There are more than 167,000 registered nurses in Illinois, and demand continues to rise. Nurses fill vital roles in the health-care industry, and often are the first health-care professionals patients see. There are many different types of licensed nurses and nursing specialties, and all require extensive classroom instruction and clinical training. Follow these guidelines if you want to become a nurse in Illinois.

  1. Pursue a position as a registered nurse, or RN. Registered nurses perform all nursing functions but also have supervisory duties. In Illinois, registered nurses must have a 4-year, Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree from an accredited college or university. During the course of their studies, Illinois RN candidates can select a specialty. RNs who pursue a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree can advance to positions in upper management, as nurse practitioners and in specialized nursing. A postgraduate degree also is required to teach nursing.
  2.  Select your specialty in nursing. RNs often select a specialization and pursue it during the clinical phase of their training. Your focus can be based on advancement potential, job security, interest in a particular field of medicine, or salary level. Some of the leading nursing fields in Illinois are:
    • Emergency: This is a stressful and challenging specialty that requires decisiveness and an ability to withstand emotional pressure. Emergency-room nurses are needed all hours of the day.
    • Gerontology: One of the fastest-growing areas in nursing is the care of older patients. Much of this type of nursing is done in extended-care facilities. This field requires study of geriatric diseases like Alzheimer's. It also may require an emphasis on emotional and psychological facets of care.
    • Intensive care: Nurses who specialize in ICU closely monitor patients' vital signs and medications, and sometimes must perform emergency procedures. ICU nurses are needed 24 hours a day.
    • Obstetrics: Many nurses enjoy caring for expectant mothers.
    • Public health: Nurses working at public-health clinics help underprivileged patients and must be able to diagnose and treat a wide range of illnesses.
    • Surgical: RNs who specialize in this area of nursing assist surgeons during operations and must be detail-oriented.
  3.  Take the state licensing exam. After completing your clinical and classroom work, you will be required to pass the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, or NCLEX, exam to become a licensed nurse. The NCLEX-RN exam is for aspiring registered nurses. The NCLEX-PN is for practical nurses in Illinois. All nurses must be licensed to practice in Illinois. Each applicant must:
    • Be an Illinois resident.
    • Be a graduate of an accredited LPN or RN program.
    • Pay all application fees.
    • Arrange to take the exam by registering online with the Illinois Board of Nursing.