A nurse holds the inner wrist of an elderly patient

A registered nurse could...


Assess the severity of a patient's condition in the emergency room. A nurse uses a stethoscope on a patient in a bed Vaccinate a baby to prevent him from getting the measles. A doctor inserts a needle into the arm of a baby
Prepare an operating room for a heart surgery. A nurse in scrubs reaches for instruments in an operating room Weigh and measure a child during her pediatric checkup. A woman holds a small child while on a scale
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Key Facts & Information

Overview Registered nurses have been called the backbone of our health-care system. Working on the front lines of medical care, they treat patients, monitor and record their condition, help establish a plan of care, educate patients or the public about a medical condition, and provide advice and emotional support to patients' family members. Registered nurses are highly observant and detail-oriented, and are often the first to catch important and changing signs and symptoms. Many nurses specialize in one or more types of medicine, such as emergency care, hospice, labor and delivery, psychiatry, surgery, or wound care.
Key Requirements Caring, compassionate, calm in an emergency, detail-oriented, observant, enjoy interacting with people, emotionally and physically strong, with outstanding communication skills.
Minimum Degree Associate's degree
Subjects to Study in High School Biology, chemistry, physics, geometry, algebra II, pre-calculus, English; if available, computer science, physiology, biomedical science, foreign languages
Median Salary
Registered Nurse
  $68,450
U.S. Mean Annual Wage
  $49,630
Min Wage
  $15,080
$0
$10,000
$20,000
$30,000
$40,000
$50,000
$60,000
$70,000
$80,000
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) Faster than Average (14% to 20%) In Demand!
Interview Watch these videos to meet a:
Related Occupations
  • Nursing instructors and teachers, postsecondary
  • Chiropractors
  • Surgeons
  • Podiatrists
  • Psychiatric aides
  • Medical assistants
Source: O*Net

Training, Other Qualifications

The three major educational paths to registered nursing are a bachelor's degree, an associate degree, and a diploma from an approved nursing program. Nurses most commonly enter the occupation by completing an associate degree or bachelor's degree program. Individuals then must complete a national licensing examination in order to obtain a nursing license. Further training or education can qualify nurses to work in specialty areas, and may help improve advancement opportunities.

Education and Training

There are three major educational paths to registered nursing—a bachelor of science degree in nursing (BSN), an associate's degree in nursing (ADN), and a diploma. BSN programs, offered by colleges and universities, take about 4 years to complete. In 2006, 709 nursing programs offered degrees at the bachelor's level. ADN programs, offered by community and junior colleges, take about 2 to 3 years to complete. About 850 RN programs granted associate degrees. Diploma programs, administered in hospitals, last about 3 years. Only about 70 programs offered diplomas. Generally, licensed graduates of any of the three types of educational programs qualify for entry-level positions.

Many RNs with an ADN or diploma later enter bachelor's programs to prepare for a broader scope of nursing practice. Often, they can find an entry-level position and then take advantage of tuition reimbursement benefits to work toward a BSN by completing an RN-to-BSN program. In 2006, there were 629 RN-to-BSN programs in the United States. Accelerated master's degree in nursing (MSN) programs also are available by combining 1 year of an accelerated BSN program with 2 years of graduate study. In 2006, there were 149 RN-to-MSN programs.

Accelerated BSN programs also are available for individuals who have a bachelor's or higher degree in another field and who are interested in moving into nursing. In 2006, 197 of these programs were available. Accelerated BSN programs last 12 to 18 months and provide the fastest route to a BSN for individuals who already hold a degree. MSN programs also are available for individuals who hold a bachelor's or higher degree in another field.

Individuals considering nursing should carefully weigh the advantages and disadvantages of enrolling in a BSN or MSN program because, if they do, their advancement opportunities usually are broader. In fact, some career paths are open only to nurses with a bachelor's or master's degree. A bachelor's degree often is necessary for administrative positions and is a prerequisite for admission to graduate nursing programs in research, consulting, and teaching, and all four advanced practice nursing specialties—clinical nurse specialists, nurse anesthetists, nurse-midwives, and nurse practitioners. Individuals who complete a bachelor's receive more training in areas such as communication, leadership, and critical thinking, all of which are becoming more important as nursing care becomes more complex. Additionally, bachelor's degree programs offer more clinical experience in nonhospital settings. Education beyond a bachelor's degree can also help students looking to enter certain fields or increase advancement opportunities. In 2006, 448 nursing schools offered master's degrees, 108 offered doctoral degrees, and 58 offered accelerated BSN-to-doctoral programs.

All four advanced practice nursing specialties require at least a master's degree. Most programs include about 2 years of full-time study and require a BSN degree for entry; some programs require at least 1 to 2 years of clinical experience as an RN for admission. In 2006, there were 342 master's and post-master's programs offered for nurse practitioners, 230 master's and post-master's programs for clinical nurse specialists, 106 programs for nurse anesthetists, and 39 programs for nurse-midwives.

All nursing education programs include classroom instruction and supervised clinical experience in hospitals and other health care facilities. Students take courses in anatomy, physiology, microbiology, chemistry, nutrition, psychology and other behavioral sciences, and nursing. Coursework also includes the liberal arts for ADN and BSN students.

Supervised clinical experience is provided in hospital departments such as pediatrics, psychiatry, maternity, and surgery. A growing number of programs include clinical experience in nursing care facilities, public health departments, home health agencies, and ambulatory clinics.

Other Qualifications

Nurses should be caring, sympathetic, responsible, and detail-oriented. They must be able to direct or supervise others, correctly assess patients' conditions, and determine when consultation is required. They need emotional stability to cope with human suffering, emergencies, and other stresses.

Nature of the Work

Registered nurses (RNs), regardless of specialty or work setting, treat patients, educate patients and the public about various medical conditions, and provide advice and emotional support to patients' family members. RNs record patients' medical histories and symptoms, help perform diagnostic tests and analyze results, operate medical machinery, administer treatment and medications, and help with patient follow-up and rehabilitation.

Watch this video to see what Romel does as a registered nurse, while still pursuing his hobbies — volleyball and photography.

RNs teach patients and their families how to manage their illness or injury, explaining post-treatment home care needs; diet, nutrition, and exercise programs; and self-administration of medication and physical therapy. Some RNs work to promote general health by educating the public on warning signs and symptoms of disease. RNs also might run general health screening or immunization clinics, blood drives, and public seminars on various conditions.

When caring for patients, RNs establish a plan of care or contribute to an existing plan. Plans may include numerous activities, such as administering medication, including careful checking of dosages and avoiding interactions; starting, maintaining, and discontinuing intravenous (IV) lines for fluid, medication, blood, and blood products; administering therapies and treatments; observing the patient and recording those observations; and consulting with physicians and other health care clinicians. Some RNs provide direction to licensed practical nurses and nursing aids regarding patient care. RNs with advanced educational preparation and training may perform diagnostic and therapeutic procedures and may have prescriptive authority.

Some nurses have jobs that require little or no direct patient care, but still require an active RN license. Case managers ensure that all of the medical needs of patients with severe injuries and severe or chronic illnesses are met. Forensics nurses participate in the scientific investigation and treatment of abuse victims, violence, criminal activity, and traumatic accident. Infection control nurses identify, track, and control infectious outbreaks in health care facilities and develop programs for outbreak prevention and response to biological terrorism. Legal nurse consultants assist lawyers in medical cases by interviewing patients and witnesses, organizing medical records, determining damages and costs, locating evidence, and educating lawyers about medical issues. Nurse administrators supervise nursing staff, establish work schedules and budgets, maintain medical supply inventories, and manage resources to ensure high-quality care. Nurse educators plan, develop, implement, and evaluate educational programs and curricula for the professional development of student nurses and RNs. Nurse informaticists manage and communicate nursing data and information to improve decision making by consumers, patients, nurses, and other health care providers. RNs also may work as health care consultants, public policy advisors, pharmaceutical and medical supply researchers and salespersons, and medical writers and editors.

Work Environment

Most RNs work in well-lit, comfortable health care facilities. Home health and public health nurses travel to patients' homes, schools, community centers, and other sites. RNs may spend considerable time walking, bending, stretching, and standing. Patients in hospitals and nursing care facilities require 24-hour care; consequently, nurses in these institutions may work nights, weekends, and holidays. RNs also may be on call—available to work on short notice. Nurses who work in offices, schools, and other settings that do not provide 24-hour care are more likely to work regular business hours. About 21 percent of RNs worked part time in 2006, and 7 percent held more than one job.

Nursing has its hazards, especially in hospitals, nursing care facilities, and clinics, where nurses may be in close contact with individuals who have infectious diseases and with toxic, harmful, or potentially hazardous compounds, solutions, and medications. RNs must observe rigid, standardized guidelines to guard against disease and other dangers, such as those posed by radiation, accidental needle sticks, chemicals used to sterilize instruments, and anesthetics. In addition, they are vulnerable to back injury when moving patients, shocks from electrical equipment, and hazards posed by compressed gases. RNs also may suffer emotional strain from caring for patients suffering unrelieved intense pain, close personal contact with patients' families, the need to make critical decisions, and ethical dilemmas and concerns.

On the Job

  • Monitor, record and report symptoms and changes in patients' conditions.
  • Maintain accurate, detailed reports and records.
  • Record patients' medical information and vital signs.
  • Order, interpret, and evaluate diagnostic tests to identify and assess patient's condition.
  • Modify patient treatment plans as indicated by patients' responses and conditions.
  • Direct and supervise less skilled nursing or health care personnel or supervise a particular unit.
  • Consult and coordinate with health care team members to assess, plan, implement and evaluate patient care plans.
  • Monitor all aspects of patient care, including diet and physical activity.
  • Instruct individuals, families and other groups on topics such as health education, disease prevention and childbirth, and develop health improvement programs.
  • Prepare patients for, and assist with, examinations and treatments.
  • Assess the needs of individuals, families or communities, including assessment of individuals' home or work environments to identify potential health or safety problems.
  • Provide health care, first aid, immunizations and assistance in convalescence and rehabilitation in locations such as schools, hospitals, and industry.
  • Prepare rooms, sterile instruments, equipment and supplies, and ensure that stock of supplies is maintained.
  • Inform physician of patient's condition during anesthesia.
  • Administer local, inhalation, intravenous, and other anesthetics.
  • Perform physical examinations, make tentative diagnoses, and treat patients en route to hospitals or at disaster site triage centers.
  • Observe nurses and visit patients to ensure proper nursing care.
  • Conduct specified laboratory tests.
  • Direct and coordinate infection control programs, advising and consulting with specified personnel about necessary precautions.
  • Prescribe or recommend drugs, medical devices or other forms of treatment, such as physical therapy, inhalation therapy, or related therapeutic procedures.
  • Perform administrative and managerial functions, such as taking responsibility for a unit's staff, budget, planning, and long-range goals.
  • Hand items to surgeons during operations.
  • Work with individuals, groups, and families to plan and implement programs designed to improve the overall health of communities.
  • Consult with institutions or associations regarding issues and concerns relevant to the practice and profession of nursing.
  • Refer students or patients to specialized health resources or community agencies furnishing assistance.
  • Provide or arrange for training or instruction of auxiliary personnel or students.
  • Engage in research activities related to nursing.

Source: BLS

Companies That Hire Registered Nurses

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