Registered Nurse: Education, Schools, and Career Overview
Registered nurses work closely with physicians and other healthcare 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.
Nature of Work
Nurses usually work in comfortable, well-lit environment. Home health and public health nurses often travel to schools, private homes, community centers and the like. Most nurses work full-time, and may work rotating shifts that include weekends, nights and holidays. Some nurses may also be on call. Those who work full-time in schools or offices of physicians may keep normal business hours.
How to Become a Registered Nurse
Registered nurses typically work closely with patients, handling numerous responsibilities, including recording vital signs, administering medications, ordering and analyzing diagnostic tests, and educating patients and family members. The career path for a registered nurse begins with earning the proper degree and license.
Diploma in Nursing
Diploma program in nursing typically takes two or three years to complete. Courses include anatomy and physiology, chemistry, nutrition, microbiology, psychology, and social and behavioral sciences. Students typically receive supervised clinical experience throughout their education, preparing them to take on the role of registered nurse upon graduation and completion of appropriate testing.
Associate Degree in Nursing
Associate degree program in nursing also typically takes two or three years to complete, and includes the same courses as the diploma program. Earning this degree may serve as a stepping stone to earning further degrees in the future.
Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing
Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) typically takes four years to complete. The BSN typically 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 typically expands the educational scope with courses in leadership, communication, critical thinking, and the physical and social sciences.
Master’s Degree in Nursing
Some registered nurses may also be poised to move into the master's degree program. These programs may be suitable for those who want to enter administration or leadership positions, teach on the postsecondary level, become an advanced practice nurse, or become a certified nurse specialist.
Career Advancement Opportunities in Nursing
Advancement for registered nurses may be available through a few different channels. Some clinical facilities make it possible for long-standing registered nurses to move into roles of greater administrative responsibility without requiring them to earn further any academic degrees, while others may prefer management candidates who have earned a bachelor's or master's degree.
Registered nurses who return to school may also choose to stay in an academic setting and become nurse educators.
Positions such as nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives or nurse practitioners—known collectively as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) —may also be available for registered nurses who earn graduate degrees in one of the APRN specialties.
Hands-on Training for Registered Nurse
Registered nurses may be required to 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
Certification and Licensure
The states typically require registered nurses to be licensed. Licensing requirements include graduation from an accredited nursing program and a passing score on the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). After licensing, nurses may pursue certifications that enhance their knowledge and skill set, enabling them to work with particular groups of patients. Specific areas of certification include pediatrics, ambulatory care, pain management, mental health and cardiac-vascular nursing, among others.
Skills and Qualities
Important skills and qualities for a career in nursing include:
- Knowledge of the information and techniques needed to diagnose and treat human injuries, diseases, and deformities. This includes symptoms, treatment alternatives, drug properties and interactions, and preventive healthcare measures.
- Empathy and compassion for patients and their family members
- Excellent communication skills
- Decisive critical thinking
- Top-notch organizational abilities
- Attention to detail
Career Outlook and Salary Information
Registered nurses coordinate and deliver patient care as well as provide support, advice and information about various health conditions and treatment plans. They often find employment in hospitals, doctor's offices and regional medical clinics but may work in other, less traditional settings, depending on their training and title. Registered nurses may choose to specialize in one or more specific areas, and their jobs may include the supervision of licensed practical/vocational nurses, nursing assistants or other clinical personnel.
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- American Nurses Credentialing Center, ANCC Certification Center, accessed March 2019, https://www.nursingworld.org/our-certifications/
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupation Employment and Wages, March 2018, https://www.bls.gov/oes/2017/may/oes291141.htm
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Registered Nurses, April 2018, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm
- Summary report for Registered Nurses in O*Net Online, accessed March 2019, https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/29-1141.00