About Registered Nurses
Registered nurses (RNs) provide medical care for a variety of patients. They track patients’ symptoms and medical histories, perform treatments, assist with diagnostic tests, and coordinate health care teams. They also educate patients, their families, and the general public about health issues. RNs serve as key team members, and they work closely with doctors and other nurses.
Education and Experience Needed
For most nurses, the first step toward becoming an RN is earning a bachelor’s degree. Like most undergraduate programs, a typical Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree takes four years to complete, and during that time, you’ll study everything from anatomy to physiology to nutrition to psychology. Some aspiring nurses opt to get an associate’s degree or a nursing diploma, but if you plan to pursue a high-level nursing career, you’ll need a BSN eventually; although, you could start your nursing career with an associate’s degree.
After earning your degree, you’ll need to get a license to work in your state. That means you’ll have to pass an exam and complete a background check. Learn more about your state’s requirements by checking with the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN).
If you want to pursue a specialty in a certain area of nursing, there’s a good chance you’ll need additional certification. Check with the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) to learn more about certifications for pediatric nursing, gerontological nursing, nursing informatics, and many more options.
Whether or not you opt for a specialty, though, you’ll need to gain experience as a staff nurse in a hospital or other health care setting. RNs need to have excellent critical thinking skills and strong attention to detail. Since you’ll be speaking constantly with patients, caregivers, and medical teams, you’ll need strong communication skills.
You’ll also need compassion and significant emotional stability to handle challenging situations throughout the day. Because you’ll be on your feet all day, you’ll need to be in relatively good health and have great stamina.
RNs’ salaries tend to vary significantly depending on their type of workplace, but the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that the median annual salary for RNs is $68,500. Those on the highest end of the pay scale earn over $103,000 per year, while those in the lowest 10 percent earn less than $47,000 per year.
In addition, those who work for government-run health care facilities and state or local hospitals tend to earn the most, while RNs who work for nursing care facilities and educational services tend to earn the least.
RNs with additional credentials have the potential to earn more than average. For instance, Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) earn an average annual salary of $133,000, while certified nurse-midwives earn an average of just over $102,000 per year, and both pain management nurses and psychiatric nurse practitioners earn about $90,000 per year.
Typical Duties and Tasks
As an RN, you can expect to play an important part in a team of health care providers. RNs talk with patients to record their symptoms, contribute to patients’ medical histories, monitor symptoms, and assist with developing patient care plans. RNs know how to operate high-tech medical equipment, and they can also administer medications and analyze results from diagnostic tests.
RNs serve as key communicators between health care teams and patients and their caregivers. RNs often educate patients about treatments and explain how to manage illnesses or care for injuries.
Some RNs take this educational component to the next level, serving as nurse educators or health care consultants. While many RNs work with a wide variety of patients, some specialize in educating and caring for certain patient groups. For example, some RNs work with newborn babies or patients with genetic disorders, addiction issues, heart disease, or permanent disabilities.
Ambitious RNs will find numerous opportunities to advance their careers. Many opt to take on high-level clinical positions, such as clinical nurse manager or head nurse. RNs can also elect to become an advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), nurse practitioners (NPs), or nurse anesthetists. Others opt for more administrative roles, such as director of nursing or chief nursing officer.
While experience alone may open some doors, many advanced nursing jobs require candidates to earn graduate degrees. If your ideal nursing career includes these high-level roles, you may need a master’s degree or a doctoral degree.
Interested in pursuing a patient-focused career as an RN? Find out how to get financial aid and start pursuing your career in health care.