Registered Nurses (RNs)
Schools and Education
|Recommended Degree Level||Associate or Bachelor|
|Number of Jobs, 2012||0|
|Annual Job Growth Rate||3.9%|
|Job Openings per Year (est.)||120,740|
- Aspiring registered nurses must successfully complete one of three academic tracks:
- Diploma of nursing
- Associate degree in nursing
- Bachelor degree in nursing
- Diplomas and associate degrees may be offered by career-specific "hospital schools," community colleges or online-based national universities. Students who obtain either of these typically finish their studies within three years.
- Those who opt for bachelor degrees may be in school for four or five years. Known as BSNs, these programs are common in public and private four-year colleges and universities.
Many universities now offer accelerated BSN programs to nursing students who hold bachelor degrees in other fields. Many also offer year-long training programs that allow current RNs to obtain BSN degrees without taking time off from work. Due to mounting evidence that BSNs produce better health outcomes in patients, it appears probable that all registered nurses will soon have to obtain BSNs before sitting for the RN licensing exam.
What you study:
All nursing diploma, associate degree and bachelor degree programs adhere to a specific curriculum. It's typically comprised of the following areas of study:
- Behavioral sciences
- Basic chemistry
- Practical nursing
- Clinical experience
In addition, bachelor degree candidates may be required to take communications, psychology and business classes.
A brief introduction to registered nursing (RN) careers. Produced for the US Dept. of Labor.
A Day in the Life
If you work in a hospital, you'll arrive for your shift and consult with the nurse that you're relieving to get up to speed on any new admissions or changes in your patients' status while you were away.
Using patient charts and inputs from the attending doctors in your area of the hospital, you'll provide the patients in your area with medications, treatments and intravenous injections. You'll insert catheters and help move patients who can't get out of bed on their own. You'll also perform diagnostic examinations and tests to measure a patient's progress or deterioration. All the while, you'll be recording your qualitative and quantitative observations to ensure that your colleagues remain in the loop.
As a hospital nurse, you may also be responsible for communicating with patients' family members and providing detailed instructions regarding outpatient treatment. If you're a naturally empathetic person, you'll find the connections that you forge in this part of the job to be emotionally rewarding. Provided that you communicate this information effectively, these families will place enormous trust in your judgment and hold you in high regard. You may also embrace your role as a caregiver for the small children and elderly patients that appear in your ward.
If you work in a doctor's office or clinic, you may spend more of your time on administrative tasks. When your office admits a new patient, you'll have to obtain their prior health records and ensure that their files are properly organized. You may perform basic tests like blood pressure checks and vision screenings on each patient that you see. You'll also draw blood for diagnostic exams or give booster shots.
Your workload may vary significantly from day to day. During flu season, you might be responsible for manning a vaccination station at your local supermarket. If there's a marathon or sporting event going on nearby, you could be on hand to provide medical support. Although you're likely to have some stressful workdays, you'll also enjoy plenty of variety as a registered nurse.
Certifications and Licensing
The hallmark of a registered nurse is his or her nursing license. Although every state administers its own licensing exam, the standards for these tests are more or less constant across the country. All holders of nursing diplomas, associate degrees and bachelor degrees are eligible to sit for the exam. All RN candidates are advised to review the standards set by the nursing boards in their respective states.
Once a nurse has received an RN license, he or she can obtain further certification from the board or association that governs his or her specialty. These extra certifications confer prestige and may increase earning power over time.
Hours and Locations:
Since nurses work in a variety of institutional settings, their schedules vary widely. About 20 percent of nurses adhere to part-time schedules that provide for an excellent work-life balance. About half of the nurses who work full-time are employed in doctor's offices, private practices and educational settings. Although they may be required to work on some Saturdays, their work schedules otherwise tend to conform to standard business hours.
On the other hand, full-time nurses who work in hospitals and certain other institutions may work four 12-hour shifts per week. These nurses may regularly work overnight shifts and may be required to remain "on call" during their off days.
These reputable websites contain factual, up-to-date information about registered nursing education and careers.
- American Association of Colleges of Nursing: The AACN is a respected accrediting organization that serves hundreds of nursing schools across the United States. Its website's "Students" section enables prospective nursing students to search for competitive educational programs and provides resume-building and job-search advice. Since its "Career Link" focuses mainly on nursing education jobs, nursing graduates looking to pursue career opportunities elsewhere in the field should check other nursing career sites as well.
- Explore Health Careers: Explore Health Careers is a joint venture between the American Dental Association and the Federation of Associations of Schools of the Health Professions that exists to provide career-oriented information about various medical occupations. This is a great place to find basic information about the starting salaries, training requirements and daily responsibilities of the nation's registered nurses.
- American Nurses Association: The ANA is a trade organization for U.S.-based nurses. In addition to providing practical information and resources for existing nurses, the ANA's website helps new nursing graduates break into the field with exhausting resume-building support and a well-stocked job listing feature.
- U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook: The Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics maintains a comprehensive, statistics-oriented career page for prospective registered nurses. The site provides a quick rundown of the registered nursing field, including detailed salary information for aspiring nurses. Since it lacks a dedicated job-search function, other sites may provide a better snapshot of the current market for registered nursing careers.
- National Student Nurses Association: The NSNA provides nursing students with advice and resources to smooth their transition into the nursing profession. With plenty of resources, tutorials and online seminars, this site takes a more personalized approach to career preparation. While its "Career Center" offers dozens of pertinent articles, its job search function is thinly populated. As such, prospective nurses looking for employment opportunities should consult other sites in conjunction with the NSNA's.