What is a Registered Nurse (RN)?

What is a Registered Nurse (RN)?

What is a Registered Nurse (RN)What is a Registered Nurse?

Registered nurses (RNs) have completed an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) and have taken and successfully passed the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) certification exam known as the NCLEX-RN exam. This is a national exam that all nurses must pass, regardless of their state of residency. This exam is a standardized assessment designed to determine an RN’s ability to perform a general scope of practice. RNs must also meet all licensing requirements in their particular state; these criteria may vary from state to state.

What does a registered nurse do?

Registered nurses manage patient care and promote health. They provide basic care and comfort to patients, reduce health risks, and are the front line in securing patient safety and controlling hospital infections.

Every state determines those elements of nursing care that are within an RN’s scope of practice. A nurse’s education level, training, experience and workplace also set the scope of practice. While each state’s board of nursing (BON) determines what duties an RN can perform, there are some general rules across the board. Typical duties include:

  • Prepare patients for exams
  • Prepare patients for treatments
  • Assist in making patient assessments by performing diagnostic tests and analyzing results
  • Recording patient medical histories and symptoms
  • Administering medications
  • Establishing patient care plans
  • Operating medical equipment
  • Providing patient education regarding illness or symptom management and post-treatment care
  • Collaborating with supervising physicians and other healthcare professionals

RNs fulfill a unique role compared to non-registered nurses like licensed practical nurses (LPN) and licensed vocational nurses (LVN). In fact, RNs supervise LPNs and LVNs, as well as certified nurse assistants (CNA) who are not registered nurses but who complete a high school diploma and CNA certification.

Why is a registered nurse so important?

RNs provide holistic, patient-focused care that includes physical, psychological, cultural, spiritual, economic, and lifestyle factors. Nurses use their clinical judgments to help diagnose and treat patients. They are the primary person to establish an achievable patient health care that includes measurable, attainable short-term and long-term goals. Nurses are then responsible for implementing the care according to the established care plan. Nurses provide carefully documented information to other health care providers.

RNs fill a crucial role in American hospitals, clinics and other healthcare facilities. The United States has a physician shortage, particularly in rural and other underserved areas. However, RNs currently outnumber doctors by three-to-one, and the healthcare system definitely depends on registered nurses to provide much-needed patient care. In fact, RNs are the backbone of the American healthcare system. Without them, that system would cease to function. Fortunately, there are more than three million practicing RNs right now in America.

How to Become an RN

To become a registered nurse, you must at a minimum earn an ADN diploma and pass the NCLEX-RN exam. More and more healthcare employers are now requiring nurses to have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), and are therefore encouraging RNs to pursue this path.

Education Requirements and Training

Colleges and universities around the nation have responded to this need by offering several degree pathways for students who desire to earn a BSN. RN Programs have been designed to account for the various points of academic entry of students who want the BSN degree. For many RNs who have already been licensed to practice, an RN-to-BSN bridge program can help an RN achieve a BSN in one or two years.

Accelerated programs can help a person who desires to become a nurse, but has a bachelor’s degree in another field. These fast-track programs help students earn a BSN in 12 to 18 months.

The RN Career Outlook

There are currently right under three million registered nurses in the United States and in just five years, by 2024, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects there will be 3.2 million RNs. In fact, registered nurses make up the largest sector of the nursing workforce, and with projections like this 16 percent growth rate, the career outlook for RNs is very good. RN jobs are growing at a much faster rate than employment as a whole.

The U.S. population is aging, and that is driving the need for more RNs, as is the wider availability of healthcare services available to Americans. In particular, there is a tremendous opportunity for entry-level RNs, as one-third of current RNs are approaching retirement age. With the sharp rise in chronic illnesses like obesity and diabetes, more RNs are needed for patient diagnosis, treatment and education

RN Salary and Employment

According to the BLS’s latest data from May 2018, RNs can expect to earn on average about $71,000 per year, or roughly $34 per hour. At the top of the salary band, experienced and specialty RNs can earn nearly $100,000 in annual salary, with government jobs paying the highest salaries. RNs in physician offices tend to make the lowest salaries at around $60,000 per year.

While hospitals still employ the majority (61 percent) of RNs, nurses no longer necessarily need to work just in a hospital setting. The employment trends show that the largest growth is in facilities other than hospitals, such as ambulatory surgical centers, outpatient clinics and long-term care facilities.

Many RNs find satisfaction working in non-traditional nursing roles as school nurses, home health nurses, parish nurses or even travel nurses. Others find rewarding careers as occupational health nurses, public health nurses, forensic nurses or legal nurse consultants.

Top 5 Specialties for Registered Nurses

Many RNs are happy being generalists, but after obtaining their general credentials, some RNs wish to pursue work in a specialization area, that is, a specific aspect of nursing. These specializations can center around a specific patient population, medical condition, research area or workplace setting. Here are just a few examples:

  • Ambulatory Care Nurse
  • Critical Care Nurse
  • Geriatric Nurse
  • HIV/AIDS Care Nurse
  • Hospice Nurse
  • Infection Control Nurse
  • Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse
  • Ophthalmic Nurse
  • Pediatric Oncology Nurse
  • Psychiatric Nurse specialty
  • Pulmonary Care Nurse
  • Rehabilitation Nurse

Certain employers may require RNs to become certified in a specialty area. Various organizations serve as a nationally-recognized certifying body, such as the formal examination offered by the American Board of Cardiovascular Medicine for a cardiac nursing specialty.

Some RNs pursue graduate training for an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) degree. The APRN offers continued education in a specialized area of nursing in these four areas:

  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) – provide the full range of anesthesia and pain management services.
  • Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM) – gynecological and reproductive health care
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) – use best practices and evidence-based care to drive changes in a healthcare organization
  • Certified Nurse Practitioner (CNP) – licensed, autonomous clinicians focused on managing people’s health conditions and preventing disease

Helpful Resources

Registered Nurse FAQs

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about registered nurses.

LPN vs RN: How does an RN differ from an LPN or LVN?

RNs have associate degrees (ADN) and typically supervise LPNs and LVNs, who perform entry-level duties like administering medication, attending to medical records and taking vital signs. LPNs don’t have a college degree but their state of residence will require an educational program and LPN or LVN NCLEX exam.

How do I become a registered nurse?

At a minimum, you must graduate from high school and have a 2-year ADN degree, followed by passing the NCLEX-RN exam. Many employers today are requiring nursing positions to have a 4-year degree, but thankfully there are many RN-to-BSN programs out there for you.

What is an accelerated BSN program?

These accelerated programs are for RNs with experience who wish to earn a 4-year bachelor’s BSN degree in nursing. Students typically have different points of academic entry, so schools are often able to accommodate these by offering flexible and online programs. For example, if you are an RN who has not earned a BSN degree, many programs offer this ability through a combination of online and hybrid classes.

A bridge program helps students bridge the gap between the Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) and the BSN degree. Some programs allow RNs to earn the BSN and then immediately start the MSN coursework for a master’s degree in nursing.

What are some of the nursing duties I can expect to perform as an RN?

RNs help doctors during surgery, run and analyze diagnostic tests, and dress wounds and surgical incisions. RNs are usually on the front line with patients, determining treatment plans, guiding patients in preventative health care, and providing emotional support to patients and their families.

If I am not an RN, can I still earn a BSN?

Yes, many schools offer direct entry or accelerated programs for individuals who hold a bachelor’s degree in another subject. This is a great track for professionals interested in making a career change into nursing. Most direct-entry programs allow you to become an RN and a credentialed BSN degree-holding nurse in as little as two years (or longer depending on your academic entry point.)

Helpful Organizations, Societies & Agencies

You can learn more about registered nurses by following these great resources:

Nursing Scholarship

Need a little help getting started? Check out our nursing scholarship here!

List of Registered Nurse Programs

Ready to dive in and find the right nursing program for you? How can I find RN jobs near me? Take a look at our list of the Best BSN Degree Programs!

If you are looking for an in-demand, versatile role in the nursing industry, strongly consider becoming an RN. This career is rewarding and impactful and serves as a great foundation for further specialization or earning an advanced degree.

Nurses are the heart of healthcare, but nursing is not the easiest job. There are long hours, difficult people and time away from home. You’ll experience stress and frustration but you’ll also experience the inspiration that comes from your patients. Maya Angelou had a famous quote that said, “They may forget your name, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” Become part of the heart of healthcare today. Become a registered nurse!

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