8 Jul 2021

How to Start Your Career in Nursing

Post by Jordan Toplen

Training to become a nurse is hard work, but it will lead to a rewarding career in one of the most trusted and respected industries. Some of the top pros of a nursing career including great earning potential, flexible work schedules, and the chance to help others and save lives.

Planning the journey to becoming a nurse may seem daunting, but the process might be easier than you think. Outlined below are the steps you should take to start your career in nursing: 

Find the right nursing degree program 

You must complete an accredited degree program to become a nurse. There is a massive choice of nursing programs available, and you will need to explore the different options and pick your preferred degree type and method of study. 

Most aspiring nurses choose to complete a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN). This is considered the gold standard in nursing education, and many healthcare employers now require this qualification for entry-level nursing positions. Typically, a full-time bachelor’s degree takes four years to complete.

You need to consider several factors when you are choosing a nursing degree program. This should include tuition fees, the reputation of the school, method of study, placements, location, and so on. 

Consider enrolling in an online course 

Online nursing courses are an accessible option for students who are working or have other commitments preventing them from attending tractional brick-and-mortar programs. Online courses offer the ultimate flexibility. You can work while you study and make your degree fit your lifestyle. 

You may also have the opportunity to complete an accelerated program and earn your nursing qualification faster. Elmhurst University explains how online ABSN programs allow applicants with a prior degree to utilize their existing education and experience and earn a BSN degree in just 16 months. 

Build hands-on nursing experience 

Building hands-on experience is one of the best ways to learn about nursing careers and get first-hand experience in the industry. Ideally, you should gain some healthcare experience before you enroll in a nursing program. This will help you determine that a nursing career is right for you and help you choose which area of nursing you prefer. 

Remember that most nursing schools expect applicants to have relevant nursing experience and give preference to those that do. Having a varied list of work experience on your application will put you at an advantage when you apply to nursing school and help you secure a place at a top nursing school. 

Luckily, there are plenty of ways to gain relevant experience before you attending nursing school. Global Pre-Meds advise that you can get pre-nursing work experience by shadowing a nurse, volunteering in a healthcare setting, or finding employment in the medical field. 

Sit the NCLEX exam

All graduate nurses must complete the NCLEX exam before they are eligible to apply for a license to practice. All states require future nurses to pass the NCLEX exam before they receive licensure. Approximately 89.11% of candidates passed the NCLEX exam in 2019. You can sit the test three times a year. 

You can prepare for the NCLEX exam by completing practice questions and downloading past papers. There is also lots of useful information and advice about the NCLEX exam available online. 

Apply for a nursing license

You can apply for a nursing license once you have passed the NCLEX exam. The criteria for a nursing license vary between states, e.g., some states require nurses to complete a criminal background check. Visit the state board of nursing website to start the licensure process.

Apply for entry-level positions

Once you have been granted a license, you can start applying for entry-level nursing positions. Most graduate nurses look for employment in hospitals, doctor’s surgeries, private clinics, and care homes, although you can find nursing positions in a wide range of settings. 

Take the time to write a compelling resume that will impress hiring managers and make you stand out from your peers. You can also leverage professional connections to help you land your first nursing job. 

Become a specialist nurse

Many registered nurses decide to specialize in a particular area of nursing once they have built some hands-on experience. Nurses who specialize have the chance to focus on the area of nursing that they are most passionate about. Specialist nurses also have greater responsibilities and higher earning potential when compared to general nurses. 

According to workingnurse.com: “97% of specialized nurses feel more confident in their clinical abilities, and 90% of nurses believe that specializing enhanced credibility.” There are more than 90 nursing specialties to choose from, and you should be selective and pick an area that is suited to your skills, interests, and passions. 

Take care of your health and wellbeing 

Nursing is a rewarding career, but it is also challenging. Stress and burnout affect between 10% and 70% of nurses, according to registerednursing.org. The job can take a toll on your mental and physical health, and you must learn to manage work-related stress. Make your health and wellbeing a priority and take good care of your mind and body. 

Here are some tips to help you stay healthy while working as a nurse:

  • Try to switch off at the end of the working day and avoid bringing work home with you.
  • Spending quality time with family and pursue your hobbies and interests outside of work.
  • Exercise several times a week to stay fit and fight feelings of stress. 
  • Bring healthy meals and snacks to work with you and avoid eating junk food. 
  • Try relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga, and deep breathing exercises. 
  • Speak to your manager if you are struggling with your workload and see what support they can offer. 


There is a huge demand for skilled nurses, and there has never been a better time to join the nursing field. Training to become a nurse isn’t easy, but you will be rewarded with a competitive salary, enviable career prospects, and the chance to do meaningful work. Follow these steps to start your career in nursing

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