Common Courses You’ll Take for Your RN Degree

3 min read

Share this Article

The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the continued importance of quality healthcare. Nursing is among the most important healthcare fields. Nursing professionals coordinate and deliver patient care in hospitals, outpatient clinics, and physicians' offices.

Between 2020 and 2030, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 9% job growth for registered nurses and 16% job growth for all healthcare occupations. Registered nurses (RNs) earned a median annual salary of $75,330 in May 2020. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Ready to Start Your Journey?

Nursing is a stable, lucrative, in-demand profession. As such, becoming a nurse requires significant dedication to education. Read on to learn more about classes required for nursing degrees.

What Classes Will I Take for My RN Degree?

Requirements for RN licensure vary by state, so the specific classes nursing students take can vary by program. Nevertheless, all students must master similar skills to become successful nurses, and all nursing programs share certain foundational courses. Students who are familiar with certain science and biology topics, such as anatomy and physiology, may be better prepared for the rigor of a postsecondary nursing curriculum.

Below, discover 16 common nursing classes and how they relate to the profession.

1 Acute and Critical Care

Aspiring nurses learn to care for patients in both acute care and critical care settings. Coursework teaches students about diseases that affect each system within the human body, including cardiac, respiratory, digestive, endocrine, neurologic, renal, and blood disorders. Students can expect to view lectures, read case studies, and complete a clinical component during this class.


Anatomy often serves as a "weed out" course for nursing students, meaning that it determines whether learners are a good fit for the profession. Most nursing coursework builds on anatomy and physiology, and many nursing students take this course during their first semester. Prospective nurses must develop foundational knowledge of the human body to properly care for patients.

During this course, learners delve into anatomical terminology and functions, the uses and locations of major organs, and different structures within the body. This knowledge helps future nurses determine root causes for physical changes in their patients. This course sometimes includes a required lab component.


In biochemistry, students delve into the processes that occur in various living organisms, along with the function and composition of living cells. Nurses must understand how the body functions so that they can diagnose issues like fevers, cardiac arrest, trauma, and infections in their patients and make appropriate interventions.

Fundamental knowledge of biochemistry also helps nurses determine which medications to use and how they affect microorganisms and bodily functions. This course often includes a required lab component.


Many RN programs require an introductory survey course in biology, along with more specific courses in microbiology, anatomy and physiology, and biostatistics. Students often take this course, which may include a lab component, during their first year.

Covered topics may include classification of organisms, gene theory, and cells. Nurses must understand biology to complete medical histories, understand patients' genetic factors, and determine treatment options. The National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), which all nurses must pass to earn licensure, includes many questions on introductory biology.


This course introduces future nurses to basic statistical concepts applied to the biological field. Learners often delve into regression, basic measurement principles, correlation, and data summarization. Coursework often involves real studies so that students can apply what they learn to scientific literature.

All nurses need a certain level of data fluency to both understand and participate in the latest research in the field. They can use the knowledge gained from these studies to improve patient care and outcomes.


Chemistry RN courses often include a lab component to supplement lectures. Covered topics may include the periodic table, gases, stoichiometry, terminology, and chemical reactions. Nursing students often take chemistry during their first year of courses.

Chemistry is a foundational science that prospective nurses must understand to complete higher-level coursework. They also need foundational knowledge of chemistry before administering medication, as they must know how medications react with certain food and beverages.

7Clinical Theory

Nursing is a practice-focused field that requires skill and competence in clinical settings. While requirements vary, many states require candidates to complete around 400 hours of clinical practice before they can earn their RN license. As such, many nursing programs include a required clinical practicum or experience.

This course prepares learners with the knowledge and theory they need to succeed in their clinical placements. Coursework may cover research, professional ethics and standards, communication, and healthcare policy.

8Human Growth and Development

Although they may specialize in specific populations or types of care, nurses often work with patients across the lifespan. This course helps prospective nurses better understand each stage of human development, allowing them to better serve their patients.

Coursework often covers different developmental stages, including prenatal and end-of-life. Additional topics may include cognitive, social, and physical development. Learners delve into theories and research at each stage and study how environmental, social, and cultural factors can influence individual human development.

Nursing Not for You? Check Out These Related Careers.

9Mental Health Nursing

Understanding and supporting mental health is a crucial element of successful nursing. This course includes a survey of key principles and concepts in areas like psychopharmacology and psychopathology. Additional topics may include underlying psychosocial, biological, and cultural factors that can lead to mental health conditions.

Prospective nurses learn to support patients with mental health disorders. They also learn to collaborate with other healthcare professionals to assess, diagnose, and provide intervention for patients managing disorders. Coursework often includes both lectures and case studies, as well as a clinical component.


Microbiology is the study of microorganisms and their interactions with both the environment and humans. Covered topics in this course may include different types of cells, genetics, microbial nutrition, and bacteria.

Prospective nurses must understand microbiology to accurately identify and respond to bacterial and viral infections in their patients. Nurses can also use this knowledge to help patients prevent infections in the first place.

Learners also need a fundamental understanding of microbiology to progress to more advanced nursing classes. Most microbiology courses require an accompanying lab component to supplement lectures.

11Nursing Leadership

While this course is more common in bachelor's and master's programs, it can still help entry-level nursing students plan for their future. Students learn best practices for leading teams of other healthcare professionals, preparing for nurse manager and administrator roles.

Additional topics may include ethics, healthcare policy, leadership and management theory, budgeting, and staffing. Learners review current research on nursing leadership and tackle case studies dealing with workplace issues.


Nutrition is becoming a more central focus within the health sciences. This course may delve into topics like food safety, food insecurity, healthy behaviors, and how to prevent chronic disease in vulnerable populations. Students who enjoy this course but ultimately do not want to become RNs can pursue careers as health educators.

Nutritional deficits can sometimes explain issues that nurses encounter in their patients. Understanding nutrition and the different types of nutrients can also help nurses provide advice to patients on how to live healthier lifestyles, which can help them prevent disease.


Nurses must grasp pharmacology to provide their patients with the right medications. Covered topics in this course may include drug interactions; adverse effects of certain drugs; pharmacodynamics; and how gender, lifestyle, and other individual factors affect patient response. The course often uses case studies to allow students to apply critical thinking to choosing medications in nursing scenarios.

Nursing students sometimes get the chance to apply their knowledge of pharmacology in practicum or clinical settings. Learners often encounter pharmacology courses at all levels of nursing degrees.


Along with anatomy, physiology is a building block upon which all other nursing courses depend. Most nursing students take a physiology — or anatomy and physiology — course during their first semester of nursing school. Most physiology courses require accompanying lab work.

Physiology courses cover the functions of each major system within the human body. Students learn how each part performs its role in service of the larger system. Covered topics may include the lymphatic, cardiovascular, and digestive systems. Prospective nurses must understand physiology to properly identify issues in these systems within their patients.

15Introduction to Psychology

Psychology is a foundational discipline in nursing. This survey course, which nursing students often take during the first year of their program, covers topics like the brain, behavior, and memory. Coursework often delves into major theories and research, including the work of important psychiatrists and psychoanalysts like Carl Jung, Abraham Maslow, and Sigmund Freud.

Successful nurses must understand the brain's impact on health. This course teaches students to identify psychological disorders and connect patients managing mental health conditions with the right services. Coursework often includes both lectures and case studies.

16Maternity Nursing and Infant Health

In this course, students delve into the health impact of childbirth on patients, children, and their families. Covered topics may include pregnancy, labor and delivery, and illnesses common in newborns. Students learn best practices for caring for both the infant and patient immediately after birth.

Additional topics may include fetus development, pregnancy complications, and cultural and community effects on families after childbirth. Nursing students who enjoy this course may choose to continue their education to become nurse-midwives. This course is usually an advanced option after students have completed introductory coursework in biology, chemistry, anatomy, and physiology. Participants can expect to complete a clinical component for this class.

Frequently Asked Questions About RN Classes

How difficult is nursing school?

Chevron Down

Because nurses fill such crucial and in-demand positions, nursing school can prove challenging. Students must master challenging skills, memorize a great deal of information, and become strong critical thinkers. Some nursing students feel as though they are learning a new language.

The best nursing students have an aptitude for science, surround themselves with a support system, and set aside time to study. Learners who can remain organized and feel passionate about nursing often find that nursing school is rewarding and transformative.

Can you become an RN in two years?

Chevron Down

Yes. You can become an RN by earning an associate degree in nursing (ADN), which takes two years to complete. Keep in mind that in addition to earning an ADN, prospective nurses also need to earn state licensure and pass the NCLEX.

While earning an ADN is the quickest route into the field, professionals with a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree often earn higher salaries and qualify for increased responsibilities. A BSN usually takes four years to complete.

Is becoming a nurse worth it?

Chevron Down

While value is subjective, nursing can offer personal, professional, and financial rewards. According to the BLS, registered nurses earned a median annual salary of $75,330 in May 2020. Between 2020 and 2030, the BLS projects 9% job growth for these professionals. Nursing is among the most lucrative and in-demand health professions.

With a master's degree, nurses can pursue careers as nurse practitioners (NPs). According to the BLS, NPs earned a median annual salary of $117,670 in May 2020. The projected growth rate for these professionals between 2020 and 2030 is 45%.

Beyond high salaries and high demand, nurses often feel that their careers are personally rewarding. According to a 2019 Advisory Board study, RNs reported a job satisfaction rate of 94-96%.

Since the field offers high job satisfaction paired with a fair wage, becoming a nurse is often worth it for many students.

Featured Image: SDI Productions / E+ / Getty Images is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Compare Your School Options

View the most relevant schools for your interests and compare them by tuition, programs, acceptance rate, and other factors important to finding your college home.