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How to Become a Staff Nurse

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If you’re interested in medicine and enjoy helping people, becoming a staff nurse may be an ideal career for you. A staff nurse works in healthcare settings like hospitals, medical clinics, nursing homes and community health facilities. There are several degree options that will prepare you to become a staff nurse. Expect to spend 18 months to four years in a nursing program, depending upon the type of degree that you’re pursuing.

Prepare in High School

Since nursing programs are rooted in the hard sciences, it’s important to begin in high school by taking as many math and science courses as possible. These classes will give you the academic foundation to be successful in nursing school. You should also volunteer in a hospital or medical clinic to gain more insight into nursing qualifications and skills. Interview or shadow a nurse to learn more about what it takes to become successful in this medical career.

Learn About the Qualification Needed for a Staff Nurse

Research the nursing programs that are available to learn more about nursing qualifications and skills. Each nursing program provides a different scope of practice and involves varying time spent in school. Even if you start with a basic nursing degree, you can continue your education at any time to accelerate your career opportunities. Here’s a glimpse into some of the various nursing degree options:

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

You can complete an LPN program in 12 to 18 months. You’ll learn about basic patient care, administering medication, taking vital signs and record-keeping. After becoming an LPN, you can enter an LPN-to-BSN program to expand your knowledge and increase career opportunities.

Registered Nurse with an associate degree in Nursing (ADN)

You can earn an ADN in two years. This nursing degree will give you practical experience and help you determine if you want to go on to earn your bachelor’s degree of science in nursing (BSN). An ADN will allow you to engage in patient care and education, administer medication, perform certain tests and procedures and monitor patient progress. You can go on to earn your BSN with an additional two years of schooling.

Bachelor's Degree of Science in Nursing (BSN)

A BSN requires four years of education and will give you a competitive edge in the job market. A bachelor's degree of science in nursing will put you at the top of the list for open nursing positions. You can also specialize in specific fields of nursing with a BSN. In addition to securing your job of choice, a BSN affords higher pay and greater opportunity for advancement.

Consider the Steps to Becoming a Nurse After High School

Once you’ve graduated from high school, you’ll need to complete a college degree in nursing. Most nursing programs combine classroom learning with practical experience. Expect to take classes like pharmacology, pathology, human physiology, patient assessment and nursing practice. You’ll also engage in clinical rotations that will expose you to various medical specialties like maternity, pediatrics, surgery, family practice and mental health. After you’ve satisfied your degree requirements, you’ll need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCEX-RN).

Become Licensed as a Nurse

After you’ve satisfied your degree requirements, you’ll need to pass a certification test. Each type of nursing has a different certification path. Here are a few examples:

Licensed Practical Nurse – the National Council Licensure Examination-PN

Registered Nurse – the National Council Licensure Examination NCEX-RN

If you gain an additional specialization, you will need to pass other examinations to become credentialed.

Look at the Nursing Qualifications and Skills

A staff nurse is a unique career that requires extensive knowledge with interpersonal helping skills. In addition to meeting the degree qualification listed for a staff nurse, consider the other traits that will help you become successful in this career field.

Problem-Solving: As a nurse, you’ll need to be able to handle a crisis at a moment’s notice. The ability to think on your feet and make quick decisions can be the difference between life and death for a patient. A calm and measured approach is among the essential nursing qualifications and skills.

Communication and Conflict Resolution: Since a staff nurse is responsible for learning about the needs of patients and providing education about medication and treatment, effective communication skills are paramount. You’ll also be faced with challenging situations that involve conflict resolution skills.

Detail-Oriented: It’s critical to be able to track the details that are associated with patient care. For example, you must be certain that you have the right dose, the right medication and the right patient every time that you administer a drug. Physicians rely on accurate information in a chart and detailed medical history when making a diagnosis.

Caring Approach: An empathic approach will ensure that patients feel comfortable with you as a medical provider. Your people skills can make the difference in building a trusting and open relationship with patients that need help.

Think About a Nursing Specialization

Once you’ve become a staff nurse, you may be interested in furthering your career by specializing in a particular area of medicine. You may be able to take a staff nurse course that gives you additional education about a particular specialty or some medical clinics will provide on-the-job training. Certain specialties may even require a graduate degree. Here is a list of a few of the nursing specialties that are available:

  • Clinical Nurse
  • Pediatric Nurse
  • Dialysis Nurse
  • Nurse Midwife
  • Substance Abuse Nurse
  • Community Health Nurse
  • Neonatal Nurse
  • Transplant Nurse
  • Surgical Nurse
  • Nurse Anesthetist
  • Ambulatory Care Nurse
  • Psychiatric Nurse
  • Travel Nurse
  • Geriatric Nurse
  • Trauma Nurse
  • Cardiac Care Nurse
  • Oncology Nurse
  • Case Management Nurse
  • Intensive Care Nurse
  • Diabetes Nurse
  • Legal Nurse Consultant

Be Ready to Multi-Task as a Staff Nurse

Expect to shoulder a great deal of responsibility as a staff nurse. You’ll need to be able to handle several patients simultaneously, communicate with physicians, schedule tests and manage paperwork. Since patient safety is paramount, be ready to hone your ability to focus and prioritize the tasks that are most important.

Review the Job Responsibilities

The job of a staff nurse is varied and delivers new challenges every day. Even though you’ll gain competencies and practical skills while in school, you’ll learn a great deal on the job. Take a look at this list of common duties of a staff nurse:

  • Assess patients and conduct intake interviews
  • Provide education about treatments and medications
  • Follow established protocol and policies of the medical facility
  • Perform medical treatments that are ordered by the physician
  • Document all findings and appropriate interventions
  • Adhere to patient confidentiality protocols
  • Work as a team with other medical staff
  • Engage in problem-solving and crisis management
  • Manage and inventory nursing supplies

Engage in Continuing Education

Each state has different requirements related to maintaining your licensure as a nurse. Expect to demonstrate the fulfillment of 20 to 30 hours of continuing education every two years in continuing education courses. You can choose from a menu of varying continuing education topics like: Hand hygiene and skin antisepsis, pain management, substance abuse, burnout, time management, healthcare fatigue and transformational leadership. You may be able to complete some of these credits online.

Expect a Wide Variety of Job Opportunities

You may be surprised at the types of organizations that engage in staff nurse recruitment. In addition to general medical clinics, hospitals and nursing homes, you’ll find an endless supply of job openings in this career field. Schools, cruise ships, corporations, prisons and summer camps all have a need for staff nurses. You can even work from home as an online nurse or serve as a researcher for a pharmaceutical company.

You’ll be Rewarded for Your Credentials

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for RNs was $71, 730 in 2018. Pay varies by state and facility. A nurse anesthetist and nurse practitioner are among the most highly paid in the nursing field. States that reported the most lucrative salaries for nurses include California, Nevada, Alaska, Oregon and Massachusetts.

Be Ready for a Varied Work Schedule

Once you’ve met the nursing qualification and skills, you can go after the job that’s the best fit for your life situation. Nurses work around the clock in some settings, so you’ll have lots of options. Some nursing positions are configured as four, ten-hour days and others may even allow you to work a few days per month. Seniority in a medical facility will give you the best advantage when selecting an optimal work schedule.

Enjoy a Wide Open Job Market

There’s a high need for nurses in the job market. A large percentage of the population is growing older and this leads to a greater need for nursing positions in hospitals, rehabilitation centers and nursing homes. You can expect a 15 percent growth in nursing jobs between now and 2026. Research the nursing statistics in your state to learn more about the potential job openings for nurses.

Go the Extra Mile on Your Job Search

In addition to applying for listed jobs, you can take a creative approach to your job search. Don’t hesitate to set up meetings with prospective employers to make new connections. Volunteering while in school is a great way to make a lasting impression on a prospective employer. You can also join a local nursing association to meet other professionals in the field. If you’re willing to relocate, look at the states that have a nursing shortage. Here’s a list:

  • California
  • Texas
  • New York
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Illinois
  • Ohio
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Pennsylvania
  • North Carolina
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan

Join the Military as a Staff Nurse

The military is an instant way to put your nursing education and skills to use. You can work in emergency care nursing, family medicine, internal medicine or public health nursing. If you have student loans, you may be eligible for repayment assistance in exchange for your service. Some nurses choose to work abroad and others may serve in the reserves so that they can stay close to home. If you’re selected for a military nursing position, you’ll have to complete a commissioned officer course prior to practicing. While in the military, you’ll have the opportunity to complete other certifications and specializations.

Consider other Career Paths

Once you’ve established your role as a nurse, you can leverage your experience and try other related medical careers. In addition to the opportunity to specialize in other nursing fields, you can also choose to teach or do medical research. Some nurses go back to school to get a master’s or doctorate and use these credentials to secure a job teaching in a college nursing program. You may also be able to work as a researcher in a university or medical company to discover other advances in the medical field.


Dr. Kelly Meier has a doctorate in Educational Leadership and has 30+ years of experience in higher education. She is the author and co-author of 15 books and serves as a consultant in K-12 and higher education with Kinect Education Group. She is the co-owner of a small business and a regular contributor for The Equity Network. She has numerous publications published by Talico, Inc., DynaTEAM Consulting, Inc. and Kinect Education Group.

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