Nursing has long been a highly respected profession. Many find becoming a registered nurse (RN) to be a great fit for them as a long-term career. By becoming an RN, you will have the ability to touch and change the lives of many. Many people are drawn to this profession because they have a genuine interest in helping people.
Whatever your reason for wanting to become a registered nurse you may want to explore all of your options before committing yourself. Below within this guide, we will explore everything you need to know about becoming a registered nurse. Ready to explore this exciting career? Great! Let’s get started.
Becoming a Registered Nurse (RN) could unlock your dreams of career satisfaction and financial success. Many decide to become registered nurses either to fulfill a lifelong dream, a love for helping others, job security or to help bring in more income for their families.
Either way, nursing careers have stood the test of time. With over 3 million Registered Nurses (RN) employed. RNs make up the largest health care field with no signs of slowing down.
Recommended Degree Level: Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
License required: Unrestricted Registered Nursing License (RN)
Certification Available: American Nurse Credentialing Center (ANCC) offers to credential RNs. The ANCC offers over ten certifications for registered nurses to certify. However, each certification specialty may have different education, training and experience required.
How much does a Registered Nurse make? The Median annual salary for Registered Nurses is $75,330* annually or $36.22 an hour.
Table of Contents
What does a Registered Nurse (RN) do?
The word Registered Nurse is an umbrella term that covers various aspects of the nursing profession. Registered Nurses work in collaboration with Licensed practical nurses (LPNs), Certified Nurse Assistants (CNA), physicians along with other health care professionals.
The role of the registered nurse stretches wide. Nurses provide both direct patient care to even case management. RNs are an important component of the health care system as large majorities of health care services involve some form of nursing.
Registered nurse Job Description – What are the RNs job duties?
- Administer medication/watch for adverse side effects
- Provide health promotion/to patients and families
- Develop a plan of care for patients/ revise as necessary
- Monitor patient progress
- Patient teaching
- Wound care
- Pain Management
- Infection Control
- Record patient medical history and symptoms
- Intravenous (IV) therapy
- Perform dressing wound care
- Collaborate with hospital staff
- Maintain patient reports and records
- Observe, assess and record patient symptoms and their response/progress to treatments.
- Assist physicians/other health care providers during patient examinations or other treatments.
- Perform patient diagnostic tests
- Take patient vital signs and administer medications
- Help patients with rehabilitation and healing
- Provide patients and families with aftercare treatment
Within the United States, there is four times the number of RNs than there are physicians. With that being said, doctors are often busy with diagnosing patients and creating treatment plans and too often do not have the time to carry out the plans themselves. Patients are commonly exposed to nurses far more than they are with physicians.
Due to limited time constraints, registered nurses typically provide the human element of assisting patients with treatment plans. RNs observe the patient’s symptoms and in return monitor their progress or sometimes lack of progress. Part of the responsibility of RNs is to help educate the patient and families to prevent disease and illness.
Many patients will need emotional support on how to best cope and deal with a long-term illness, disability or disease and may look to the RN for answers and support.
Further RNs administer medications, perform laboratory testing, as well as complete wound stitches, bandage open wounds along with administering patient vaccinations. Nurses performing immunizations is a common task. Registered nurses can also help to assist physicians and surgeons with surgery by preparing instruments and handing them the tools throughout the surgery.
The great news about becoming an RN is the sheer volume of specialties you could pursue. You could pursue nursing specialties in several areas.
Let’s say, for example, if you enjoy working with infants you could opt to become a neonatal nurse. Specializing in the care of infants that need special care after birth.
Thousands of RNs decide to focus on patients that may have a particular problem such as diabetes, cancer, or even Alzheimer’s disease. In addition to focusing on specific patient problems, many RNs take a special interest in particular parts of the body such as the cardiovascular system or nervous system. Other nurses may opt to work with a particular patient population such as children, older adults, or even pregnant women.
Many hospitals allow RNs to work 4, 8, 10, or even 12-hour shifts. Many RNs work weekdays, full and part-time. Allowing for flexible shifts that can be helpful for working parents and nursing students that are still in school.
Is becoming a Registered Nurse Right for You?
You may be a registered nurse at heart if you:
– Have a fascination with how the human body works
– Can be detail-oriented and can work under pressure and sometimes-hectic environments
– Is selfless and genuinely has a strong need to help others
– Be willing to work and prepared to work undesired days such as holidays or weekends
– You understand how to communicate clearly and thorough
What are the career paths for registered nurses?
The particular work the RN does can take many forms; there are over 200 nursing specialties you can specialize in.
Look below for examples of nursing careers RNs pursue:
- General Duty Nurses: Provide general bedside care and observe patient progress.
- Surgical Nurses: Works in the operating room to support the physician.
- Maternity Nurse or Neonatal Nurse: Looks after newborns and assists with labor and delivery.
- Home Health Nurse: Provides special nursing care to patients within the home environment.
- Private Duty Nurse: Hired by patient or patient’s family. May work in hospital or patients home.
- Office Nurse: Combination of nursing skills with administrative duties.
- Nursing Home Nurse: Provides direct patient care to the elderly in long-term care facilities.
- Public Health Nurse: Works to educate & promote the public about health care issues.
- School Nurse: Works with schoolchildren to keep them healthy.
- Occupational Health Nurse: Provide nursing care within the work site along with health counseling.
- ER Nurse: Treats patients that have accidents, illness, and diseases in emergency/acute situations.
- Triage Nurse: Gathers information from patients decides the patient’s severity level.
- Charge Nurse: Ensures the RNs and physicians are communicating so the patient is seen efficiently.
- Addictions Nurse: Provides care to help people overcome addictions or substance abuse.
RNs, who work, as staff nurses in hospitals, will manage patients’ medical needs and provide bedside care.
Registered nurses hold the responsibility to supervise both LPNs and CNAs within the hospital setting. Nurses who work in hospitals usually work in a fast-paced pressure-filled environment. However, this environment offers the most room for growth and units for registered nurses to specialize in.
RNs, who are employed in an office setting for a physician or work in a clinic, may provide support and assistance with administrative duties within the office. They additionally may help the medical staff with contributing to get patients prepared for examinations.
Registered nurses employed in a Nursing home will provide a broad range of care and duties. Within a nursing home, an RN will spend a great amount of time developing treatment plans for the elderly and performing clerical duties. Also in a nursing home, RNs will provide direct patient care to older adults.
The residents of a nursing home may have medical conditions that need monitoring this is where the RN will provide treatment and perform more tasks that are advanced such as starting Intravenous Fluids (I.V) if needed.
Nurses that work in a nursing home may decide to concentrate on one or two areas of specialization; this could include long-term rehabilitation that is intended to help residents with a head injury or stroke recover.
RNs working in Home Healthcare will provide care for patients that need care within their homes. Most patients will be recovering from an illness or may be suffering from a long-term chronic condition. Typically, the care they provide is what a physician or nurse practitioners have prescribed.
Registered Nurse (RN) Salary and Job Growth
If you are looking for a recession-proof career, that is in high demand then actually should pursue a career in nursing. Registered Nurses are paid extremely well and can take home satisfying paychecks. Many students decide to become RNs for the long-term job security and income this career provides.
How much do RNs make?
In accordance with the BLS guide, the median annual wage for RNs is $75,330 or $36.22 per hour.
There are, however, factors that contribute to RNs actual salaries, some factors such as geographic location, years of experience, specialization, and the institution he or she is working in will influence RNs actual salaries.
What is my earning potential as an RN?
Your earning potential is high. According to the Department of Labor (DOL), the top 10 percent of registered nurses earned more than $98,880 annually or $47.54 per hour. As you gain more hands-on experience the more job opportunities, you will qualify for such as management and supervisory roles.
Deciding on which industry to work in will also dictate your earning potential. The DOL stated in May of 2020 3,080,100 nurses were operating in this occupation.
Industries RNs are making the most income
The industries RNs are making the most income is:
Industry Median Annual Wage, Percentage of RNs, employed:
- Medical and Surgical Hospitals: $71,640 /29.73%
- Physician Offices and Clinics: $63,800 / 7.47%
- Home Health Facilities: $67,880/ 13.46%
- Nursing Homes: $62,440/ 8.99 %
- Outpatient Care: $72,390 /15.33%
Top states of Registered Nurses, who earned the most income are:
State Median Annual Wage:
- California: $98,400
- Texas: $98,400
- New York: $77,110
- Florida: $62,720
- Pennsylvania: $66,570
Many nurses get what is called shift differential for working nights and weekends. Differentials are money added to the RNs base salary for additional hours worked. Many employers will pay health insurance, sign-on bonuses, and other employee benefits.
Please note: The registered nurse’s salary will vary depending on education, location, setting, and or experience; numbers projected are not a guaranteed salary the numbers are projections based on the BLS guide.
Is there a demand for RN careers?
Yes. The demand for registered nurses could not be more in-demand. The nursing shortage creates a huge demand for RNs. Nursing is globally allowing you to have employment wherever you decide to live.
Not only is deciding to pursue a career as a registered nurse in demand but also choosing this career is recession-proof. Despite the downhill of unemployment trends and the increasing unemployment statistics. Employment opportunities for registered nurses continue to increase.
What is the job growth for RNs?
The job growth for Registered Nurses is excellent. More job openings for nurse graduates will be available as the baby boomer nurses retire. Strong growth for nursing is also due to the advances in medical technology that will allow more patients and diseases to be treated more efficiently.
According to O*Net Online, the projected growth for registered nurses through 2012-2022 is expected to grow faster than average.
Additionally projected job openings for RNs through years 2012-2022 is 1,052,600. Registered Nurses have a bright outlook according to O*Net Online.
How much competition will I face for a job?
The more education you get, the better opportunities you will have. Nursing school is competitive being one of the most popular choices for associate degree holders to pursue. Many RNs while in school, are already working as CNAs and LPN/LVN giving them a competitive edge by having paid employment experience already under their belt.
Many registered nurses with families and have other obligations tend to prefer more regular 9-to-5 hours, doctor clinics and outpatient care facilities tend to be highly sought after due to the more solid work hours this is more likely where you will face the most competition.
What kinds of institutions hire registered nurses?
RNs can work just about anywhere where healthcare is needed. However, some organizations pay better and offer the best environment for career growth and learning. The institutions that hire the MOST registered nurses are hospitals.
Approximately 61 percent of nursing jobs are found within hospitals. Followed by most RNs employed in other institutions to include government agencies such as the Veterans Affairs hospitals, small and large physician offices, outpatient surgical centers as well as home health care services for individuals who need home care nursing.
RNs can be found in other places, not just the list above. It is not uncommon to find RNs working for schools, universities, military, clinics, or even community centers.
What work schedules and environment should I expect?
Because hospitals operate 24 hours a day and never close, nurses and other healthcare professionals must cover all shifts. Registered nurses who work in a hospital setting typically can choose 12-hour shifts.
Nurses spend a vast majority of the day on their feet or standing. Walking from patient to patient, unit to unit, or wherever duty calls them. Typically, nurses enjoy a well-light clean working environment that is located indoors.
How do I advance in my registered nursing career?
The best way to advance your registered nursing career is to get more education under your belt. Many supervisory positions or leadership positions tend to go to nurses who have their degrees specifically Bachelor of Science degrees.
RNs who hold diplomas with several years of experience can achieve supervisorily and leadership positions but times are changing. RNs, who hold diplomas, are finding it harder to get into higher positions and being able to advance their careers.
A majority of supervisory and leadership positions require applicants to at least have a BSN. If you are looking to advance, your career to become an instructor or top facility administrators position, you will need at least a Master’s degree.
Additionally, if you want to advance your nursing career, you could earn your Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN). A large number of registered nurses go on to complete their MSN to become advanced practice registered nurses (APRN). Becoming an APRN will give you greater responsibility, and you will be able to command a much higher salary.
Typically to become an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse takes about six years of full-time schooling if you are starting from the bottom with no degree already in hand.
What education and certification will be needed to become an RN?
Deciding on which path to choose should be selected upon your current and long-term needs. There are four educational nursing programs you can pursue to become an RN. Also, it is best to enroll in a nursing training program that is in alignment with your ultimate career goals.
Below we will explore your options and give you a glimpse of what you might expect when enrolling in one of the degrees or diploma nursing options.
1. Hospital Diploma Nursing Programs
You can become an RN by completing a nursing training program within a hospital. The number of hospital schools offering RN-Diploma programs has been steadily decreasing. Only 10% of nursing training programs for students to earn the NCLEX-RN are hospital-based anymore.
The hospital diploma program is the oldest way of becoming an RN and dates back to the 1900s. Nursing diploma programs typically take 2-3 years to complete.
While in school to earn your hospital diploma, the curriculum regularly covers hands-on clinical rotations, classroom theory and includes several subjects.
Some of the primary ones include many topics such as:
- Pediatric Nursing
- Geriatric nursing
- Medical and surgical nursing
- Maternal nursing
- Nursing Fundamentals
The benefits of nursing diploma programs are that they will prepare you for employment in health care facilities and give you more exposure to working in a hospital environment. Working in a hospital, environment and being trained within a real-life environment will help you transition quicker into an entry-level hospital position. The drawback to this option is there is no degree earned.
Plus you will be ready and equipped to deliver direct patient care and be prepared and eligible to sit for the NCLEX-RN exam. Once you sit for your NCLEX-RN exam and pass, you can then later apply for your RN license.
2. Licensed Practical/Vocational to Registered Nurse (LPN/LVN to RN) programs
This option to become an RN is for Licensed Practical Nurse/Licensed Vocational Nurses. If you are, an LPN/LVN and decide you would like to become a registered nurse; you can later enroll in an LPN/LVN to RN Bridge program. Once you complete the nursing bridge program, you will be prepared to use your knowledge and skills learned to work as an RN.
Within your LPN/LVN to RN program, you will learn:
- How to communicate with other health care professionals, the patients, and families.
- You will learn critical thinking skills
- Find out how to give patient injections and draw patient blood
- How to take patient medical histories, their vital signs, how to explain their treatment procedures, and how to identify patient symptoms.
- Learn how to perform diagnostic tests and how to read and interpret the results
LPN/LVN to RN course programs vary in length but typically most programs can take less than one year or 32 weeks without any breaks in attendance to complete. The Associate’s Degree is the degree that will be rewarded upon successful completion of the program.
The LPN/LVN to RN bridge program will help you be prepared to sit for the NCLEX-RN examination. This exam will need to be successfully passed for you to apply for your RN nursing license with your state board of nursing.
3. Associate’s Degree Nursing Programs
In the United States, there are over 700 Associates Degree’s in Nursing (ADN). Many students decide to pursue the ADN because this is the quickest way to become an RN. The ADN degree program is usually viewed as the fast-track route into the nursing profession.
The ADN nursing programs take about two years to complete some can be completed in as quickly as 20 months.
There are usually pre-requisites that may need to be met before a school can accept you into their nursing program.
This option is more cost-effective, and you can get an ADN degree at community colleges, private colleges, and universities.
The ADN nursing program offers classroom instruction and clinical experience to students. Earning an Associates’s degree allows you to qualify for the NCLEX-RN.
A few sample courses from the CNI College ADN nursing program are:
- Human Anatomy
- Fundamentals of Nursing Concepts
- Written Communication
4. Bachelor’s Degree Nursing Programs
This is another popular choice for students. This option if pursued at a traditional university without any prior nursing education or experience takes about four years to complete.
There are several over 700 Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree programs within the United States you can enroll in some more competitive and some are easier to be accepted into.
Registered Nurses who have graduated and earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree tend to be higher in demand for the top leadership nursing positions.
Further, it gives the RN a stronger competitive edge when it comes to employers hiring them as opposed to just having an ADN. Companies tend to recognize the unique value RNs with BSN bring to a practice setting.
Holding a BSN can give your nursing career a strong foundation and room to pursue your Master’s degree later on. RNs, who hold BSN degrees, tend to have managerial and supervisory positions. Additionally, they tend to have an increased level of seniority when it comes to promotions and decisions within the nursing practice.
Nurses with ADN will continue to be in demand, but employers are becoming tougher and sometimes requiring new nurses to have a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing. Employers are pushing RNs to be better educated to provide improved patient care.
According to the Institute of Medicine in 2010, they would like to see 80 percent of all registered nurses by 2030 to have BSN. This is a strong order as many institutions are finding it hard to find enough instructors to meet this demand that nevertheless this has created an increase in RN to BSN nursing programs around the country.
BSN available programs
There are several BSN programs for you to choose from:
Traditional 4-year University nursing program – Takes about four years to complete
RN to BSN Degrees: This is for Registered Nurses, who already hold an ADN and have already obtained their nursing license. Some schools may allow you to transfer up to 75 percent of your previous college credits (135 previous credits), so it is best to check around and weigh your options when selecting a school. The RN to BSN nursing program is accelerated and can be completed in about two years.
Accelerated BSN degree program: is for people who have already obtained degrees in different fields and concentrations and would like to pursue a nursing career. If you are previous grade point average is high enough, your school was accredited, and you have taken the prerequisite courses you might qualify for being accepted into one of these programs. The accelerated BSN degree program takes 16 to 24 months.
What you will learn in a BSN nursing program:
BSN courses will prepare you to become a professional nurse in a broad range of settings. The majority of BSN nursing will bring instructors and teachers that have years of experience to help; you build you are nursing skills. Students who enter into BSN nursing programs practice their nursing skills in a clinical setting that is supervised in a hospital.
There is academic coursework that focuses heavily on critical thinking, clinical simulation lab exercises with in-class lectures from experienced nurses and professionals. Successful completion of the BSN nursing degree program will make you eligible to take the NCLEX-RN and become a practicing registered nurse.
Sample Courses from Chamberlain College of Nursing BSN nursing program include:
- Anatomy and Physiology
- Lifespan Development
- Logic and Critical Thinking
- Critical Care Nursing
- Nutrition Health and Wellness
- Pediatric Nursing
- Maternal Child Nursing
- Public Speaking
- Transitions in Nursing
What certification will I need to become an RN?
Once you have finished your nursing program and earned either a hospital diploma, ADN, or BSN degree you will need to apply for licensure. These licenses will be will your state board of nursing, and they will grant you eligibility.
Once your state board of nursing has given you the OK, you will then register and take the NCLEX-RN exam at a testing center. The NCLEX-RN stands for National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses.
This exam is a computerized test through the Pearson Vue interface. Most likely, your nursing program will help you sign up and tell you where to go and how to get started.
Are online nursing programs available?
Some ADN programs can offer you the choice between online or in-class programs. Many BSN programs for the RN can be completed online.
There is a good chance a portion of your program will need to be completed at a hospital to fulfill the clinical portion of your training. It’s best when searching for a school to ask if they offer any online nursing programs.
How much will my education cost?
The cost of your education will always depend on which route you decide to take and what school you sign to enroll in.
For example, if you attend a community college, your in-state cost may average about $1,000 to $3,000 a semester.
Rowan-Cabarrus Community College ADN nursing cost estimates per semester are $1, 152.00 however; the price does increase when you factor in books and other fees than the cost increase to $2,324.50.
If you would like to earn your Bachelor’s Degree at a more high-end school. Chamberlain has a 3-year BSN nursing program. The total cost of attendance for three years is $87,665.
Of course, no matter what school you attend you will need to factor in costs for room and board and transportation costs. School always has a cost but with financial aid options, many students can enjoy the freedom of knowing they can have the opportunity to attend school. The costs should not scare you considering what financial costs it takes just to live and feed a family or even buy a house.
Your education should be an investment in your future. Remember every choice you make now will affect your future for the better or the, worse. Just think would you like to have a career that is essentially recession-proof.
Becoming a registered nurse could allow you to have income that could improve your quality of life. The choice is yours.
Will my nursing program have prerequisites?
Normally there is. The majority of community colleges will require that you have taken and received a certain grade point average in certain subjects while you were in high school.
If you are looking to enroll in a 2-year Associates Degree nursing program at a junior college, they may require you to have at least the following:
- Fill out an enrollment package
- Submit your educational plan from your counseling center
- Provide proof of your High School Diploma transcripts or GED/AP results
- Must meet the Residence requirements
Before enrolling in a community college nursing program, they may need a certain number of classes to have been fulfilled before your acceptance into their nursing program some classes may be: Biology 101, English 101, and Math 115 with a satisfactory passing grade generally a (“C” average).
Again, remember it depends on what school and what degree you are applying for its best to contact the school directly to see if you meet their admission guidelines.
What does it mean for a nursing school to be accredited?
When selecting a school to attend. Most schools will have this logo showing they are accredited. However, it is always best to ask. There are two main accreditation bodies.
The Commission of Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Provides accreditation for post-secondary institutions for both Bachelor’s and Master’s degree programs.
Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (NLNAC). You will see this one more often just because they provide accreditation to a larger number of nursing programs. Additionally, NLNAC accredits certificates, diplomas, associates, bachelor’s and master’s degree programs.
Accreditation means a nursing program or school meets strict guidelines and standards. The institution’s curriculum can prepare you to enter into the nursing profession. Employers are recognizing the value of students’ experience and knowledge gained by attending accredited schools and hiring them preferably over students who attend non-credited institutions.
Some employers may feel if you attend an accredited college that the curriculum you received will be of higher quality.
Nursing school accreditation Top benefits:
- Accredited school students can receive financial aid
- Students credits are more likely to transfer
- Shows employers you have the required skills
- Institutions are more recognized and respected
Frequently Asked Questions– Take a peek!
Why should I become an RN?
The demand for highly motivated and driven nurses that are passionate about helping others has skyrocketed. One of the great benefits of becoming a nurse is that nursing is a highly respected career. Becoming an RN, you can have so many places to work.
If you have ever walked through a hospital, you will notice the vast number of sections and units. Registered nurses make up the greatest percentage of the nursing field. Becoming a registered nurse can offer you employment stability with a rewarding career.
I want to go to nursing school but how can I pay for it?
Please do not let the cost of school scare you. You may qualify for several financial aid programs. The best way to know how much you are eligible for is by contacting a school and applying for financial aid.
The majority of schools have a financial aid office or dedicated person that can help you apply especially if you have questions. If you would like to learn more about financial aid, it is, best to visit the Financial Aid Website located here.
The way financial aid works is by first you enrolling into a school, the school going over the school costs. Then you will need to go to the FAFSA website and fill out a free financial aid application. Once completed you and your school will have a code that signifies how much funding you are entitled to receive.
What is the job market for registered nurses?
ng passed allowing previously uninsured individuals to now have access to health care have created a significant demand and employment openings for new and current nurses.
Nursing is the greatest of any health care occupation. Which in return makes employment positions for nurses excellent. Job opportunities will be most significant in both home health care services along physician offices. Both sectors are expected to increase to nearly double by the year 2025. Registered Nurses are expected to retire creating and opening more employment opportunities for nursing graduates.
Overall, the Department of Labor (DOL) is projecting employment for RNs to grow faster than average. Nurses will be in high demand within critical care units, emergency departments along the operating room as they have the most shortages.
Check out our other Nursing School Guides.