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Become A Nurse: Job Opportunities Abound

By Candice Mancini
Published on March 25, 2010.

Job Duties

Nurses nurture and care for those who are sick or injured. Though there are many different kinds of nurses, this article focuses on two major categories of nurses: Registered Nurses (RNs) and Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs), also called Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVNs). There are some overlapping duties between RNs and LPNs, including administering medications, starting intravenous fluids, collecting fluid samples for testing, and developing and implementing healthcare plans. Yet RNs typically carry more authority than LPNs.

Specifically, other job duties of RNs include:

  • Monitoring, assessing, and documenting symptoms in patients
  • Helping doctors with examinations or assisting during operations
  • Identifying and treating basic illnesses and injuries
  • Prescribing medications (depending on state laws)
  • Supervising other nursing staff

RNs who are head nurses or nurse supervisors might also supervise other RNs and plan work schedules and assign duties.

Although some duties of the LPN often overlap with RN's duties, LPNs often handle more basic patient care duties, including:

  • Providing basic bedside care, including taking vital signs and monitoring diet and fluids
  • Feeding patients who need assistance
  • Helping patients with bathing and dressing
  • Supervising nurses' aides

Both RNs and LPNs job duties can depend on their work settings: nurses in hospitals, physicians' offices, nursing homes, and home health services can have very different job descriptions and duties.

Job Skills

Nurses should be empathetic, caring, nurturing individuals. Nurses must also be detail-oriented and have the ability to think on their feet. Strong observational and communication skills are also important. Of course, nurses also need the ability to work with the sick, injured, and elderly.

Especially for those who plan to enter supervisory roles, strong leadership and management skills are also required. Even if not acting in a supervisory job position, RNs often supervise LPNs, and LPNs often supervise nurses' aides.


According to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median 2008 salary for RNs was $62,450, or $30.03 per hour. For LPNs, it was $39,030, or $18.77 per hour. Salaries also varied by work setting. For both RNs and LPNs, employment services paid the highest mean salary: $69,110 for RNs and $44,860 for LPNs. For RNs, hospitals were the second-highest paying employer, paying a mean salary of $66,490. Hospitals were the fourth highest-paying employers for LPNs, following nursing homes ($41,660) and home health care services ($41,410).

Training and Education

To become a Registered Nurse, you must complete one of three educational programs (after earning a traditional or online high school diploma): a bachelor's of science degree in nursing (BSN), an associate's degree in nursing (ADN), or a diploma. BSNs generally require four years to complete and are offered at universities and colleges. ADNs usually take two to three years to complete, and are offered at community or junior colleges. Diploma programs usually take three years to finish and are offered through hospitals. Diploma programs are decreasing in favor of bachelor's and associate's degree programs.

LPN training programs usually take about one year to complete, and are offered by vocational or technical schools or community or junior colleges.

Both RNs and LPNs must also pass the NCLEX licensing exam in order to obtain their nursing licenses.


Jobs for both RNs and LPNs can be found in hospitals, doctors' offices, home health care services, employment services, and nursing homes. According to the BLS, the largest employer for RNs in 2008 were hospitals, while for LPNs, it was nursing homes.

Job Outlook

The BLS predicts excellent job opportunities for nurses. Between 2006 and 2016 the BLS projects a 23 percent increase in jobs for RNs and a 14 percent increase for LPNs. For RNs, the largest area of growth is expected to be in doctors' offices and home health care services. For LPNs, growth areas include home healthcare services and nursing homes.

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.
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