Registered Nurse

Career Information

Nurse helping older man exercise at home
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Job Description

A registered nurse (RN) treats patients and provides advice and emotional support to them and to their families. Some RNs educate patients, as well as the public, about medical conditions.

There are many nursing specialties including critical care, addiction, oncology, neonatology, geriatrics or pediatrics. Some RNs combine two specialties. There are also registered nurses who provide primary or specialty care, including clinical nurse specialists, nurse practitioners and nurse midwives.

Employment Facts

There were about 2,737,000 nurses employed in the US in 2010. About half of them worked in hospitals. Some had jobs in doctor's offices and nursing care facilities or were employed by home health care services, schools and correctional facilities.

Registered nurses in hospitals and nursing care facilities work around the clock, usually on rotating shifts. Their schedules include weekends, evenings and holidays.

Nursing involves some risks including exposure to communicable diseases and dangerous drugs, and injuries related to lifting and moving patients. However, there are procedures that help mitigate these risks.

Educational Requirements

To work as a registered nurse one must earn a bachelor's of science degree in nursing (BSN), an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a diploma in nursing. BSN programs are offered by colleges and universities and generally take four years to complete.

ADN programs, offered by community and junior colleges, take two to three years to complete. Diploma programs, usually three years long, are administered by hospitals. They are relatively rare compared to BSN and ADN programs.

Why Do You Need to Know About Educational Requirements?

Other Requirements

All states require graduation from an approved nursing program and passing of a national licensing exam called the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX-RN, which the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) administers. Other licensing requirements vary by state. Check the licensing requirements of the state in which you plan to work by using the Licensed Occupations Tool on CareerOneStop. You can also contact the individual state boards of nursing which can be found on the NCSBN website.

Registered nurses, like other professionals who deliver patient care, must be compassionate. Good organizational skills and being detail-oriented helps ensure that all procedures are properly followed, which keeps patients and workers safe. Strong critical thinking skills allow RNs to evaluate situations and take necessary actions. Emotional stability is required to deal with very difficult situations, as is patience. Finally, nurses must be able to communicate effectively with patients and other health care workers.

Advancement Opportunities

A nurse often begins his or her career as a hospital staff nurse. With experience he or she may be promoted to assistant unit manager or head nurse. Some nurses eventually move into more advanced managerial positions, but a graduate degree may be needed.

Why Do You Need to Know About Advancement?

Job Outlook

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts job growth for registered nurses will be faster than the average for all occupations through 2020. There will be more job openings in this career field than there will be in almost any other.

Why Do You Need to Know About Job Outlook?


Registered nurses earned a median annual salary of $65,950 and median hourly wages of $31.71 in 2011.

Use the Salary Wizard at to find out how much a registered nurse currently earns in your city.

A Day in a Registered Nurse's Life

On a typical day a registered nurse will:

  • record patients' histories and symptoms on medical charts
  • discuss patients with other professionals
  • observe patients
  • help set up treatment plans or implement existing plans
  • administer medication
  • change dressings
  • discuss patients' care with families and other caregivers

Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Registered Nurses, on the Internet at (visited February 7, 2013).
Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, O*NET Online, Registered Nurses, on the Internet at (visited February 7, 2013).

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