Registered Nurse

Registered nurses work closely with physicians and other health care personnel to provide excellent care to patients. Registered nurses coordinate patient care, keep track of vital signs and other pertinent information, administer treatment plans and medications, perform medical tests and analyze results, and educate the patient and family members on how to handle their condition upon discharge. Those who wish to become a registered nurse must complete a nursing degree program and embark on the proper training.

Registered nursing degree programs

Registered nurses can choose from three educational paths: the bachelor's degree, the associate degree, or a diploma from an accredited nursing program.

  • The nursing diploma typically takes two or three years to complete. Courses include anatomy and physiology, chemistry, nutrition, microbiology, psychology, and social and behavioral sciences. Students receive supervised clinical experience throughout their education, preparing them to take on the role of registered nurse upon graduation and completion of appropriate testing.
  • The associate degree in nursing, or ADN, also takes two or three years to complete, and includes the same courses as the diploma program. The graduate of the ADN program does earn an associate degree, and that can serve as a stepping stone to earning further degrees in the future.
  • The bachelor of science in nursing, or BSN, typically takes four years to complete. The BSN offers more clinical experience than the other degree options, and is considered the basic requirement for nurses who might want to go into administration, consulting, research or teaching. In addition to the usual courses one would expect from a nursing program, the BSN expands the educational scope with courses in leadership, communication, critical thinking, and the physical and social sciences.

Those who have earned their diploma or ADN can move forward into the RN to BSN program. This program allows registered nurses to earn their bachelor's degree while continuing to work in their current positions. There are nursing degree programs available for those who want to become a registered nurse and already hold a bachelor's degree in a related field.

Some registered nurses may also be poised to move into the master's degree program. These programs are suitable for those who want to enter administration or leadership positions, teach on the post-secondary level, become an advanced practice nurse, or become a certified nurse specialist, or CNS. Those who want to delve into serious research studies or consulting might need a doctoral degree in nursing.

All states require registered nurses to be licensed. Aspiring nurses must graduate from an accredited nursing program and earn a passing score on the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX-RN.

Registered nurse training

Registered nurses must earn supervised clinical experience during their pursuit of a degree. In addition to required licensing, nurses can also choose to become certified in any number of specific areas. Some possible certifications through the American Nurses Credentialing Center include:

  • Ambulatory care nursing
  • Cardiac-vascular nursing
  • Medical-surgical nursing
  • Nursing case management
  • Genetic nursing
  • Pediatric nursing
  • Rheumatology nursing

There are numerous other options for registered nursing certifications. Certification is typically voluntary, though some employers may require certain certifications of their nursing applicants.

Career outlook for registered nurses

The national median annual wage for a registered nurse was $66,220 in May 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov). The lowest 10 percent of the profession made up to $45,630 per year, while the upper 10 percent made at least $96,320 annually. Top-paying states include California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Alaska and Oregon.

The vast majority of nurses worked in hospitals. Nurses often work rotating shifts, including nights, weekends and holidays. They might also work overtime and be on call.

Work for registered nurses is expected to grow by 19 percent from 2012 to 2022, according to the BLS. This robust growth will be driven by new health care legislation that allows greater access to medical care, an aging population and the uptick in chronic conditions. The growth of outpatient care centers, long-term care facilities and home health care will also play a role in employment growth. Registered nurses who hold at least a BSN degree are expected to see the best job prospects, according to the BLS.


American Nurses Credentialing Center, ANCC Certification Center, http://www.nursecredentialing.org/Certification

Registered Nurses, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291141.htm

Registered Nurses, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm#tab-1

Registered Nurse Schools

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