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Registered Nursing Careers

Career Description

Registered nurses, regardless of specialty or work setting,  treat patients, educate patients and the public about various medical conditions, and provide advice and emotional support to patients’ family members. RNs record patients’ medical histories and symptoms, help perform diagnostic tests and analyze results, operate medical machinery, administer treatment and medications, and help with patient follow-up and rehabilitation.

Common Work Tasks

  • Teach patients and their families how to manage their illness or injury
  • Explain post-treatment home care needs: diet,  nutrition, and exercise programs
  • Educate the public on warning signs and symptoms of disease
  • Establish a plan of care or contribute to an existing plan
  • Administer medication, including careful checking of dosages and avoiding interactions
  • Start, maintain, and discontinue intravenous (IV) lines for fluid, medication, blood, and blood products
  • Consult with physicians and other health care clinicians
  • Run general health screening or immunization clinics, blood drives, and public seminars
  • Provide direction to licensed practical nurses and nursing aids regarding patient care

Other Job Titles

Registered Nurses are also known by other titles, including:

  • Ambulatory Care Nurse
  • Trauma Nurse
  • Critical Care Nurse
  • Surgical Nurse
  • Radiology Nurse
  • Transplant Nurse

Education,  Training, and Experience

Education and Training
There are three major educational paths to registered nursing—a bachelor’s of science degree in nursing (BSN), an associate degree in nursing (ADN), and a diploma. BSN programs, offered by colleges and universities, take about 4 years to complete. ADN programs, offered by community and junior colleges, take about 2 to 3 years to complete, and are the most popular nursing degrees. Finally,  Diploma programs, administered in hospitals, last about 3 years. Accelerated master’s degree in nursing (MSN) programs are also available by combining 1 year of an accelerated BSN program with 2 years of graduate study.

Licensure and Certification
In all States, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories, students must graduate from an approved nursing program and pass a national licensing examination,  known as the NCLEX-RN, in order to obtain a nursing license. Nurses may be licensed in more than one State, either by examination or by the endorsement of a license issued by another State. The Nurse Licensure Compact Agreement allows a nurse who is licensed and permanently resides in one of the member States to practice in the other member States without obtaining additional licensure. In 2006, 20 states were members of the Compact, while 2 more were pending membership. All States require periodic renewal of licenses, which may require continuing education.

  Nurses should be caring, sympathetic, responsible, and detail oriented. They must be able to direct or supervise others, correctly assess patients’ conditions, and determine when consultation is required. They need emotional stability to cope with human suffering, emergencies, and other stresses.


The median annual salary for Registered Nurses is $60,000. The top 10 percent earn more than $87,000, and the lowest 10 percent earn less than $42,000.  Median earnings in the industries employing the largest number of registered nurses are:

  • General Medical and Surgical Hospitals - $63,820
  • Offices of Physicians - $61,740
  • Home Health Care Services - $59,140
  • Nursing Care Facilities - $56,410
  • Employment Services - $67,570

Job Outlook

  • 2006-2016 Employment growth:  23%
  • Number of new jobs created 2006-2016: 587,000
  • Employment 2006 : 2,505,000
  • Employment 2016:  3,092,000
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