You’ve had the nursing itch for a while now and you’re ready to do something about it. Luckily, as a Florida resident you’re in a great position to start your journey. Florida’s beaches and sunny weather has made it a retirement hot-spot and the high number of older residents has contributed to the increased demand for quality medical care. Florida’s employment statistics back this up. As of 2018, there were 178,000 registered nurses (RNs) and over 47,000 licensed practical nurses (LPNs) working in the state, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Even better, RN employment in Florida is projected to increase 21 percent between 2016 and 2026. Those numbers paired with your interest in the field mean now could be the perfect time to start taking steps to become a nurse in Florida. So what are your next steps? Keep reading to learn more about the path ahead.
7 Steps to becoming a nurse in Florida
If you’ve started any research, you realize there’s a lot that goes into the process. To make it less overwhelming, we’re breaking it down into smaller steps. By the time you reach the end of this article, you’ll have a much better handle on what it takes to become a nurse in Florida.
1. Determine which nursing credential to pursue
There are so many types of nurses out there that it can be hard to know what your exact end goal even is. Whether you’re intrigued by surgery, interested in working with babies in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) or passionate about seeing older adults live their best lives, there’s a place for you in nursing. Many nurses work in variety of specialties throughout their careers. With that kind of flexibility, you don’t need to decide which specialty you would most like to work in before you start nursing school. Instead, what’s important is deciding which credential to pursue.
Your desired credential will help you determine which kind of programs you should be researching. Let’s walk through your options:
Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
Many LPNs work in outpatient clinics or home healthcare settings. They can take patients’ vital signs, medical history, assist with patient hygiene, collect test samples and administer medication.
- Education or training needed: Post-secondary certificate or diploma program
- Florida 2018 median annual salary:3 $44,210
Registered Nurse (RN)
In addition to the duties of an LPN, RNs can also assess patient needs, recommend care plans and educate patients. RNs are more likely than LPNs to work in a specialty clinic or hospital department.
- Education or training needed: Associate’s degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
- Florida 2018 median annual salary:2 $64,400
Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs)
APRNs are any type of nurse who has earned a graduate-level nursing degree and beyond. This covers roles like nurse practitioner (NP), clinical nurse specialist (CNS), nurse anesthetist (CRNA) and nurse midwife (CNM).
- Education or training needed: Master’s or doctorate degree
- Salary information: Varies depending on specific role.
2. Research and apply to nursing programs
Once you know exactly what path you’re pursuing, it’s time to narrow down your search. There are hundreds of nursing schools out there, but finding the one that fits you best can be challenging.
Factors like class schedules and program lengths will need to be weighed against your current commitments and your own timeline when evaluating schools. Many programs offer online courses that can give you more flexibility in your schedule.
Program length will vary heavily depending on which credential you choose. An LPN diploma program can be completed in as few as 12 months while a BSN can take anywhere from two to four years depending on the program and the student’s previous academic experience.4
While doing your research, be sure to note start dates for specific programs. Some may have extensive wait lists or limited start dates so be sure to take those into account when researching programs and planning your education timeline.
3. Check-off entrance requirements and apply
Be sure to compare various programs’ admissions or entrance requirements and consider what’s doable for you. While not all programs will have the same criteria, chances are you’ll find requirements like these:
- ACT or SAT score requirements
- Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS) exam
- High school and/or previous college transcript
- Immunizations/ vaccinations
- Background checks
- Science prerequisites
- Personal interview
Some of these tasks like scheduling a personal interview or taking the TEAS test require specific instruction from the program or your admissions advisor, so once you’ve assembled the documents required for the initial application, go ahead and apply to get the process rolling.
4. Complete your nursing coursework
Once you’ve been accepted, you’ll likely be excited to dive into your nursing coursework! In most programs, you’ll start by laying a strong base with general education and prerequisite courses like English, History, Chemistry, Biology, Anatomy and Physiology. In some schools, you’ll have to first pass these courses—typically while maintaining a certain GPA—first in order to officially enter the nursing program.
Once you get into the meat and potatoes of your nursing program, you’ll find yourself taking courses like pharmacology, nutrition, and focused topics like public health nursing and mental and behavioral health nursing. Many of these courses also include labs that will help you practice skills you’ll use in your clinicals and eventually at your job.
5. Gain hands-on experience in clinicals
You’ll get to see the practical application of your studying and practice in your clinicals. In clinicals, nursing students shadow working nurses and slowly start to assist by performing the duties of a nurse under the direct supervision of an experienced professional. This can happen in a variety of settings including hospitals, clinics and long-term care facilities. This a critical time for nurses to transition what they’ve learned in the classroom and simulation labs and apply it to real patient scenarios.
Not only will you grow in the skills that you’ll use every day as a working nurse, you’ll also make connections that can help you find your footing and maybe even that first job opportunity.
6. Obtain state licensure
After completing your nursing coursework and clinicals, chances are you’ll be anxious to get started as a working nurse. In order to do so, you’ll need to obtain a state license. In Florida, you can apply for licensure either by endorsement or examination. The endorsement path is for nurses who already hold a valid nursing license from another state—new nurses must take the NCLEX exam to be considered for a license.
The National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) is a test administered nationwide for aspiring LPNs and RNs that evaluates nurses’ fitness to practice. LPNs must take the NCLEX-PN examination, whereas RNs take the NCLEX-RN exam.
In addition to a passing score on the NCLEX, the Florida nursing license application also requires proof of graduation from an accredited or approved nursing program, fingerprints, a background screening and an application fee. Once all requirements are met, you’ll be officially ready to work as a nurse in Florida!
Keep in mind you’ll need to renew your license every other year in addition to keeping up with continuing education requirements which cover topics like prevention of medical errors, working with victims of domestic violence and prevention of medical errors.
7. Find your first nursing job
Before you know it, it’ll be time to apply to your first nursing job. Chances are you’ll have had some experience in job searching. That’s great! Many of those same skills will serve you well when applying to nursing jobs. Spend time creating a clean and compelling resume and brushing up your interview skills. One nice thing about the nursing licensure process? Employers should feel fairly confident in your baseline ability to perform as a nurse—so a lot of the screening process comes down to your attitude and how well you’ll fit in with the organization. Do your best to present yourself as someone you’d like to work with and enter that interview with confidence.
Be sure to use professional organizations and connections you’ve made throughout nursing school and clinicals to find job openings or build up your references.