How to Become a Hospital Nurse and Why You Should Consider It
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Join One of the Fastest Growing Professions in Health Care by Becoming a Hospital Nurse

By Laura Horwitz
Published on December 4, 2009.


Job Duties

Hospital nurses make up the largest group of registered nurses (RNs). They handle a patient's bedside care ranging from their daily diet to physical activity. As a hospital nurse you would also give patients any necessary medical treatments, observe their health, assess and record symptoms, and monitor their progress. Most RNs work within one specific department, such as:

  • Cancer treatment
  • Emergency room
  • Intensive care
  • Maternity
  • Pediatrics
  • Surgery

Most hospital nurses work as staff nurses. Some supervise other members of the staff like licensed practical nurses or nursing aides. You might also devise a nursing care plan for patients or provide patients with instructions on how to manage their care independently.

Job Skills

To succeed as a hospital nurse, you need the ability to make accurate observations, excellent communication skills, and the strength to make important decisions. You must also know how to work as a member of a team in addition to being able to supervise others. Since it's an intense job, you need to be able to handle stressful situations and provide emotional support for patients.


Registered nurses overall earned a median annual salary of $62,450 in 2008, but nurses working at general medical and surgical hospitals averaged slightly more: $66,490. The highest paid nurses earned over $92,240 in 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Licensed practical nurses working in hospitals averaged less than registered nurses, earning an average of $39,340 annually.

Training and Education

You need to have a nursing license in order to work as a hospital nurse in the United States. To become a registered nurse, you need to graduate from an approved nursing program, but you do have three different options on how to do this.

One popular option is to start by earning your associate's degree in nursing (ADN), which takes 2-3 years. This qualifies you to begin working, at which point you can often find tuition reimbursement benefits for an RN-to-BSN program.

A BSN stands for bachelor's of science degree in nursing, your second option. This takes four years to complete but generally provides you with the most employment opportunities. For instance, it's a prerequisite to get into a graduate nursing program if you want to earn a master's degree, which is in turn a requirement to work in any of the four advanced practice nursing specialties: clinical nurse specialists, nurse anesthetists, nurse-midwives, and nurse practitioners.

Your third option, although far less common than the other two, is to enroll in a 3-year diploma program offered by some hospitals. All three of these education paths qualify you to begin working as a registered nurse.

After graduating, you need to pass the national licensing exam, known as the NCLEX-RN exam. For certain specialties, you may also need additional certification.


Registered nurses form the largest health care occupation. They held 2.5 million jobs in 2008. The majority of those, 59 percent, worked as hospital nurses.


About the Author
Laura Horwitz has worked as a freelance writer and researcher for five years in both London and the U.S.
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