How To Become a Registered Nurse in California in 7 Steps

If you want to pursue a lucrative and stable career that gives you the opportunity to make a difference in your community, you may consider becoming a registered nurse (RN) in California. This career path will allow you to help people in need and work in the medical field, which is highly technical and prestigious. Learning about the steps you can take to become an RN in California can help you choose an educational and training path that fits your needs and career goals.

In this article, we look at what an RN does, explain how to become a nurse in California and provide information about their average salary and job outlook.

What does an RN do?

A registered nurse (RN) is a medical employee who works with doctors to provide care and support to patients. They ensure patients receive quality care by monitoring their progress, providing treatments and reporting concerns to doctors. The specific duties of an RN vary depending on education, experience and specialty. Some general nursing responsibilities include:

Read more: What Is a Registered Nurse (RN)? (And What Do They Do?)

How to become a registered nurse in California

Follow these steps to become an RN in California:

1. Explore your RN program options

As you begin pursuing a career as a nurse in California, consider learning about the different educational options. Many colleges and universities in California offer registered nursing programs, but there are a few paths you can choose from based on your current level of education and your career goals. Below, you can explore the main RN program options in California:

Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)

High school graduates and entry-level employees often choose to pursue an Associate Degree in nursing (ADN). You can find ADN programs at community colleges, and they typically take two years to complete. This kind of program may be a good fit for you if you don’t already have a degree in another field and you want to get started in your nursing career as soon as possible. An ADN also allows you to gain experience in the field, which may be beneficial if you choose to further your nursing education in the future.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

The Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is a popular baccalaureate degree for prospective nurses because it provides in-depth instruction in nursing theories, concepts and practices. It takes approximately four years to complete, and you can enroll in a BSN program at many universities in California. If you already have an ADN, you can enroll in a bridge program, which allows you to advance from an ADN to a BSN in about two years. Some people choose a BSN program because many employers prefer candidates who have a BSN, and this degree can help nurses pursue career advancement opportunities.

Entry-Level Master of Science in Nursing (ELMSN)

If you already have an undergraduate degree in a different field and want to change careers, you can complete an Entry-Level Master of Science in Nursing (ELMSN) program. Several California universities offer ELMSN programs, which allow you to expand on your current professional skills and knowledge to become an RN. This program generally takes between 18 months and three years, depending on your goals. Earning an ELMSN can prepare you for many practical roles in the field and may help pursue advancement opportunities.

LVN 30 Unit or Military Corpsmen

There are also two nursing school options for aspiring nurses who already have specialized experience in this field. The LVN 30 Unit is for California licensed vocational nurses (LVN) who want to become registered nurses (RN). Completing this program usually takes between 18 and 24 months, and students receive a license that’s typically valid only in California and select states.

The Military Corpsmen option is ideal for military corpsmen who have already completed the education to become an RN and have clinical experience. They can take this exam to get an RN license in California.

2. Choose a nursing school to attend

After exploring your RN program options, consider your current education and professional goals to help you decide which one suits you. Many employers prefer candidates who have degrees from accredited nursing programs, as these academic programs meet high standards for educational quality and consistency. Look for an RN program with recognition from the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

When considering a nursing program, research its reputation, clinical rotation opportunities, faculty qualifications, resources, financial considerations, location, networking opportunities and specialization options. Look for programs with experienced faculty, a variety of clinical experiences and partnerships with reputable healthcare facilities. Consider the cost of the program and whether there are financial aid opportunities. Think about the location of the school and whether it aligns with your preferences.

3. Complete your selected RN program

All RN programs prepare students for a career in nursing, but the coursework and clinical experiences they offer vary. ADN programs cover essential nursing concepts and focus on the technical aspects of the role, so you may spend most of your time learning about skills like performing tests and monitoring patient care.

While you can expect to learn these technical skills in a BSN program also, you may also explore professional topics like leadership and administration. ELMSN programs allow you to apply your current skills to nursing concepts while expanding on your knowledge and proficiencies. Common RN program courses include:

  • Fundamentals of nursing

  • Pharmacology

  • Psychology

  • Microbiology

  • Anatomy and physiology

  • Nursing ethics

  • Clinical theory and study

  • Medical-surgical nursing

  • Mental health

  • Nutrition

  • Care transitions

4. Apply for state licensure by examination

About six to eight weeks before you graduate from an RN program, you can apply for your California nursing license. The California Board of Registered Nursing (BRN) has an online application portal where you can submit your application and pay your licensure fee. This is a requirement to obtain an Authorization to Test (ATT) for the NCLEX-RN. Once you receive your ATT, you can register for the NCLEX-RN through Pearson VUE.

Request the school you attended to send your transcripts to the BRN and prepare to undergo a fingerprint background check. Graduates usually receive their licenses after passing the licensure exam, but you can apply to receive an interim permit, which allows you to work for up to six months while you wait for your test scores and permanent license.

5. Pass the National Council Licensure Examination

Once you apply for licensure, you can register to take the National Council Licensure Examination for registered nurses (NCLEX-RN). Passing this state-mandated exam allows you to fulfill the BRN’s requirements. The BRN recommends taking the NCLEX-RN as soon as possible after graduating, as candidates who take it right away may have an easier time recalling the material they learned in school. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) administers the NCLEX exam online at designated testing locations six days per week. After passing the test, you can receive your California RN license.

Students can study and prepare for the NCLEX-RN using review materials, practice tests, and other resources. There are also preparatory courses available that can help you better understand the content and format of the exam. The exam consists of multiple-choice questions that assess your nursing knowledge and decision-making skills.


6. Receive your California RN license

Once you pass the NCLEX-RN, you can apply for your RN license in California. This involves submitting an application through the California BRN, along with your college transcripts and proof of passing the NCLEX-RN. You also typically pay a fee and undergo a fingerprint-based background check. When the California BRN approves your application, you can receive your license, which needs renewal every two years.

7. Apply for nursing jobs

As a licensed nurse, you can apply for RN jobs anywhere in California. Many recent graduates find entry-level positions at hospitals, but some pursue positions at health care facilities like private practices or clinics. Some graduates may find employment with facilities that offer home health care services. You can also look for nursing job opportunities using online job boards, hospital and health care organization websites, professional nursing associations, networking events and referrals from colleagues and mentors. You can apply for a nursing job in many practice areas, such as:

  • Pediatrics

  • Obstetrics

  • Critical care

  • Emergency medicine

  • Medical-surgical

  • Telemetry

  • Neonatal intensive care

  • Cardiology

RN salary and job outlook in California

The average salary for an RN in California is $116,149 per year, which is currently 24% more than the national average salary. Your earning potential as a nurse in California depends on various factors, including your level of education, your previous health care experience and your specialty. Specific employers and geographic locations can also affect nurse salaries. For example, nurses in San Francisco earn more than the state average, as they make an average of $131,345 per year.

If you’re looking to pursue a career path with high job stability, you may consider becoming a nurse in California. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), California has the highest employment level of registered nurses compared to all other states, as it has more than 325,620 nurses actively working.

Career advancement for nurses in California

If you have a BSN, you can become an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN). This includes roles such as Nurse Practitioner (NP), Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM), Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) or Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS). You can also pursue higher education, such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) to become an NP.  Nurses can also pursue specialized certifications and leadership roles within health care organizations to advance their careers.

Once an individual earns their graduate degree from an accredited program, they can go through the BRN to gain their NP license in California. As an NP, an individual completes tasks that are similar to physicians, as they can prescribe treatments and make diagnoses. With this title change, an individual gains additional responsibilities and a salary increase, as NPs in California make an average of $140,711 per year.



How To Become a Registered Nurse in California in 7 Steps
How To Become a Registered Nurse in California in 7 Steps

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