Nursing FAQs

What it takes to become a registered nurse and how to get your BSN.

What does a nurse do?

Nurses work as part of the health care team to provide individualized care to patients. They develop and manage care plans, instruct patients and their families on proper care, help patients cope with illness, aid in disease prevention and promote healthy living.

They provide support from basic triage to emergency surgery. The field has a wide range of career opportunities, ranging from entry-level practitioner to doctoral-level researcher.

What settings do nurses work in?

Nurses can work in a wide range of settings, including hospitals, doctors’ offices, clinics, retirement homes and hospice facilities. They may also work in private homes, schools, occupational health settings and camps. Nurses can choose to work internationally, conduct research or act as consultants.

What type of degree do I need to become a nurse?

You can become a nurse by obtaining either a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN). A BSN is a four-year degree obtained at a college or university, while an ADN may be obtained through a community or technical college. Two-year institutions require completion of prerequisite coursework prior to entry into the nursing program.

To become a registered nurse (RN), graduates must pass the NCLEX to become licensed through the State Board of Nursing. There is currently a large push to move ANDs to receive their BS degree.

How competitive is nursing school?

Nursing school is very competitive. For example, in the 2018 application cycle, OHSU received approximately 1,795 applications and accepted 428 students (~ 24%); the average prerequisite GPA of these students was 3.85. Many private nursing schools, such as Linfield College and the University of Portland, receive similar numbers of applications. The importance of exceptional grades and well-rounded work, volunteer or extracurricular experiences cannot be overemphasized.

Schools in the Midwest and eastern United States are more plentiful, and therefore see somewhat lower average GPAs and less competition for seats.

  • Students must have a strong overall GPA.
  • At least a 3.5 in prerequisites with no grade lower than a “B” in all courses.
  • Well-rounded work, volunteer and/or extracurricular experience, including community service and health care-related experience.
  • Strong team-work approach
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Compassion and attention to details

Do I need experience or to complete a certified nursing assistant (CNA) program before applying to nursing schools?

Having medical experience, volunteer or paid, will strengthen your application. Nursing schools value applicants who have a clear idea of what it means to be a nurse and why the career is a good fit for them. It’s important to check with every school you want to apply to about their CNA requirement.

Some schools require that you have a CNA completed before you enter and some do not. (more likely required with ADN than BSN programs). Completing a CAN program may help you gain valuable medical related experience.

Where can I get my certified nursing assistant (CNA)?

See: Oregon State Board of Nursing's Apply for Nursing Assistant (CNA) Certification.

How long does it take to complete a nursing degree?

BSN programs will take you a minimum of four years to complete, while an ADN typically takes three years to complete, including general education and nursing coursework. Accelerated and direct-entry master’s nursing programs’ completion timelines vary but are typically 15-16 months.

What is the difference between a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)?

A BSN is granted by a college or university. Six Oregon universities offer the BSN. These programs usually require about two years of prerequisite course work prior to admission. Some also require satisfactory scores on nursing school preadmission tests.

An Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) is granted by a two-year college. In Oregon, 17 community colleges offer associate programs. These programs require some coursework prior to admission and some require satisfactory scores on nursing school pre-admission tests. An ADN usually takes about three years of general education and nursing courses.

Why seek a BSN degree?

Although graduates of associate degree programs are qualified to provide direct patient care, a BSN opens doors to more nursing positions and ultimately more career options and earning potential. Many job postings for nursing positions now list the BSN as a preference, if not a requirement.

Additionally, organizations such as the American Nurses Association are now recognizing the BSN as the minimum educational requirement for professional nursing. Many hospitals are requiring ADNs to go back to school to earn their BS or BA degree.

A BSN is a prerequisite to most advanced practice nursing programs. To become a nurse practitioner, a nurse anesthetist or most other types of advanced practice nurse, a master’s degree is ultimately required.

Students who complete a bachelor’s degree in any major are eligible to apply not only to traditional nursing school transfer programs; they may also pursue accelerated BSN programs or direct-entry Master’s Degree in Nursing programs. These programs are designed specifically for students who already have a bachelor’s degree in any major. The Accelerated BSN is typically 18 months long, and the direct-entry MSN programs are at least two or three years depending on the focus of the program.

How long does it take to get a BSN degree? MSN/NP? ADN?

A BSN degree takes a minimum of four years. Most nursing schools operate on what is called a 2+2 program: two years are usually spent in a pre-nursing program taking prerequisite courses, and two more years are spent in the nursing program. OHSU and its partner universities in the Oregon Consortium for Nursing Education (OCNE) offer a 1+3 program, where students complete at least 45 credits of prerequisites and then three years in the nursing program. However, many students take longer than one year to complete the OHSU prerequisites for a variety of reasons (see below).

Many students are now completing a four-year bachelor’s degree in another major first before applying to an Accelerated BSN (or ABS) program or a Direct-entry Master’s Degree in Nursing program. These programs are designed specifically for students who already have a bachelor’s degree in any major.

ABSN programs are typically 18 months; DE-MSN programs vary but average 18 months of full-time study to three years for an MSN/NP degree. An ADN is a two-year program.

How does an Accelerated BSN work?

These students already have or will have a bachelor’s degree in any major from an accredited institution with a major other than nursing. They focus solely on the nursing courses/clinical work required to get a BSN. These programs will prepare the graduate for R.N. licensure and will also give interested students the necessary credentials to pursue a graduate degree in nursing.

At the completion of the Bachelor of Science Nursing curriculum, students would earn a second B.S. degree and be eligible for professional registered nurse licensing examinations. Typically, these programs often start in summer term. Currently there are two Accelerated BSN programs in Oregon – Linfield and OHSU (Portland and Ashland campus).

How do Direct-Entry MSN programs work?

They work much like the ABSN in that the emphasis in the first 15-16 months is to complete the same clinical and nursing education. Students will also take nursing boards (NCLEX-RN). Programs vary at this point, some requiring students to be working in a clinical setting while taking courses for the MSN specializations (nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist, pediatric nurse, nurse midwife, etc.). Some programs at this level are online. Other programs have students continue straight through the academics and enter the work force after completing the entire program. Most all programs require a minimum of two years.

What is the average salary of a nurse?

There is a nationwide shortage of nurses. The median annual wage for registered nurses was $73,300 ($35.24 p/hr) in May 2019. In some parts of the country, the starting salary may be even higher. Because of the acute nursing shortage, many employers are paying signing bonuses to new nurses or paying down a portion of the new nurse’s nursing school loans. Travel nurses can often earn a significantly higher salary. See more.

What is the projected job outlook for nurses?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of registered nurses is projected to grow 12 percent from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations. Growth will occur for a number of reasons. See more.

Where can I get more information about becoming a nurse?