How to Become a Registered Nurse
Registered nurses (RN) are healthcare professionals that provide medical care to patients, education and support to the patient’s family and friends, and conduct public education about various medical conditions. Depending on where they work and their licensing, they may also run clinics that provide limited healthcare services, blood drives, conduct health screenings, and participate in other outreach programs.
RNs typically work as part of a team that includes physicians and other medical specialists like oncologists. Though job duties vary depending on the RN’s role, they typically include:
- Obtaining patients’ health information
- Updating patient records with current information about health status
- Create or consult on patient treatment plans
- Observe patient progress and consult with the appropriate medical professional
- Assist in performing diagnostic testing
- Give medication and other treatments for health conditions
- Show patients and their caregivers how to handle illnesses and injuries
- Provide information about at-home care
Registered nurses can specialize in one or more fields of medicine. Common specialties include substance abuse and addiction, cardiovascular, critical care, neonatal, rehabilitation, genetics, and advanced practice. Nurses also enter fields that do not revolved around patient care but still require an active nursing license such as healthcare consulting, education, research, hospital administration, and medical writing or editing.
The title of registered nurse is a general one and nurses may be called by other names depending on their specialty. For example, a registered nurse that works in neonatal care is called a neonatology nurse.
How Long Does It Take To Become a Registered Nurse?
Nursing is a regulated profession and you must obtain a formal education and licensing to enter. There are a couple of different education options for becoming a registered nurse. You can earn a diploma from an approved nursing program offered by community and technical colleges. Most registered nurses, however, go for an associate’s or bachelor’s degree which can be obtained from colleges and universities. All programs include a mix of school work and clinical experience at teaching hospitals, public health departments, clinics, or other healthcare facilities.
All three types of education will provide access to entry level registered nursing jobs. However, advanced degrees are required to enter administrative, teaching, and research positions. Many schools offer dual degree programs that provide education in nursing and a complementary subject (e.g. nursing and public health) or end in a master’s degree. Typically these degree programs take up to 5 years to complete.
It is not unheard of for people to change careers and become a registered nurse. If you have a bachelor’s degree in one subject, there are programs specially designed for people transitioning from another field into nursing.
All states require nurses to be licensed. To obtain a nursing license, you must graduate from an accredited nursing program and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). Additional requirements may apply and vary from state to state. However, almost all states require nurses to pass background checks, particularly those that work with children and the elderly.
In addition to licensing, nurses can earn certifications from accrediting nursing organizations such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center. You can earn specialty credentials in gerontology, pediatrics, and ambulatory care. Generally, credentials are voluntary but some employers do require them for entry into a particular nursing position.
Personal Qualities You’ll Need to Become a Registered Nurse
Interpersonal skills and compassion: You job involves working with people be they patients or fellow medical staff. You need to know how to work with a variety of personalities, but even more critical is having compassion for patients and their friends and family.
Critical-thinking skills: To provide patients with the best care possible, you must be able to evaluate their medical situations and make decisions, sometimes quickly, regarding their health care.
Detail oriented: Registered nurses handle patient treatments and care. Being able to follow directions and make note of important details is necessary to providing effective medical care.
Communication skills: Nurses must be able to convey information and instruction clearly to patients, caregivers, and medical staff.
Physical and emotional stamina: You will be walking and standing for long hours and lifting and moving patients. Nursing is a high-stress job where people encounter numerous upsetting and disturbing situations including death. You must have the physical and emotional strength to take it all in stride.
The majority of nurses, about 48%, are employed by private general and surgical hospitals. Other employers include physician offices, public hospitals, home health care services, nursing care facilities, correctional facilities, schools, and government agencies. Typically the facilities where nurses work are clean, well lit, and safe but not always. This depends a lot on where the nurse is stationed. Some nurses work outdoors and some positions require travel within the local area and abroad.
Like most medical professions, nurses come in contact with hazardous and infectious agents. The risk of contracting a communicable disease is high. However, the risk can be reduced by strictly adhering to standardized safety guidelines. Nurses are also prone to back injuries due to long hours bending, stretching, standing, and walking around.
Only 20% of registered nurses work part time. Patients require care around the clock, so working all hours of the day, night, and week is fairly normal. Some nurses are required to be on call and overtime is common.
Salary for a Registered Nurse
Registered nurses make an average of $64,690 per year. The top 10% of the industry earned $95,130 while the lowest 10% makes $44,190. Average wages, however, vary by employer. For example, private hospitals pay the most with an average wage of $66,650 while nursing care facilities pay the least at $58,180.
About 2.7 million people worked as registered nurses in 2010. Job opportunities for nurses are expected to increase 26% by 2020. There are several factors influencing the job growth including advances in medical technology, more emphasis on preventative care, the aging Baby Boomer population, and increased life spans. Hospitals will continue to be the major employer of registered nurses, but there will be additional demand for them in nursing care facilities, private physician offices, and outpatient care centers.