How to Become a Nurse

By Tess Campbell Modified on February 15, 2023
Tags : Academics | Careers | Health and Wellness

If you like working in a fast-paced environment and helping those around you, discover how a career as a nurse could be meant for you!

 How to Become a Nurse

Are you interested in helping people in need? Are you someone who exudes compassion and empathy? Does this sound like you? If so, and you want to make a difference in people’s lives, you should pursue a career in healthcare. Ever since Covid-19, you’ve seen how important healthcare professionals are in our society, and you could be a part of that! You should consider a career as a nurse!

But, what exactly would that mean? What does a career as a nurse look like? What would you do? What education would you need? Discover how you can become a nurse in Canada:

What is a nurse?

A registered nurse (RN) is a licensed medical professional who works in healthcare and provides direct care to patients. An RN is one of the main points of contact between a patient and a doctor, as RNs assist with all the basic care needs of a patient. Registered nurses typically work in hospitals, clinics, emergency rooms, nursing homes, and long-term care homes.

What do nurses do?

Registered nurses provide direct care to patients, collaborate with other medical professionals to develop a healthcare plan, administer medications, and advise patients and families on treatments and recovery. Some tasks you can expect to do in a typical day as an RN are:

  • Administer medications and treatments prescribed by doctors
  • Monitor, assess, address, document, and report symptoms and changes in patients' conditions
  • Provide basic care to patients with wounds, including cleaning and dressing the area
  • Assist in surgery and other medical procedures
  • Supervise licensed practical nurses / registered practical nurses

Check out what a day in the life of a registered nurse is like:

How to become a nurse in three steps:

Do you want to become a nurse? Well don’t worry, there’s only three steps involved to start your career as a nurse:

Step one: Education

The first step to becoming a nurse is to get the proper education — which means you’ll need a bachelor’s degree in nursing. There are other nursing programs that aren’t bachelor’s degrees — like diplomas or associate degrees — but in Canada registered nurses are required to have completed a four-year bachelor’s degree. You can choose to pursue your bachelor’s degree at either a college or a university, depending on your preference. You can choose schools with these programs like:

As part of a requirement for officially registering as a nurse, you’ll need to have experience practicing as a nurse. One of the easiest ways to get this is to enroll in a bachelor’s degree that also includes a clinical placement or practicum.

Step two: Take the national exam

All graduates of a nursing program are required to take and successfully complete the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). The NCLEX-RN tests the skills and knowledge you’d need as a nurse at the beginning of your career.

The NCLEX-RN exam is written in-person at any Pearson VUE test centre that offers the exam. The length of the test and the questions vary depending on each person’s progress. The exam is done through Computerized Adaptive Testing (CAT) which means based on your performance in previous questions, it’ll select the next question that you should have a 50% chance of solving it correctly. You could see a minimum number of 60 questions or a maximum number of 145, but it depends on how long it takes the algorithm to determine whether you’re consistently performing above, or below, the passing level.

You’ll have up to five hours to write the test, but you may finish earlier based on your answers. The test will end when you either pass the test after you’ve answered enough questions correctly to stay above the passing line with a 95% confidence interval, or you fail the test by not staying above the pass line with 95% confidence. For more details on how your test is scored, check out the CAT pass/fail rules.

Step three: Register with your provincial regulatory board

The last step you’ll need to become a nurse is to register with the regulatory board of the province you'd like to work in. You’ll need to do this in order to practice as a registered nurse. Each province’s regulatory board will have different requirements for applicants. Some common requirements you may see are:

  • submit proof of completion of a nursing program at an approved school of nursing
  • submit a criminal record check
  • evidence of practice / experience
  • successfully complete the jurisprudence exam (an open-book online exam that tests your knowledge and understanding of the laws, regulations, College by-laws, and practice standards and guidelines that govern the nursing profession in your province.)

To find out where you should register in each province and what requirements are needed, check out this list of provincial regulatory authorities.

What’s the difference between a registered nurse and a licensed practical nurse?

In your quest to become a nurse, you’ve probably come across these terms: registered nurse (RN), licensed practical nurse (LPN), and registered practical nurse (RPN). But, what do these titles mean, and are they different? LPNs and RPNs are the same job, but the term LPN is used across most of Canada except in Ontario where they prefer RPN. So, check out what makes RNs and LPNs different:

Registered nurse Licensed practical nurse
Education Registered nurses require a longer period of study. To become an RN, you need an undergraduate degree that typically takes four years to complete. RNs may also choose to specialize in specific fields of nursing — such as emergency, gerontology, and pediatrics — which may require additional education or certifications. Licensed practical nurses require a shorter period of study. LPNs usually complete a one-to-two-year college diploma program in nursing.
Job duties RNs are part of all aspects of a patient’s care. They perform diagnostic tests on patients, administer medication, coordinate with other healthcare professionals to create a treatment plan, instruct patients how to continue their treatment outside of healthcare settings, and supervise other workers such as LPNs, nursing aides, and home care aides. LPNs provide basic medical and nursing care such as checking vital signs of patients, helping patients bathe or get dressed, keep records of patient’s health, and report to RNs and doctors.
Work environment RNs commonly work in short-term care facilities like hospitals and clinics with a possible field of specialization. RNs may also work in education teaching students or in medical facilities conducting research.LPNs may also work in hospitals and clinics, but they commonly work in long-term facilities such as nursing homes, assisted living homes, or doctor’s offices, and schools.

Career prospects of nurses

There’s a demand for registered nurses in Canada as more positions are needed in healthcare and current nurses retire. That means that there are more positions open than there are job seekers. Take a look at the positions available by checking out the Canadian Government’s Job Bank for RN openings. Also, how much does a nurse make? Discover the low, average, and high salary expectations for registered nurses.

So, you’ve had a quick run-down of what a career as a registered nurse could look like and what it takes to become one. Will this be the career for you?

Learn more about a career as a registered nurse

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