Careers in Nursing: What Is a Registered Nurse (RN)?
Has a career in nursing always interested you? Whether it’s the rewarding patient relationships or the fulfilling feeling of improving others’ lives, there are a vast number of reasons why so many choose to enter the nursing profession. Regardless of what specialty you choose—for example, pediatric or a geriatrics—all professional nursing tracks begin at the same level: registered nurse.
If you’re unfamiliar with healthcare jargon, you’re probably wondering: what is a registered nurse?
A registered nurse, often shortened to RN, is the most common job title held by those in the nursing field.
Working as a registered nurse offers job stability, opportunities for growth, and an ample salary. If you’d like to learn more about pursuing this career, read on for everything you need to know about becoming a registered nurse.
What Does a Registered Nurse Do?
To get a better idea for what to expect as a registered nurse, let’s break down what the job entails. A registered nurse is a licensed healthcare professional that works with a variety of patients. Due to the diversity within this position, there are a number of different responsibilities that a registered nurse may be in charge of.
Daily Duties of an RN
While every RN job will be unique, there are some similarities you can expect from this type of employment. On a daily basis, registered nurses should be prepared to perform any of these standard procedures:
- Checking vitals – A registered nurse should be able to check a patient’s vitals with ease—including body temperature, pulse, blood pressure, and respiration rate.
- Recording medical history – Certain paperwork will be involved when caring for patients. Registered nurses should be able to read, keep track of, and document their patients’ medical history in an organized manner.
- Taking blood and administering medication – Registered nurses are trained to work with syringes, blood samples, and medication administration. Nurses should expect to perform all of these procedures multiple times a day for different patients.
- Infection control and safety – Keeping a sterile environment is a major duty of all healthcare professionals. It’s crucial for any registered nurse to learn the proper sanitization and infection control procedures required by their facility. Assessment and evaluation of infection risk is also a crucial step in achieving this level of patient safety.
- Communicating with patients and their families – Being an RN isn’t just about the technical work. An experienced nurse should also be able to convey messages between a patient and their family, support patients emotionally, and create a comforting, healthy environment for those in their care.
These are just a few of the responsibilities you should expect when becoming an RN. It’s important to note that certain positions and healthcare facilities have unique patients, schedules, and practices. For every new job, registered nurses will undergo training specific to the practice.
RN Specialties and Their Respective Duties
In addition to the general duties listed above, some registered nurses choose to pursue specialties within the field.
Some of the most popular specialties for registered nurses include:
- Prenatal and labor & delivery – Many registered nurses choose to specialize in prenatal or labor & delivery work. These nurses will receive additional training and may pursue certifications to care for pregnant women. Caring for patients during pregnancy, labor and delivery is a particularly rewarding specialty that offers high starting salaries.
- Oncology nurse – Oncology nurses provide care for patients in the cancer unit. This type of specialty will incorporate many of the regular RN responsibilities, as well as cancer-specific duties, such as administering chemotherapy and care coordination.
- ER nurse – Registered nurses who choose to work in the emergency room should be prepared for a high-intensity environment. ER nurses will focus on treating patients who require immediate care, ranging anywhere from non-urgent to life-threatening. Nurses who work in the ER provide care every step of the way, including discharging patients and transferring them to the ICU.
- Gerontology – A large number of registered nurses specialize in the treatment of patients in older adulthood. These job opportunities go beyond hospitals, and offer employment in nursing home facilities and at-home care.
- Pediatric nurse – On the other end of the spectrum, registered nurses can also work with the pediatric population. If you enjoy working with children, a pediatric position is a fulfilling specialty with unique responsibilities—including physical and social development, and collaborative care with other pediatric specialists.
While these specialties are available for all registered nurses, there’s also the option to continue working as an RN in a variety of healthcare facilities and units.
Either career path, however, will require certain steps to becoming a licensed nurse.
How Do I Become a Registered Nurse?
Before you consider going after a specialty, you’ll need to become a registered nurse. The process of obtaining the RN title can be broken down into three phases:
#1 Nursing Education
The first step toward becoming an RN is completing your degree. Those who want to pursue a nursing career have three options when it comes to higher education:
- ADN – An Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) is a popular option for many nursing students. An ADN can be achieved at a community college or trade school, and the program is typically completed within two years.
- BSN – A Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) is the longer, more well-rounded program. Students pursuing a BSN degree will usually earn their degree within four years. While BSN programs are more expensive, the starting salary for graduates is often higher than ADN-level nurses.
- Accelerated BSN Program – If you’ve already earned your bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field, an accelerated BSN program may be available to you. These programs help graduates earn their BSN degree within a single year, and get them on a fast track to certification and licensure.
Once you’ve successfully completed your nursing degree and have earned your nursing degree, you can begin the process of becoming a licensed nurse.
More in Nursing Education: How Long Does It Typically Take to Get a Nursing Degree?
The studying isn’t over just yet, however.
#2 Passing the NCLEX
After graduating, prospective nurses must pass the national licensing exam in order to begin practicing. The NCLEX-RN is a nationwide exam that tests nurses on their medical knowledge and practical skills.
To better prepare for this test, you can familiarize yourself with how the NCLEX is broken down:
- Four areas of practice – The NCLEX focuses on four main areas of practice that nurses will encounter: safe and effective care environments, health promotion and maintenance, psychological integrity, and physiological integrity. Nurses who wish to pass this exam should have a deep understanding of each area and be able to implement them in real-life situations.
- Questions – The structure of the NCLEX is unique to each person. The exam begins with 15 pre-test questions that won’t be calculated into your final score. From there, you’ll answer anywhere from 74-145 multiple choice and fill in the blank questions. Since the NCLEX is computer adaptive testing, the amount of questions administered will depend on the percentage of correct answers you’ve chosen and the level of difficulty of each question.
- Time limit – Every person who takes the NCLEX is given a 5 hour time limit to complete the questions.
- Scoring – The NCLEX is scored on a pass-fail basis. Once the computerized system has calculated that you’ve answered enough questions correctly, it will stop generating questions. Test takers will need to answer medium-difficulty questions at least 50% of the time in order to pass.
The NCLEX can be intimidating for many people, but the test’s thoroughness is what ensures nurses have the necessary skills to treat patients. Completing a nursing program at an accredited school will help prepare you for success on this rigorous exam.
Use this knowledge to your advantage! When studying, try to identify how each prep question and answer applies to real-world scenarios. Doing so will not only make you more confident in the exam, it will translate to more effective nursing skills once you’ve passed and you’re starting your first nursing job.
#3 Getting Hired and Training
The final step to becoming a working nurse is getting hired and trained at a facility. Although most nurses (over 60%) work in hospitals, there are plenty of employment options for people with a nursing license.
As an RN, you may find yourself working in facilities like:
- A school
- A patient’s home
- Military bases
- Travel nursing destinations
- Rehab facilities
- Correctional facilities
- Judicial courts
- Nursing homes
The nursing field is rich with job opportunities, and each position will require additional on the job training. Training may include specific procedures, patient-specific protocols, advanced life support techniques as well as lecture and hands-on skills training.
In order to provide the best care possible, your education will never truly end as a registered nurse. For more on becoming an RN, be sure to read our blog How Do You Become a Registered Nurse?
How Much Money Do Registered Nurses Make?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, registered nurses make, on average, $73,300 annually.
Salaries may vary depending on where you work, what you specialize in, and where you live. Among the most significant factors that can influence a nurse’s income is their education. Nurses who earn their BSN tend to have higher employment rates, more leadership positions, and greater opportunities for growth within their field. This is why many ADN nurses choose to continue their education through an accelerated BSN program.
Whichever Path You Choose, An Online Nursing Program Can Take You There
If you’re looking to begin your nursing career on the right foot, remote nursing classes are a great place to start. With hundreds of online ABSN programs (accelerated BSN programs) available, nurses can enter the field faster, without sacrificing the thorough education and training required to pass the NCLEX.
Online nursing programs offer specialty training for nurses who want to advance their career and increase their income. If you’ve earned a Bachelor’s degree in another field, an online ABSN program is the perfect way to kick off your passion and join the healthcare field.
Begin your new life today, and earn your Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing online.
The content published on our blog is reviewed by credentialed healthcare professionals to give you the most up-to-date and professionally accurate information. This particular article was professionally reviewed by Colleen Sanders, RN, FNP-BC on April 20, 2021.
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