How to Become a Registered Nurse in California in 5 Steps

How to Become a Registered Nurse in California in 5 Steps


California, known for its stunning landscapes, diverse culture, and thriving economy, is also home to a vast and complex healthcare system. As the most populous state in the United States, the demand for skilled healthcare professionals, particularly registered nurses (RNs), is consistently high. For those considering a career in nursing, becoming a registered nurse in California can be both personally and professionally rewarding, providing ample opportunities for growth and a chance to make a meaningful impact on the lives of others.

In this article, we will outline the six essential steps to becoming a registered nurse in California. From understanding the educational requirements to navigating the licensure process, we aim to provide a comprehensive guide for aspiring nurses who wish to embark on this fulfilling career path in the Golden State.

By following the steps outlined in this guide, you will be well-equipped to tackle the challenges and embrace the opportunities that await you in the world of nursing. So, let’s begin our journey towards becoming a registered nurse in California, and take the first step towards a career that combines passion, purpose, and the potential for personal and professional growth.

What is a Registered Nurse?

A registered nurse (RN) is a healthcare professional who has completed a nursing program, obtained a nursing degree, and passed a national licensing examination called the NCLEX-RN (National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses). Registered nurses play a vital role in the healthcare system, providing care to patients in various settings such as hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and community health centers.

What do Registered Nurses do?

Registered nurses (RNs) perform various tasks in providing care to patients and supporting their overall well-being. Some of their primary responsibilities include:

  1. Assessing patients’ health conditions: RNs collect medical histories, evaluate patients’ symptoms, and monitor vital signs to develop individualized care plans.
  2. Administering medications and treatments: RNs administer medications, perform medical procedures, and provide treatments as prescribed by physicians or advanced practice nurses.
  3. Patient education: RNs educate patients and their families about their medical conditions, treatment plans, and necessary self-care to promote health and prevent complications.
  4. Care coordination: RNs collaborate with other healthcare professionals, such as physicians, therapists, and social workers, to ensure patients receive comprehensive and well-coordinated care.
  5. Monitoring and documenting patient progress: RNs are responsible for continuously monitoring patients’ conditions, evaluating the effectiveness of care, and documenting their progress.
  6. Advocacy: RNs act as patient advocates, ensuring that patients’ needs and preferences are respected and incorporated into their care plans.
  7. Emotional support: RNs provide emotional support and counseling to patients and their families, helping them cope with the challenges of illness, recovery, and lifestyle changes.
  8. Infection control and prevention: RNs are responsible for implementing and maintaining infection control measures to protect patients, staff, and themselves from potential infections.

Where do Registered Nurses work?

Registered nurses work in a variety of healthcare settings, depending on their interests, skills, and specializations. Some common work environments include:

  1. Hospitals: RNs work in various departments within hospitals, such as emergency rooms, intensive care units, medical-surgical units, maternity wards, and operating rooms.
  2. Clinics and outpatient facilities: Registered nurses provide care to patients in various types of clinics, including primary care, specialty care, urgent care, and ambulatory surgical centers.
  3. Nursing homes and long-term care facilities: RNs care for elderly patients and those with chronic illnesses or disabilities in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and other long-term care settings.
  4. Home healthcare: Registered nurses provide care to patients in their homes, helping them manage chronic conditions, recover from illnesses or surgeries, and maintain their independence.
  5. Community health centers: RNs work in community health centers, providing primary care services, health education, and preventive care to diverse populations.
  6. Schools and educational institutions: Registered nurses may work as school nurses, providing healthcare services and health education to students in primary and secondary schools, as well as colleges and universities.
  7. Occupational and workplace settings: RNs can work as occupational health nurses, promoting health and safety in various industries and workplace environments.
  8. Public health and government agencies: Registered nurses may work for local, state, or federal public health departments, focusing on population health, disease prevention, and health promotion.
  9. Military and veterans’ facilities: RNs can serve in the military or work at veterans’ hospitals and clinics, providing care to active-duty service members and veterans.

Additionally, registered nurses can work in various specialized settings, such as rehabilitation centers, hospice care, mental health facilities, and research institutions, depending on their education, experience, and interests.

How to become a registered nurse in California

1. Explore your RN program options

When considering a career as a registered nurse, it’s essential to explore the various RN program options available. Each program type offers different advantages, and the best choice will depend on your individual needs, goals, and preferences. Below, we discuss three main types of RN programs:

  1. Diploma in Nursing: Nursing diplomas are offered by hospital-based nursing schools and typically take 2-3 years to complete. These programs focus on hands-on clinical experience and provide a strong foundation in nursing practice. However, diploma programs are becoming less common as the demand for nurses with higher education degrees increases.
  2. Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN): An ADN program is usually offered by community colleges and takes approximately 2-3 years to complete. This program combines classroom instruction with clinical experience, covering nursing theory, patient care, and general education subjects. Graduates of ADN programs are eligible to take the NCLEX-RN exam and become registered nurses, but they may be limited in their career advancement opportunities compared to those with a BSN.
  3. Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN): A BSN program is offered by four-year colleges and universities and typically takes four years to complete. BSN programs provide a comprehensive education that includes nursing theory, clinical practice, general education courses, and additional subjects such as nursing research, leadership, and community health. Graduates of BSN programs are eligible to take the NCLEX-RN exam and become registered nurses. They may have more opportunities for career advancement, higher salaries, and the option to pursue graduate-level education in nursing.

When exploring RN program options, consider the following factors:

  1. Accreditation: Ensure that the program is accredited by a recognized nursing accreditation body, such as the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). Accreditation ensures that the program meets specific educational standards, which can impact your eligibility for licensure, certification, and financial aid.
  2. NCLEX-RN pass rates: Research the pass rates for the NCLEX-RN exam among graduates of the programs you are considering. High pass rates can indicate a strong program that effectively prepares its students for the licensing exam.
  3. Clinical experience: Look for programs that offer diverse clinical experiences in various healthcare settings, which can help you gain valuable hands-on experience and develop a broad range of nursing skills.
  4. Program flexibility: If you have work or family obligations, you might want to consider programs that offer flexible scheduling, part-time options, or online and hybrid courses.
  5. Financial aid: Research the availability of financial aid, scholarships, and grants for nursing students at the schools you are considering.
  6. Pathways for further education: If you plan to pursue advanced nursing education, such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), consider programs that offer seamless transition pathways or bridge programs for continued education.

By carefully evaluating your RN program options and considering your individual needs and goals, you can choose the nursing program that best aligns with your career aspirations and prepares you for a rewarding career as a registered nurse.

2. Choose a school to attend

Choosing the right nursing school is a crucial step in your journey to becoming a registered nurse. Here are some steps and factors to consider when selecting a school to attend:

  1. Identify your goals: Determine what you want to achieve in your nursing career. Are you aiming to become a registered nurse with an ADN or a BSN, or do you plan to pursue advanced nursing education later? Knowing your goals will help you focus on schools that offer the appropriate programs and support.
  2. Accreditation: Make sure the nursing program is accredited by a recognized nursing accreditation body, such as the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). Accreditation ensures that the program meets specific educational standards, which can impact your eligibility for licensure, certification, and financial aid.
  3. NCLEX-RN pass rates: Research the pass rates for the NCLEX-RN exam among graduates of the schools you are considering. High pass rates can indicate a strong program that effectively prepares its students for the licensing exam.
  4. Location: Consider the location of the school and whether you are willing to relocate. Keep in mind factors such as the cost of living, climate, and proximity to family and friends.
  5. Clinical experience: Look for schools that offer diverse clinical experiences in various healthcare settings, which can help you gain valuable hands-on experience and develop a broad range of nursing skills.
  6. Curriculum and faculty: Research the curriculum and the qualifications of the faculty members. Look for schools with experienced nursing educators and a curriculum that covers essential nursing concepts and skills.
  7. Program flexibility: If you have work or family obligations, you might want to consider schools that offer flexible scheduling, part-time options, or online and hybrid courses.
  8. Financial aid: Research the availability of financial aid, scholarships, and grants for nursing students at the schools you are considering. This can help you minimize student loan debt and make your nursing education more affordable.
  9. School reputation: Look into the school’s overall reputation and its nursing program reputation. Research online reviews, speak with current students and alumni, and visit the school if possible.
  10. Support services: Consider schools that offer support services for nursing students, such as academic advising, tutoring, and career services, which can help you succeed academically and professionally.

By taking the time to research and compare different nursing schools, you can find the one that best aligns with your personal and professional goals, ensuring a solid foundation for your nursing career.

3. Complete the RN program

Completing an RN program involves meeting academic requirements, gaining clinical experience, and developing the necessary skills to become a competent and successful registered nurse. Here are some steps to help you succeed in your RN program:

  1. Attend classes and participate actively: Regular class attendance is essential for understanding course material and staying on track with assignments. Actively participate in class discussions, ask questions, and engage with your instructors and fellow students to enhance your learning experience.
  2. Stay organized: Keep track of your course schedules, assignments, clinical rotations, and exam dates. Use a planner or digital calendar to manage your time effectively and prioritize tasks.
  3. Study consistently: Develop a consistent study routine and dedicate time each day to reviewing course materials, taking notes, and preparing for exams. Break down complex topics into smaller, manageable sections to improve retention and understanding.
  4. Form study groups: Connect with classmates to form study groups. Collaborating with peers can help you better understand complex concepts, share resources, and improve your critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
  5. Seek help when needed: If you’re struggling with a particular subject, reach out to your instructors, academic advisors, or tutors for assistance. Many schools offer support services, such as tutoring and academic counseling, to help students succeed.
  6. Gain clinical experience: Participate fully in your clinical rotations, applying the knowledge and skills you’ve learned in the classroom to real-world patient care situations. Take advantage of the opportunity to learn from experienced nurses and other healthcare professionals, ask questions, and seek feedback to improve your nursing practice.
  7. Develop critical soft skills: In addition to clinical skills, registered nurses need strong communication, teamwork, and problem-solving abilities. Practice these skills throughout your nursing program to become a well-rounded and effective nurse.
  8. Take care of yourself: Nursing school can be demanding, so it’s essential to prioritize self-care. Get enough sleep, eat healthily, exercise regularly, and engage in stress-reducing activities to maintain your physical and mental well-being.
  9. Network with professionals: Attend nursing conferences, join professional nursing associations, and connect with nurses and other healthcare professionals in your community to build a professional network that can support your career growth.
  10. Prepare for the NCLEX-RN exam: As you approach the end of your RN program, begin preparing for the NCLEX-RN exam by reviewing course materials, using NCLEX-RN review books and practice questions, and participating in review courses or workshops.

By staying focused, organized, and committed to your RN program, you’ll be well-prepared to pass the NCLEX-RN exam and launch a rewarding career as a registered nurse.

4. Apply for state licensure by examination

Applying for state licensure by examination in California involves completing specific requirements set by the California Board of Registered Nursing (BRN). Here is a step-by-step guide to help you apply for state licensure by examination in California:

  1. Complete an approved nursing program: To be eligible for licensure in California, you must graduate from an approved nursing program, either an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).
  2. Register with Pearson VUE: The NCLEX-RN exam is administered by Pearson VUE. Visit the Pearson VUE website to create an account and register for the NCLEX-RN exam. You’ll need to pay the exam fee of $200.
  3. Complete the licensure application: Visit the California Board of Registered Nursing website and access the online application system, BreEZe Online Services. Create an account and complete the application for licensure by examination. The application fee for California is $300.
  4. Request official transcripts: Contact your nursing school and request that they send your official transcripts directly to the California Board of Registered Nursing. The transcripts must show that you have completed the required nursing coursework and clinical experience.
  5. Complete a background check and fingerprinting: California requires all applicants for licensure to undergo a background check and fingerprinting. You can complete this process using the Live Scan fingerprinting service, which is available at various locations throughout California. Download the “Request for Live Scan Service” form from the California Board of Registered Nursing website, fill it out, and bring it to a Live Scan location.
  6. Obtain an Authorization to Test (ATT): After your application has been reviewed and approved by the California Board of Registered Nursing, you will receive an Authorization to Test (ATT) via email from Pearson VUE. The ATT will include instructions on scheduling your NCLEX-RN exam, as well as an expiration date by which you must take the exam.
  7. Schedule your NCLEX-RN exam: Using your ATT, schedule your NCLEX-RN exam at a Pearson VUE testing center. It’s essential to schedule your exam as soon as possible to ensure you secure a preferred testing date and location before your ATT expires.
  8. Prepare for the NCLEX-RN exam: Dedicate time to studying for the NCLEX-RN exam, using review materials, practice questions, and resources provided by your nursing program or purchased independently. Focus on key areas such as nursing fundamentals, pharmacology, and patient care management.
  9. Take the NCLEX-RN exam: On your scheduled exam day, arrive at the testing center early and bring the required identification documents. The NCLEX-RN exam is a computer adaptive test that typically consists of between 75 and 265 questions, depending on your performance.
  10. Wait for your results: After taking the NCLEX-RN exam, you’ll need to wait for your results, which are typically available within a few weeks. The California Board of Registered Nursing will inform you whether you passed or failed the exam.
  11. Obtain your nursing license: If you passed the NCLEX-RN exam, the California Board of Registered Nursing will issue your nursing license, officially making you a licensed registered nurse in California. You can now begin your nursing career and practice within the state.

Remember to consult the California Board of Registered Nursing website for the most accurate and up-to-date information on the application process and requirements.

5. Apply for nursing jobs in California

Applying for nursing jobs in California involves a similar process as in other states, with a few specific considerations due to California’s unique job market and regional needs. Here are some steps and tips to help you find nursing jobs in California:

  1. Create a professional resume: Develop a well-structured resume that highlights your education, clinical experience, relevant skills, certifications, and any other professional accomplishments. Include your California nursing license number on your resume. Use a clear and easy-to-read format, and tailor your resume for each job application by emphasizing the most relevant skills and experiences.
  2. Write a compelling cover letter: A cover letter is an opportunity to introduce yourself to potential employers and explain why you’re the right candidate for the job. It should be concise, well-written, and tailored to each job application, emphasizing your unique qualifications and interest in the specific position.
  3. Utilize online job boards: Browse online job boards and nursing-specific job websites to find job listings in California. Some popular nursing job boards include,,, and You can also search on California-specific websites such as CalJobs or the California Hospital Association job board.
  4. Leverage professional networking: Connect with other nurses, healthcare professionals, and former classmates through professional networking platforms such as LinkedIn. Attend nursing conferences, workshops, and local events in California to expand your network and learn about job openings in your field.
  5. Check hospital and healthcare facility websites: Visit the websites of hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare facilities in California to check for job openings. Many organizations post job listings directly on their websites, so it’s essential to check these sources regularly.
  6. Register with a California nursing staffing agency: Nursing staffing agencies in California can help match you with job opportunities that suit your skills, preferences, and schedule. They can also assist with negotiating contracts and salaries on your behalf.
  7. Prepare for interviews: Research common nursing interview questions and practice your responses. Be prepared to discuss your clinical experiences, strengths and weaknesses, and how you handle challenging situations. Dress professionally and bring copies of your resume, California nursing license, and any relevant certifications to the interview.
  8. Follow up with potential employers: After your interviews, send a thank-you email or note to express your gratitude for the opportunity to interview and reiterate your interest in the position. This can help you stand out among other applicants and demonstrate your professionalism.
  9. Evaluate job offers: When you receive a job offer, carefully evaluate the salary, benefits, work environment, schedule, and opportunities for professional growth to ensure it aligns with your career goals and personal needs. Keep in mind that the cost of living varies across California, so factor this into your decision-making process.
  10. Maintain your nursing license and certifications: As you begin your nursing career in California, it’s essential to keep your California nursing license and any required certifications up-to-date. Stay informed about California’s licensure renewal requirements and complete any necessary continuing education courses.

By following these steps and being persistent in your job search, you can increase your chances of finding a nursing job in California that aligns with your career goals and personal preferences.

Registered Nurse Salary and Career Outlook

According to the BLS, employment of healthcare occupations will grow 13%External link:open_in_new from 2021 to 2031, much faster than the average for all occupations. By 2030, all boomers will be at least age 65. We’ll also see a growing number of existing jobs vacated by retiring baby boomers. Registered nurses (RNs) are among those healthcare workers needed to take care of the aging population. They are in high demand. The BLS projects employment of registered nurses will grow External link:open_in_new6% from 2021 to 2031, as fast as the average for all occupations.

In California, on average, registered nurses earn $97,113 per year. The Employment Development Department of the State of California expects the number of registered nurse positions in California to increase by 16% between now and 2028. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), registered nurse is the career with the sixth-highest estimated job growth in the country among all occupations between now and 2030.

Overall, California offers a promising job outlook and higher-than-average salaries for Registered Nurses. However, it’s essential to keep in mind that these factors can vary based on individual circumstances, such as experience, education, location, and type of healthcare facility. It’s always a good idea to research current data and trends in the nursing field to make informed decisions about your career.


California offers a promising job market for RNs, with higher-than-average salaries and a positive job outlook due to factors such as an aging population, increased emphasis on preventive care, and the ongoing nursing shortage. To become an RN in California, one must complete the necessary education and training, pass the NCLEX-RN exam, and obtain state licensure. After securing licensure, RNs can embark on a fulfilling career by applying for nursing jobs in California and contributing to the well-being of patients and their communities.

By staying informed about current data and trends in the nursing field, aspiring RNs can make educated decisions about their career paths and be well-prepared to enter this essential profession. With dedication and perseverance, Registered Nurses in California can find success and satisfaction in their roles, making a positive impact on the lives of countless individuals.,This article is an original creation by If you wish to repost or share, please include an attribution to the source and provide a link to the original article.Post Link:

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