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The duties of registered nurses (RNs) are as diverse as the places in which they work. In essence, registered nurses are responsible for improving the health and well-being of patients, whether they are sick in a hospital or healthy individuals seeking preventative care. Specifically, as a registered nurse, your duties might include any of the following:
- Administering therapies, treatments, and medications, and possibly prescribing medications (depending on the nurse's credentials and the state's requirements)
- Providing medical advice to patients and their families
- Observing patients and recording their observations
- Performing diagnostic tests and analyzing results
- Providing follow-up care and rehabilitation
- Explaining post-treatment home care needs to patients and families
- Running healthcare screening clinics
While RNs may be responsible for any of these duties, tasks often vary depending on employer.
Registered nurses must be detail-oriented and highly organized, especially as they are responsible for administering treatments and medications. Not keeping accurate records, or giving an incorrect dosage of a medication, can be disastrous to patients. Registered nurses also must be empathetic, nurturing individuals with compassion for those who are sick or injured. Strong communication skills are also needed.
In addition, some RNs are responsible for supervising LPNs, while others advance to become head nurses or managers. Therefore, strong leadership and managerial skills are also helpful.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for RNs was $62,450, or $30.03 an hour, in 2008. Salaries ranged from $43,410 to $92,240, and varied based on industry and geographic location. Of the top-hiring industries of RNs, employment services offered the highest mean salary at $69,110 annually, followed by hospitals ($66,490) and doctors' offices ($65,070).
Geographically, the top-paying states of RNs was California ($83,040), followed by Massachusetts, Hawaii, Maryland, and New York.
Training and Education
To become a registered nurse, you can pursue one of three routes: earn a bachelor's of science degree in nursing (BSN) offered through colleges and universities; earn an associate's degree in nursing (ADN) at a junior or community colleges; or earn a diploma in a hospital-based program. A BSN usually takes four years to complete, an ADN generally takes two to three years, and diploma programs run for about three years.
Registered nurses can advance by obtaining a master's degree in nursing (MSN), which usually takes two years to complete. Accelerated BSN programs and MSN programs are also available, which could reduce the amount of time you spend in school. All nursing education programs include both classroom studies and supervised clinical experience in health care facilities (often hospitals). For those who wish to climb the highest ranks of nursing, PhD programs are available, and usually require three to five years to complete.
In addition to earning a degree or diploma, RNs must pass the NCLEX-RN, a national licensing examination, in order to obtain a nursing license. To practice one of the four advanced nursing specialties--clinical nurse specialist, nurse anesthetists, nurse-midwife, or nurse practitioner--nurses must often become nationally certified. Certification requires the completion of a master's or doctoral program and the passing of further exams.
RNs are found throughout the healthcare industry, including in hospitals, doctors' offices and other outpatient care facilities, home health care services, nursing homes, and employment services. In 2008, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported about 2.5 million RNs were employed in the U.S.
The BLS predicts 23 percent job growth for RNs between 2006 and 2016. If accurate, this means there should be 587,000 more RNs in 2016 than there were in 2006. The highest job growth, at 39 percent, is expected to occur in doctors' offices and in home healthcare services, followed by outpatient care centers at 34 percent. Growth in these industries is anticipated in light of patient care moving more toward outpatient services.
About the Author
Candice Mancini is a freelance writer and a teacher of AP English literature and college writing. She has an M.A. in Education and a B.A. in English and history.