first of all, good luck on your relocation, and congrats on the decision to become a nurse! i'm hoping to work in a children's hospital myself when i graduate, probably here in orlando.
for either a 2-year or 4-year program, you gotta take prerequisite courses for the nursing program/major, as well as the school's general education requirements if you don't already have a 2 or 4-year degree in something else. the prerequisites for most nursing programs
--anatomy & physiology i*
--anatomy & physiology ii*
--intro to chemistry (some programs - not all)
--statistics or some kind of math course (like college algebra)
these can really vary from school to school, but the starred ones you can pretty much count on having to complete before you can even apply for the clinical portions of the program.
most of the community colleges in this area (can't speak for anywhere else) have a pretty lengthy waiting list - usually about a year long. additionally, the decision committees will look at your overall gpa (there's usually a cut-off gpa, like 2.5 or 2.8), especially the gpa for your nursing prerequisites (listed above).
an option you might consider if you have a bachelor's degree in another field, there are accelerated bsn programs scattered throughout central and south fl that may end up being a faster route to your rn than a traditional 2-year program. also, if the school is a private one, chances are there is a very small if nonexistent waiting list. the tuition will probably be a lot higher, but it would be a faster way in if you can afford it.
there are lots of ongoing debates whether an rn should be bachelor's-trained (with a bsn) or if a two-year associate's program is enough. they are both rns and generally get paid the same, and most hospitals will pay for you to get your bsn if you have your rn from a 2-year school. people will generally aim for the bsn if they are looking to advance their nursing career (maybe go into leadership or administration) or especially if they are looking at graduate school as a strong possibility. i won't get into the debate about it all, except to say that as a floor nurse, your job responsibilities will be just the same whether you got a 2 or 4-year degree.
generally, you'll have several semesters of clinicals courses once you are accepted into the nursing program. you'll learn the basics in a classroom, have many of your later classes in hospital or clinic settings where you get to actually put those skills into practice, have several "rotations" through different nursing areas (peds, or, er, geriatric, etc), and then finish off with an externship or practicum in a certain area. be prepared to work hard and study hard during clinicals and the prerequisites - it's not easy, but it's definitely worth it in the end.
there is money to be had for nursing school. some hospitals will provide you with tuition assistance or loan repayment in exchange for a certain work commitment, usually 1-2 years. there are also private scholarships, government assistance, as well as low interest rate loans and such.
the going rate for grad nurses around these parts is about $18.50-$19.00 per hour, including any shift differentials for working nights and/or weekends and overtime (which you can probably do as much as you want). south florida might pay higher, but i don't know. at least around here, you're not really going to see a sign-on bonus unless you are an experienced nurse (at least a year or two under your belt) or your employer has a referral bonus program and you recruit all of your friends to come work there
here are some links that might help:
johnson & johnson's discover nursing
- lots of inspirational "be a nurse!" stuff, but more importantly, a list of a lot of nursing scholarship and funding opportunities.
- you can find all the accredited nursing programs in florida (or any other state) - lpn, 2-year rn, 4-year bsn, master's, dnp, and phd programs.
also, prowl around on the internet for information, and hang around these forums. there are lots of pre-nursing students, graduate nurses, experienced nurses, nurse practitioners, and everything inbetween. people are usually pretty willing to share their experiences at the college or university they went to, so if you find a program you're interested in, asking how students liked the program there can give you some valuable information.
best of luck!