What is a Registered Nurse?

Although their job descriptions are comprehensive and varied, registered nurses, also known as RNs, primarily administer treatments and medications to patients.

Although their job descriptions are comprehensive and varied, registered nurses, also known as RNs, primarily administer treatments and medications to patients. Many RNs also carry out patient history interviews and educate patients and the public about self-care and disease.

The most common methods of treatment administered by RNs include:
• Placing intravenous lines
• Administering medications
• Developing patient care plans
• Communicating with patients, physicians and family members
• Educating patients and the public about self-care and disease

RNs work alongside staff nurses and physicians; they supervise licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and home health aides. Oftentimes, RNs are the single professional in charge during a shift in a patient care unit.

RNs may run health screenings and immunization clinics in a variety of settings or they may work as educators in various nursing programs. A registered nurse’s job description depends a lot on where they work and the population they serve. For example, in a medical-surgical setting, an RN will provide health promotion and basic medical care to patients with various medical and surgical diagnoses. However, in an emergency setting, an RN will provide initial assessments and care for patients in life-threatening states. RNs may also specialize in specific health conditions like cancer, such as an oncology nurse, while others may work exclusively with one organ like the heart, such as a cardiovascular nurse.

Where do Registered Nurses work?

Registered nurses work in hospitals, outpatient clinics, schools, physicians' offices, assisted living facilities, correctional facilities, summer camps, home care settings, and even within the military.

How do you become a Registered Nurse?

In order to become a registered nurse, you must pursue one of three educational paths:

• A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
• An Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)
• Completion of a hospital based diploma program

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

RNs who complete four-year programs to earn BSNs take more classes in communication, leadership and critical thinking than those who pursue the other registered nurse educational options. Graduates of BSN programs experience a diverse range of employment opportunities and are generally more qualified for management positions than RNs with other degrees.

Accelerated BSN programs, lasting 12 to 18 months, offer individuals with Bachelor's degrees in other fields, an opportunity to quickly join the nursing workforce.

Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) and Hospital Based Diplomas

Typically, ADN programs last 2-3 years, while hospital-based diploma programs last about 3 years. However, hospital-based programs are quite rare.

For ADN and diploma holders, advancement opportunities may be more limited.
In addition to nursing courses, all nursing education programs include:

• Liberal arts coursework
• Anatomy and physiology
• Microbiology
• Chemistry
• Nutrition
• Psychology

All nursing programs also include clinical work, allowing students to gain hands-on experience in everyday healthcare. Clinical work can be completed in a variety of hospital units such as:

• Pediatrics
• Psychiatry
• Maternity
• General medical-surgical areas

Before becoming licensed, graduates of all three types of programs must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). Once licensed, RNs are qualified for entry-level staff nurse positions.

What is an Advanced Practice Nurse?

Many RNs start off as staff nurses, but as they gain experience, they usually are promoted to positions with more responsibility. Some RNs work to become advanced practice nurses (APNs) such as a nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, nurse anesthetists or midwives. Advanced practice nurses are master's degree prepared, and work in direct collaboration with physicians. Advanced RNs can write prescriptions.

How Much Does an RN make?
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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median yearly salary for a registered nurse is $62,450*. RNs constitute the largest percentage of health care employees in the U.S., and the number of RN jobs nationwide is expected to grow 22 percent (from 2.6 million to 3.17 million) by 2018*.

Of all RNs, intensive care nurses accrued the highest salaries with a median of $67,840* per year, followed by:

• Operating room nurses - $66,600*
• Emergency room nurses - $54,897*
• Labor and delivery nurses - $52,722*

RN salaries are influenced by a number of factors, but one of the greatest is the setting of employment. For example, hospitals and physicians' offices offer the highest pay rates. This is good news since 60 percent of all RN jobs are in hospitals*.

Another significant item affecting RN salaries is the type of degree he or she has earned. Usually RNs with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) are qualified for supervisory and management positions, offering higher salaries than other RN positions. Additionally, the more clinical experience an RN has, the higher his or her earning potential.

According to, regardless of a RN’s degree, nurses increase their salaries by an average of $10,000 during their first four years of practice.

What are the Job Prospects for RNs?

Opportunities for registered nurses are excellent; more registered nurse jobs are being added to the workforce than any other job in the United States. Moreover, as the median age of the nursing work force continues to rise and long-term RNs reach retirement age, hundreds of thousands of RN openings will result. Additionally, a multitude of technological advances permits a greater number of health problems to be treated and there is an increased emphasis placed on preventative care.

The projected growth rates for RN jobs vary by the industry. While employment in hospitals is expected to grow 17 percent, RN employment in offices of physician is expected to grow 48 percent*. RN employment in home health care service and nursing care facilities are also growing at significant rates, 33 and 25 percent respectively*.

As more complex procedures that were previously only performed in hospitals are being completed in physicians' offices and outpatient clinics, rapid growth is expected in such facilities.

* Based off the Bureau of Labor Statistics data for 2008, found here.