Nurse Types / Registered Nurse
Many nurses go into the healthcare profession because they want to make a difference. Once you decide that nursing is the right fit for you, there are several options for beginning – and advancing – your nursing career.
Deciding to become an RN allows you to have a direct impact on patient outcomes. In just two to four years, you can graduate from an accredited nursing program and sit for the NCLEX-RN exam to obtain your RN licensure.
In this article we explore:
- What is a registered nurse?
- What do registered nurses do?
- Where do registered nurses work?
- What are specific types of registered nurses?
- How do you become a registered nurse in 3 steps?
- What are additional requirements of registered nurses?
- What are the salary and career outlooks for registered nurses?
What is a registered nurse?
A registered nurse is a licensed healthcare professional who can coordinate and provide patient care in a variety of healthcare settings.
Registered nurses have many responsibilities. In their roles they:
- Advocate for patients to ensure they receive the best care possible
- Coordinate care between specialists
- Develop daily care plans
- Educate patients about health conditions and treatment plans
- Offer emotional support to patients and their families
- Provide bedside care for patients recovering from illnesses, injuries, and surgeries
RNs don’t have to work in a clinical setting. You can opt for becoming a travel nurse or providing private duty care to patients in their homes.
Qualities of a successful registered nurse
Above all else, RNs must have empathy for their patients. You’re going to see people who are sometimes at their worst because of painful conditions. Treating them with kindness and compassion is a must.
Other qualities of successful RNs include:
- Attention to detail. Patient outcomes are improved when RNs pay close attention to patient vitals and other signs that conditions are improving or worsening.
- Commitment to patient advocacy. RNs are nurse leaders who must commit to keeping their patients safe and delivering the highest quality of care. They must hold other nurses and healthcare practitioners to the same high standards and be willing to advocate for their patients to ensure their needs are met.
- Strong communication skills. You’ll need to be an effective communicator to explain conditions and treatment plans to patients and their caregivers. Plus, if you work with other healthcare providers, you need to have a smooth flow of information.
What do registered nurses do?
The beauty of becoming an RN is that your job duties vary from one employer to the next. Depending on your department and your nursing specialty, you may supervise other nurses and oversee patient care, or serve as a direct caretaker for patients.
A day in the life of a registered nurse
One thing is certain when you’re a registered nurse – you’ll never be bored at work. Some of the most common duties for RNs include:
- Administering medications and prescribed treatments
- Assisting with medical procedures as part of a healthcare team
- Creating patient care plans
- Drawing blood and collecting lab work
- Educating patients and their families and answering questions about conditions and care plans
- Monitoring and recording patient vitals and progress
- Performing wound and skin care
Some RNs may have additional duties, such as administrative work or assisting during surgical procedures. The sky’s the limit when you work as an RN.
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Common conditions treated by registered nurses
Registered nurses can treat patients with a variety of illnesses and medical conditions. They coordinate and provide patient care for:
- Chronic health conditions
- Illnesses or injuries requiring hospitalization
- Post-surgical/post-medical procedure recovery
The kinds of conditions you encounter in your patients also depends on your nursing specialty.
Where do registered nurses work?
Most RNs (61%) work in some sort of hospital setting. Meanwhile, 18% work in an ambulatory or outpatient setting. Of the remaining RNs, some work environments include education, government, and residential care facilities.
If you didn’t work as a nurse before earning your RN licensure, you may want to start out your career in a position that includes bedside care to gain valuable experience.
What are specific types of registered nurses?
Like other types of nursing professionals, RNs can specialize according to their interests and career goals. With your RN licensure, you can pursue positions such as:
- Neonatal nurse
- Cosmetic nurse
- Critical care charge nurse
- Medical-surgical nurse
- Nurse case manager
- Operating room nurse
- Pediatric nurse
- Public health nurse
How do you become a registered nurse in 3 steps?
There are 3 steps you must complete before you can begin working as a registered nurse. Completing the correct level of education, plus gaining experience and relevant certifications are all necessary phases of your career journey.
Step 1 – Become a registered nurse
Earning the degree that supports your career advancement goals and passing a competency exam are the first stages.
Earn a degree
There are two types of nursing degree that can help you become an RN. The first is an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN). The second is a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).
Some nursing professionals earn their ADNs and begin working as RNs to gain experience in their field. They may continue to work while completing an RN-to-BSN program.
If you already have a bachelor’s degree in a discipline other than nursing, you can complete an Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing. This helps you complete a nursing program in about 2 years.
Others choose to attend nursing school full-time to complete a BSN in 4 years before they start working.
Pass the NCLEX-RN exam
When you are six weeks away from graduation, you can apply to sit for the NCLEX-RN exam. There are 15 pretest questions and a max of 145 questions on the NCLEX-RN exam with a five-hour time limit for completion.
If you do not pass the exam on your first attempt, you must wait 45 days before you can try again.
Topics on the NCLEX-RN include:
- Safe and effective care environment
- Health promotion and maintenance
- Psychosocial integrity
- Physiological integrity
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Step 2 – Accumulate experience
Once you have your RN license, you must gain some practical experience as an RN. Choose a healthcare setting that closely aligns with your intended nursing specialty or interest. If you aspire to work as an operating room nurse, seeking out job opportunities in patient surgical recovery units may be an ideal fit.
Helpful skills and experience
The types of skills and experience you need to be successful as an RN depends on your nursing pathway. For instance, if you want to become a pediatric RN charge nurse, find job openings that allow you to gain experience with pediatric patients.
Step 3 – Obtain certifications
All licensed nurses are required to have basic life support (BLS) certification. Some RNs choose to pursue Advanced Life Support certification. RNs who want to specialize must obtain additional certifications to prove competency. From adult-gerontology to psychiatric-mental health certifications, RNs can pursue the certifications that align with their career goals.
What are additional requirements of registered nurses?
Once you obtain your RN license and any certifications, you must renew them according to schedule or risk losing your ability to practice.
Most states require RNs to renew their licenses every 1-4 years. Completing continuing education credits usually is part of the process. Credential renewal periods vary depending on the kind of certification and the certifying body.
What are the salary and career outlooks for registered nurses?
Like other nurses with advanced degrees, RNs are in high demand. RNs earn an average base salary of $82,750 annually. The profession is expected to grow by 6% between 2021 and 2031.
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Burnout continues to be a problem for all nursing professionals, not just RNs. However, most RNs report a high level of satisfaction with their jobs.
Registered nurses have many choices for advancing their careers. You can go on to pursue a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) so you can become a nurse educator. Another alternative is to pursue a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) to provide more autonomy in your nursing career.
If you have questions about a prospective path you’d like to pursue, you can seek advice from other nursing professionals already working in those specialties.
Earning the degree that supports your career advancement goals and passing the NCLEX are the requirements. You can earn a diploma, ADN, or BSN degree to become a registered nurse.
The average RN salary is $82,750.
Depending on your department and your nursing specialty, you may supervise other nurses and oversee patient care, or serve as a direct caretaker for patients. You can provide education to patients and caregivers and act as a patient advocate.
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