
These courses can often be completed through your local community college or an online school of your choice.
Once you have completed your prerequisites and been accepted to nursing school, it’s time to inform your current employer.
Make sure you leave on good terms. You might need to use your current employer as a reference for future job applications, so be professional and polite in your resignation letter and exit interview.
Are you interested in nursing as a second career? Incredible Health can help you every step of the way!
From preparing for the NCLEX to acing your first interview as a new graduate nurse, we’ve got you covered.
Create your free Incredible Health profile to get started today.
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- “AACN Fact Sheet – Impact of Education on Nursing Practice.” American Association of Colleges of Nursing. Accessed May 8, 2022.
- “Medscape Nurse Career Satisfaction Report 2021.” Medscape.com. Accessed April 7, 2022.
- “Nurses Continue to Rate Highest in Honesty, Ethics.” Gallup. Accessed May 8, 2022.
- “Salary report – registered nurses.” bls.gov. Accessed April 2, 2022.
- Volunteer Match. Volunteermatch.org. Accessed May 4, 2022.
- Photo by Vadzim Kushniarou on iStock