How to Become an RN in California

Career Overview

In these times of rising health care expenses, many hospital administrators and private doctors have come to recognize that nursing professionals are able to provide a high quality of patient care in a cost savings manner.

While a Registered Nurse (RN) may be employed in a variety of health care settings, specific duties depend on experience and education.

Common Responsibilities include:

  • Update and maintain patient charts, reports, and medical records
  • Monitor and record any symptoms or changes in the patient’s condition
  • Record patient vital signs, such as heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature
  • Record patient’s medical history
  • Collaborate with other health care providers to assess and implement patient care plans
  • Notify doctor of physician assistant of any major changes to patient’s condition and change treatment plan as directed.
  • Order and interpret various medical tests to identify underlying causes of medical conditions
  • Educate patients with regard to preventative care and the importance of nutrition and exercise to foster health and wellness
  • Oversee and coordinate all aspects of the patient’s care including nutrition and exercise
  • Supervise licensed practical nurses (LPNs), certified nursing assistants (CNAs) and nurses aids.
  • Perform basic physical exams and triage emergency room patients..
  • Dispense medication as prescribed by physician or physician assistant.

A Master’s Degree can also help nurses specialize in such areas as pediatrics, oncology, obstetrics, critical care and gerontology, and home care.

Career Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment of RNs is expected to grow at a much faster rate of growth than the average of most other occupations.

According to the BLS, the areas where the greatest growth will be seen are:

  • Private Physician offices: 48%
  • Home Health Care:  33%
  • Nursing Care Facilities:  25%
  • Employment Services:  24%


As per the California Board of Registered Nurses (CBRN) all candidates interested in becoming RNs in the state must possess a minimum of a high school diploma or general equivalency diploma and graduate from a program of study accredited by the California State Board and the National League of Nursing Accreditation Commission (NLNAC).  The NLNAC is the agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as the official accreditation agency of RN training programs. Accreditation provides verification that the school has met strict standards set by the NLNAC and the CBRN with regard to curriculum, faculty background, practicum experiences, support services and job placement.

There are 3 educational pathways to become an RN in California. From the Web site of the CBRN these pathways include:

  • Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) – Takes 2-3 years. Offered at many community colleges. Prepares you to provide registered nursing care in numerous settings.
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) – Takes 4 years. Also referred to as Baccalaureate degree. Offered at many California State Universities and some private colleges. Prepares you to provide registered nursing care in numerous settings and to move to administrative and leadership positions.
  • Masters Entry Level Program in Nursing – Designed for adults who have a baccalaureate degree in another field and wish to become registered nurses. Takes 1-2 years depending on how many nursing course prerequisites you have already completed. Graduate receives a master’s degree.
  • LVN 30 Unit Option – Designed as a career ladder for California Licensed Vocational Nurses wishing to become registered nurses. Takes approximately 18-24 months. No degree is granted upon completion. Most other states do not recognize California’s LVN 30 Unit Option and will not issue RN licenses to these LVNs. Some LVNs prefer to complete an ADN program in order to obtain a degree and to have the flexibility to get an RN license in other states. Most ADN programs will give LVNs credit for some of the coursework they completed to become an LVN.

The CBRN also provides a great set of resources for individuals interested in a career in nursing.


To work as an RN in California, candidates must obtain a license from the CBRN. To be licensed, candidates must meet the educational requirements as stated above, pass a national licensing examination, as well as a criminal background check.


Candidates for RN licensure are required to pass the National Council Licensure Examination for RNs (NCLEX-RN).

The NLEX is a national, standard multiple-choice type examination for entry-level RN candidates. The test was developed by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) and places greater emphasis on nursing practice than theoretical knowledge. Specifically, the test focuses on those duties that are expected to be carried out entry-level staff nurses and assesses competency in terms of patient care and medical knowledge.

Salary of RNs

The following present the median earnings of entry-level staff nurses in select regions of California.

Fresno $62,970
Los Angeles $70,744
Sacramento $67,928
San Diego $67,568
San Francisco $78,744