Nurses today are highly respected and valued members of the health care team who bring their own body of knowledge to the process of health care.
They have a unique scope of practice and can practice independently, although they also collaborate with all members of the health care team to provide the care needed by each patient as an individual. Registered nurses (RNs) work in collaboration with physicians and members of other health care disciplines.
Nursing is also a job that is in demand. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, registered nursing is among the top 10 occupations for job growth between 2014 and 2024, expected to grow at 16%.
When providing direct patient care, nurses observe, assess and record symptoms, reactions and progress, which provides the basis for care planning and intervention. 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. Registered nursing requires a large base of knowledge in order to assess, plan and intervene to promote health, prevent disease and help patients cope with illness. While state laws govern the scope of nursing practice, it is usually patient needs that determine a nurse’s daily job activities.
RN 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 and teaching in nursing programs, as well as practicing in many other invigorating settings.
Some nurses choose to focus on a particular specialty. There are numerous specialty options — each of which has education/certification requirements and a related professional network or organization.
In addition, nursing has four advanced practice clinical professions, each of which requires a graduate degree and separate certification:
Most nurses work in health care 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.
Salary Range and Outlook
Registered nurses earn a median (meaning half of the salaries are above that number and half below) salary of $67,490 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Salaries will vary according to level of education, experience, geographic location and the type of facility. Experienced registered nurses with advanced education can earn more than $100,000 a year or more.
To become a nurse, you must first achieve certification as a registered nurse (RN). To do that, the first step is to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. While you may also choose to earn a nursing diploma or associate degree, which takes three years, a BSN will make it easier for you to find a job. Currently, 55% of the nursing workforce holds a baccalaureate degree or higher. Recent research indicates that patients are safer and have better outcomes when they’re under the care of nurses with at least a baccalaureate-level education in nursing.
Your career prospects also will be better if you hold a BSN: Many employers recognize that nurses with bachelor’s degrees 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 four years, but more and more schools are offering accelerated nursing 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 three years. In addition, there are a growing number of RN-to-MSN and BSN-to-PhD 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 associate or bachelor’s degrees to seamlessly transition into BSN and MSN programs.
Once you graduate, you will have to take and pass the NCLEX-RN, a national licensing exam, to practice as a registered nurse.
The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) has information about the various RN educational programs on its website.
Learn More About a Career In Registered Nursing
- American Nurses Association
- American Association of Colleges of Nursing
- Nurses for a Healthier Tomorrow
- Find out more about nursing pay rates and how and why they vary.