Registered Nurse (RN)
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nursing is among the Top Ten Occupations with the Largest Job Growth.
Registered Nursing (RN) requires a large base of knowledge used to assess, plan, and intervene to promote health, prevent disease, and help patients cope with illness. They are health educators and advocates for patients, families, and communities. When providing direct patient care, nurses observe, assess, and record symptoms, reactions, and progress, which provides the basis for care planning and intervention. They have a unique scope of practice and can practice independently, although they also collaborate with all members of the healthcare team to provide the care needed by each patient as an individual.
Nurses' roles range from direct patient care and case management to establishing nursing practice standards, developing quality assurance procedures, directing complex nursing care systems, conducting clinical research, teaching in nursing programs, as well as practicing in many other invigorating settings.
RNs also develop and manage nursing care plans; instruct patients and their families in proper care; and help individuals and groups take steps to improve or maintain their health. While state laws govern the scope of nursing practice, it is usually the patient needs that determine their daily job activities.
Professional nursing responsibilities have changed considerably. Nurses today are highly respected and valued members of the healthcare team who bring their own body of knowledge to the process of health care. Nurses work in collaboration with physicians and members of other healthcare disciplines.
Once you are a professional nurse, you might choose to focus on a particular specialty. There are numerous specialty options -- each of which has its own training/certification requirements and related professional network or organization. These include:
In addition, nursing has four Advanced Practice clinical professions, each of which requires a master's degree and separate certification:
For more information about the many career options in nursing, see:
To learn more about this career, watch the video profile of "Registered Nurses."
You can download, save and print a PDF of this career profile:
Registered Nurse Registered Nurse 19 Oct 2010 [pdf, 128 KB]
Most nurses work in healthcare facilities, although home health and public health nurses travel to their patients' homes, schools, community centers, and other sites.
RNs may spend considerable time walking and standing. They also need to be able to cope well with stress, since nursing involves direct involvement with human suffering, emergencies, and other pressures.
The work schedule also can be challenging: Patients in hospitals and nursing homes 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). Office, occupational health, and public health nurses are more likely to work regular business hours.
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Registered Nursing is a knowledge-based profession. The RN license is the basic credential in the nursing field. There are three different educational paths to qualifying to sit for the RN licensure examination:
You can earn a nursing diploma or associate degree in 3 years. Many junior and community colleges offer ADN programs. Currently, 51% of all working RNs hold one of these two very basic degrees. Search for schools that provide training for this career.
If you're going into this field, however, you should be aware that there is a growing national movement to require all nurses to hold a BSN. This is because recent research indicates that patients are safer and have better outcomes when they're under the care of nurses with at least baccalaureate-level education in nursing.
Your career prospects also will be better if you hold a BSN: Many employers believe that bachelor's-level nurses are better prepared for a wide range of practice settings and tend to have strong skills in critical thinking, case management, and health promotion.
Conventional BSN programs take 4 years, but more and more schools are offering accelerated programs for students who already hold a bachelor's in another field; such programs take between 11 and 18 months to complete. Similar programs exist for an accelerated master's degree (MSN), which can be earned in approximately 3 years. In addition, there are a growing number of RN-to-MSN and BSN-to-Ph.D. programs, designed to meet the increasing demand for more highly educated nurses in the workforce.
There also are an increasing number of four-year institutions offering "articulation agreements" with community and junior colleges, to enable nurses with diplomas or associate degrees to seamlessly transition into BSN and MSN programs.
For an overview of the various RN programs, see the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) website.
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Last updated: May 23, 2013
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