How to Become an RN Fast [2024 Nursing Guide]

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If you’re wondering how to become an RN fast, there are several types of educational programs available that can help you begin your career quickly.

How to Become an RN Fast

Earning a four-year degree can provide you with an in-depth educational experience. But there are other educational programs that can provide you with foundational knowledge and skills essential for becoming a qualified RN in less time.

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Each educational program has its own perks, so weighing out your options can help you pick the program that best supports your interests and goals.

How to Become an RN Fast

There are five main options available to become an RN quickly. You can earn a diploma or college degree from an educational program approved by your state’s board of nursing. Your level of work experience in healthcare and education can influence how fast you can become an RN.

Select the program that most interests you to jump to that section of the guide:

Exploring your options may help you determine which academic path is right for you.

Registered Nurse (RN) Diploma

Students getting Registered Nurse Diploma

An RN diploma is one of the fastest RN program options available. RN diplomas usually take 2 years to 3 years to complete, but some take less time with full-time study. The program can help you become eligible to sit for the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN).

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Registered nurses are required to successfully complete the NCLEX-RN to become licensed. RN diplomas may be offered by community colleges and career colleges. Some hospitals offer a 12-month RN program. Some states require RNs with a diploma to pursue a college degree within a certain amount of time after receiving licensure.

Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)

Students taking Associate Degree in Nursing

RN diploma programs may not be as readily available as a degree program. If you’re looking for an alternative to a diploma, there are fast nursing programs available as associate degrees.

Looking into associate degree in nursing (ADN) programs can also be helpful if you’re wondering how to become an RN online. ADN programs may be offered fully online or in person, and they provide coursework essential for preparing you to sit for the NCLEX-RN.

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An ADN usually takes no more than 2 years to complete with full-time study. Some programs offer accelerated semester schedules that can be completed in less time.

Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN)

Students pursuing Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing

An ABSN is a fast track RN program that can be completed in 18 months or less. An ABSN may be the quickest way to become an RN if you already have a bachelor’s degree in a different field.

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Some of the credits you’ve already earned during your previous degree program may be transferable to an Accelerated BSN program. This would allow you to complete it in less time than a traditional four-year degree. General education credits may be transferred, so you may only have to take major nursing courses to complete the accelerated degree.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

students taking Bachelor of Science in Nursing

A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is a traditional, four-year nursing program that provides in-depth coverage of nursing subjects. Common topics include patient care, public health, care for adults and children, and psychiatrics.

A BSN program includes general education and major nursing courses. Some major coursework usually offered at this degree level include pharmacology, clinical management, health assessment, and population health nursing. Specializations in a specific area of nursing may be offered.

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While a BSN isn’t the fastest RN program available, it’s a higher degree that might help make you a more competitive job candidate and open up more opportunities. A BSN may also help you qualify for a higher salary.

Registered Nurse (RN) Bridge Programs

licensed practical nurses attending RN bridge program

If you’re not an RN yet but currently work as a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or similar role, you may be able to enroll in an entry-level RN bridge program.

Nursing bridge programs allow professionals who have experience as a nurse or healthcare professional to become an RN in less time than it would take to complete a traditional degree program. The length of an RN bridge program can vary depending on your current qualifications, but they typically take 18 months or less to complete.

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At the entry level, bridge programs may be available to currently practicing licensed practical nurses (LPNs), certified nursing assistants (CNAs), medical assistants, or paramedics.

How to Choose the Fastest Nursing Program Online

Friends checking on fastest nursing program online

If you want to become an RN fast, it’s strategic to consider all your options to figure out the best educational route you can take.

Here are some things you can consider to help you determine what path could benefit you most:

  • Current education level
  • Work experience
  • Career goals
  • Education costs and time

RN diploma and ADN programs are the two fastest RN program options available that don’t require any prior college education or healthcare work experience.

If you already have a bachelor’s degree, an ABSN might be a good option. The college credits you’ve previously earned may allow you to earn a BSN faster and cheaper compared to a traditional four-year program. Work experience and education can also be relevant to RN bridge programs if you’re already working as a healthcare professional.

If you have the time to complete a four-year degree program and want a more immersive education experience, a traditional BSN might be more appealing.

Nursing Licensure and Certifications

Licensed nurse working in the hospital

To become a registered nurse, every professional must take and pass the NCLEX-RN. You will also submit an application to the board of nursing in the state you intend on working in.

Other requirements to become a licensed RN include earning a diploma or degree from an approved nursing school and completing supervised nursing care hours. Some states require candidates to pass a criminal background check as well.

Certifications for RNs are also available if you’re interested in becoming certified in a certain area, such as pediatrics or gerontology. If becoming a psychiatric nurse practitioner online interests you, a number of universities offer the shortest online PMHNP certificate programs.

What Does a Registered Nurse Do?

Registered nurse assessing a patient's condition

Registered nurses work closely with physicians and other healthcare professionals to provide care and treatment options for patients.

RNs may work in hospitals, physician’s offices, nursing care facilities, outpatient clinics, and other types of healthcare facilities. Some common responsibilities for an RN include:

  • Assessing health conditions of patients and recording observations
  • Administering medications prescribed by a physician to patients
  • Educating patients, families, and the public about health conditions
  • Performing diagnostic tests and consulting with doctors

RNs possess skills in critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, organization, attention to detail, and emotional stability.

Is Becoming a Nurse Hard?

Nurse doing vaccination

No matter which path you choose to become an RN, each route takes work. RN diploma and degree programs all cover foundational topics required to understand the practice of nursing. Some of these topics from accelerated nursing online programs include anatomy and physiology, adult care, women and child care, biology, epidemiology, and ethics in healthcare.

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Depending on where one works, an RN may be assigned long shifts and spend most of their time on their feet. Responsibilities can vary depending on the facility, but RNs work closely with physicians to provide patient care, perform tests, and educate patients on their health and treatment plans.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Nurse?

Nurse recording observations on elderly patient

These are some examples of how long it can take to become a nurse depending on the nursing level and degree path:

  • Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN) or Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) — 1 year
  • Registered Nurse (RN) — 1 to 3 years
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) — 3 to 4 years

There are multiple levels of nursing, so the time it takes to become a nurse can depend on the type of nurse you want to become and the educational program you enroll in.

What Is the Fastest Way to Become an RN?

RN taking notes of patient's condition

The fastest way to become an RN can depend on your current level of education and work experience. If you don’t have a college degree, enrolling in an RN diploma or an associate degree in nursing (ADN) program is the fastest way to become an RN.

If you have a non-nursing bachelor’s degree, an Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) might be the quickest option. RN bridge programs might be faster than a diploma or ADN depending on your job title, work experience, and education level. If you start from scratch by enrolling in a four-year BSN program, this route tends to take the longest.

What’s the Difference Between an LPN vs. RN?

Although both types of nurses may perform some of the same responsibilities, a licensed practical nurse and a registered nurse have several differences.

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) Registered Nurse (RN)
  • Requires a passing score on the NCLEX-PN
  • Works under the supervision of RNs
  • Responsibilities may be limited
  • Requires a passing score on the NCLEX-RN
  • Works under the supervision of doctors
  • Authorized to perform a wider range of responsibilities

LPN programs usually take less time to complete than RN programs. RNs typically have a greater range of responsibilities, which may include overseeing LPNs.

Becoming a Registered Nurse Fast Online

student pursuing RN diploma online

Registered nurses are required to become licensed by completing a state board-approved nursing program and passing the NCLEX-RN.

RN diploma and degree programs can provide you with the knowledge and skills needed to pass the exam and perform daily RN responsibilities. Depending on the program and your current education and work experience, you may be able to become an RN in 2 years or less with fast online degrees.

You can take the first steps toward beginning your RN career by researching accredited online RN programs that are approved by your state’s board of nursing. The sooner you start exploring accredited schools, the sooner you may find the program that best supports your goals.

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Amy holds a Bachelor of Arts in History from Old Dominion University, with a minor in English. She previously worked as an educator before starting her career as a writer. Amy spends much of her time researching and writing, with the goal of sharing valuable information with readers.