New medical technologies, better standards of care and an aging population that’s living longer mean there is a greater need for registered nurses (RNs) than ever before. The future for those seeking to pursue an RN career looks bright, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicting faster than average growth in the field over the coming years.
Registered nurses fulfill a variety of job duties. In addition to the primary role in treating and caring for patients, their responsibilities also include educating patients and the public about a variety of medical conditions, as well as providing emotional support and advice to the families of their patients. Other RN job functions include performing diagnostic tests and analyzing results, administering medications, operating medical equipment, recording patients’ symptoms and medical histories, and assisting with patient rehabilitation and follow-up.
Some registered nurses pursue a specialization. Pediatric oncology nurses work with children undergoing cancer treatment, while geriatric nurses focus on care for the elderly. Perioperative nurses assist surgeons in operating rooms. Other RNs may specialize by health conditions, such as dermatology nurses and diabetes management nurses.
There are several routes one can take to become a registered nurse: earning a diploma through a hospital, an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) through a community colleges or a bachelor's degree through a college or university. The first two options take between two and three years to complete, while the last is a traditional four-year Bachelor of Science (BSN) degree program. While diploma and associate degree programs require less time to complete, registered nurses with a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) will generally have better career and advancement opportunities.
All three types of registered nurse education programs include both classroom learning and supervised clinical experience. Coursework in these programs typically includes nursing, physiology, anatomy, chemistry, microbiology, psychology and nutrition. BSN and ADN students will also take courses in the liberal arts.
In every state, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories, RNs must hold credentials from an approved nursing program and pass a national licensing exam known as the NXLEX-RN. Additional licensing requirements vary by state.
More than 60% of registered nurses work in hospitals. Others are employed in private physician practices, public health agencies, primary care clinics, home healthcare, outpatient surgicenters, insurance companies, nursing homes, mental health agencies and hospices. Some have government nursing jobs or are in the military, while others work as nurse educators in colleges and universities.
The BLS projects continued excellent job opportunities for RNs, with growth in the field of 16%, much greater than that of most other occupations, between 2014 and 2024.
Approximately 2,751,000 registered nurses were employed throughout the U.S. in 2014. BLS estimates indicate that over 439,000 new positions will be added in the coming years, with a projected total employment of 3,190,300 registered nurses by 2024.
According to BLS figures for May 2015, registered nurses earned a mean yearly salary of $67,490. RN earnings ranged from around $46,360 at the low end to $101,630 at the high end. Many organizations offer benefits packages, tuition assistance programs and bonuses.
The best nursing opportunities will go to RNs with advanced education, such as a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). With the increasing availability of online nursing degree programs from accredited universities and a range of tuition assistance and financing options, now is the perfect time for registered nurses to take the next step toward career advancement.