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What does a Registered Nurse do?

Registered nurses (RNs) help people deal with physical or mental illnesses. They also help individuals and populations strive for health.

Registered nurses administer medications, dress wounds, assess and monitor body functions, teach patients, families and communities, provide emotional and spiritual support, and plan interventions to help people achieve health.

Registered nurses work closely with other healthcare providers, including physicians, physical therapists, dieticians, licensed practical nurses, nursing assistants, lab technicians, social workers and discharge planners.

Education and Training

Currently, there are three paths to becoming a Registered Nurse:
  • An Associate Degree program, typically offered at a community or technical college, is a two-year program that includes classroom instruction in basic and applied health sciences, as well nursing theory and practice. Clinical rotations give students an opportunity to practice their developing skills. Graduates receive an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) and are eligible to take the NCLEX-RN, the national licensure test.
  • Diploma programs were more common prior to the 1970s. Three-year programs that emphasized clinical skill development, diploma programs were typically offered by hospitals. Presently, there are less than 100 diploma schools of nursing in existence. Diploma grads are also eligible to take the NCLEX-RN.
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) programs are four year programs offered by colleges and universities. Typically, the first two years are spent meeting the general ed requirements for graduation. The last two years are spent studying nursing theory and practice and in clinical rotations. BSN grads also sit for the NCLEX-RN.
In 2008, the American Nurses Association passed a resolution to support initiatives that will require all RNs to obtain a BSN within 10 years of licensure (excluding nurses who are already licensed).

All Registered Nurses must pass the NCLEX-RN and register with their state boards of nursing before becoming eligible for employment.

Where Nurses Work

Most RNs (approximately 60%) work in hospitals. Others work in long-term care facilities, schools, clinics, birth centers, home care agencies and private practice.

Registered nurses can choose from a wide variety of roles. Some RNs prefer hands-on nursing and care for ill and surgical patients in hospitals. Some RNs prefer the thrill of emergency medicine and work as flight nurses or ER nurses. Some enjoy patient teaching and work as diabetes educators, childbirth educators or in cardiac rehab. Others move into management or staff education positions.

RNs in Demand

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for RNs is predicted to increase by 22 percent. Most growth will be out of the hospital; future nurses will be more likely to work for clinics and home care agencies. Salaries vary.

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