Female nurse in traditional uniform

How to Become a Registered Nurse

Examine the duties, responsibilities, schooling, requirements, certifications, job outlook, and salary expectations for registered nurses.

Female nurse in traditional uniform

The immense field of Registered Nursing is one of the broadest, most diverse areas of employment in the healthcare industry. With countless specialties to choose from, aspiring nurses can pursue different areas of healthcare based on their interests. Depending on their chosen specialization, nurses can either work with a particular patient group or a broader cross-segment of the population. For these reasons and many others, a career in nursing is uniquely rewarding on multiple levels.

Every nursing career path is unique, from job responsibilities, work environments, and patient groups, to schooling and certification requirements. In this post we will take a broad look at the varied field of Registered Nursing and examine a few of the specialization options available to RNs. We will also examine the life of a Registered Nurse, what it takes to become one, and whether a career in this multi-multi-faceted field is right for you

In just about every field of medicine, you’ll find Registered Nurses, including pediatrics, gerontology, ophthalmology, oncology, podiatry and numerous areas in between. There is also nuclear medicine, family medicine, anesthesiology, public health, physical rehab and more. Experiences among RNs run the gamut from hands-on patient care to specialized equipment usage, records keeping, and more.

Registered Nursing can be a highly rewarding career choice for the right person who is passionate about the field of medicine, and who can combine that passion with dedication, caring, and proficiency. And although the pay can vary from one practice (or specialty) to another, Registered Nursing can be a well-paid profession.

(Click here to see our full list of the highest paying nursing jobs in the U.S.)

Continue reading our RN career guide to further explore the role of the Registered Nurse.

Registered Nursing Defined

What Is a Registered Nurse?

A Registered Nurse (RN) is a licensed healthcare professional who provides skilled patient care and who has obtained either an associates degree or bachelor’s degree in nursing. Regardless of your academic path, all Registered Nurses must earn their degree through an accredited nursing school and successfully pass the NCLEX-RN exam to become officially licensed nurses.

Registered Nurses have several obligations, and their duties can vary based on their employer or chosen medical practice. Earlier in their careers, however, Nurses fulfill a broad range of administrative tasks and patient-care responsibilities.

Registered Nurse: Job Description

What Does a Registered Nurse Do?

Nursing jobs can greatly differ in autonomy and responsibilities based on the type of job or workplace. Some registered nurses work in hospitals or other in-patient settings, caring for patients 24 hours a day, while others consult or treat patients in a more limited capacity, like in a clinic, school, or assisted living facility. In community health care settings, registered nurses are usually the first point of contact with patients and may even provide healthcare themselves.

RNs provide direct medical care to their patients while educating them (and their families) about their illnesses or injuries. They also promote wellness and positive health strategies for people. Finally, they can serve as patient advocates or even support crafting some of the healthcare policies within their respective communities and hospitals. The broad range of activities and healthcare responsibilities that fall on nurses make it an appealing career choice for people of all backgrounds and experiences.

The primary role of the registered nurse could be summarized as meeting the patient’s needs – physical, mental, and emotional – and sometimes those of patients’ families as well. Nursing is a multi-faceted job, carried out at many different levels, with a myriad of unique and common responsibilities. From neo-natal care to end of life palliative care, from hands-on patient involvement, to record keeping and filing.

Beyond meeting patients’ needs, the role of the Registered Nurse requires juggling multiple responsibilities, including assessment and evaluation of health, providing nursing interventions, coordinating care, and document handling. And while the work can be highly rewarding, it also has the potential to carry a high level of stress and responsibility.

Female nurse assisting elderly patient

The Day-to-Day Responsibilities of a Registered Nurse

As previously mentioned, Registered Nurses can work in a variety of settings and are often trained in a specific focus-area. Some of the most popular areas of focus include:

  • Trauma and critical care
  • Pediatric nursing
  • Gerontological nursing
  • Oncology nursing
  • Midwifery
  • Psychiatric nursing
  • Neonatal nursing
  • Family nursing

Many registered nurses choose to further their education and become advanced practice registered nurses (APRN) and work on their certification. APRNs hold at least a master’s degree in nursing. Some examples of APRNs are:

  • Nurse practitioners. Nurse practitioners provide primary, acute and specialty health services to a variety of patients and in a variety of different settings. NPs can diagnose and treat health conditions and are allowed to write prescriptions. Click here to learn how to become a General Nurse Practitioner.
  • Nurse Midwives. Nurse-midwives provide prenatal and postnatal care as well as manage deliveries in normal pregnancies. Click here to learn how to become a Nurse Midwife.
  • Certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNA). Graduates of an accredited program in anesthesiology. CRNAs conduct pre-operative visits and assessments, administer general anesthetics for surgery, and evaluate postoperative status of clients. Click here to learn how to become a Nurse Anesthetist.
  • Clinical nurse specialists (CNS). A clinical nurse specialist is an advanced practice RN who provides direct care, educates clients, conducts research, and manages care. They are experts in a specialized area of practice.

Where Do Registered Nurses Work?

The work settings for Registered Nurses are as varied as the field of medicine itself. RN can work in hospitals, doctors’ offices, clinics, treatments centers, hospices, schools, senior living facilities, or in a patient’s home.

Although a nurse’s duties and responsibilities will vary from one practice (or workplace setting) to another, all RNs usually provide both physical and psychological support for their patients and their patients’ families.

Registered Nurse Schooling & Certification

How Long Does It Take to Become a Registered Nurse?

What Degree Do You Need to be a Registered Nurse?

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Becoming a Registered Nurse requires a significant level of education and training. It requires time, dedication, and determination, but the rewards make it all worthwhile.

To become a Registered Nurse, you must typically earn a nursing degree and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). These steps will grant you the legal authority to practice as a nursing professional.

There are two primary routes to eligibility for an RN license: an associate degree or baccalaureate program.

Associate Degree Program

An Associate Degree in nursing (ADN) is the most common route to becoming a Registered Nurse. An associate degree in nursing can take up to two years to complete, with coursework including basic sciences, social sciences, nursing theory, and nursing practice.

Baccalaureate Degree Program

Recommendations from various nursing organizations for baccalaureate level education for professional practice have resulted in an increased number of BSN programs. Some employers offer higher salary scales to nurses with a BSN degree than those with an ADN or diploma. BSN qualification provides greater opportunity for promotion, including positions in nursing management and administration. A BSN degree is also a basic requirement for many nursing specializations and higher education, including the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctoral degree.

The Nursing License

Upon earning a nursing degree, aspiring nurses must apply for their license with their state’s board of nursing.

Nurses must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) to obtain a license and practice as a Registered Nurse. Each state board of nursing has its own requirements. Each board makes sure that the necessary coursework has been completed at an accredited institution.

Steps to Becoming a Registered Nurse

1. Decide on your nursing path

A good place to start is by thinking about the type of work environment you prefer—hospitals, doctors’ offices, nursing homes or other medical settings. What will inspire you the most?

Next, you’ll want to think about the kind of role you want to play. Do you want to be part of a larger medical staff? Do you want to manage other nurses? Do you feel passionately about serving a specific patient group, like the elderly, young children, or expectant mothers?

2. Enroll in nursing school

After choosing your path, you’ll need to find a nursing school that aligns with your goals and enroll in one of their programs.

Start by researching different nursing programs and complete an application — you’ll need to obtain letters of recommendation, write essays, and more. You may also need to take the TEAS test and prepare for your entrance interview.

It’s not an easy path, and there are a lot of requirements to get started, but it’s doable, and it can be the beginning of a highly rewarding career.

3. Complete coursework and clinicals

Your nursing school curriculum will include coursework relating to chemistry, biology, anatomy, nutrition, and a lot more. In addition, you’ll also need to complete a series of nursing clinicals to gain hands-on experience and discover what it’s really like to work as an RN in a healthcare setting.

4. Pass the NCLEX-RN exam

The NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses) is required for any aspiring nurse. Having an ADN or BSN degree will qualify you to sit for the NCLEX-RN. You must pass the NCLEX-RN to become a licensed Registered Nurse. The test contains 75 to 265 questions on all areas of nursing. In addition to the subject matter itself, critical thinking and memorization are key elements for success when taking this exam.

Registered Nursing Certification Options

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Hospitals look for candidates with the most up-to-date and advanced certifications. Such certifications show that you’ve attained expert knowledge in those specific fields. Having specific certifications has been shown to result in higher patient satisfaction rates and lower rates of error. Areas including oncology, pediatrics, and family nursing are among the most popular certification options.

Oncology Certified Nurse (OCN)

OCN is the credential for Registered Nurses without a graduate degree but at least 1,000 hours of adult oncology nursing practice during the prior 30 months, and at least 10 continuing education hours in nursing, or an oncology elective taken during the prior 36 months.

Certified Pediatric Nurse (CPN)

To earn a certified pediatric nurse credential, applicants must hold an associate, bachelor’s, or master’s degree. Nurses also need 1,800 pediatric clinical hours completed within the last two years or 3,000 hours of pediatric experience in the past five years. Of those 3,000 hours of experience, nurses need to show that they have completed 1,000 hours within the past two years.

Family Nurse Practitioner (FNC-BC)

The Family Nurse Practitioner certification demonstrates a nurse’s competency in diagnosing illness, evaluating patient needs, and administering care. Applicants with a master’s, postgraduate, or doctoral degree in nursing from an accredited college and 500 faculty-supervised clinical hours can apply. The certification lasts five years, as long as nurses meet renewal requirements and maintain their license to practice.

Registered Nurse’s Salary

How Much Do Registered Nurses Make?

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for Registered Nurses is about $77,000, with the highest 10% earning up to $111,000 or more.

The average hourly wage for Registered Nurses is about $37 per hour, with the highest 10% earning up to $53 per hour or more.

Job Outlook for Registered Nurses

The salary and job outlook of an RN continues to grow and improve. The BLS reports that employment of Registered Nurses will grow 7% from 2019 to 2029.

Much of this growth will result from an increase in the demand for healthcare services and preventative care for the aging population in our country.

What Makes a Great RN?

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If you’ve read this far and feel like registered nursing is right for you, you might still be wondering what the personal qualities are that make a good RN. It’s certainly not for everyone, but if it’s right for you, you are someone who demonstrates the following qualities:

1: Empathy

Having empathy for the pain and suffering of their patients is perhaps the most important quality of a good RN. Providing compassion and comfort builds patient trust, calms anxieties, and increases patient satisfaction.

2: Strong communication skills

Good communication is fundamental and vital to nursing. It involves effective speaking, listening, and writing. With the level of complex information they deal with, this is no easy task. The best nurses expertly use written and verbal skills to provide optimal patient care, often acting as healthcare translators in explaining complicated topics to patients and their families.

3. Persuasiveness

Following on the heels of communication skills, a nurse must also have the ability to impart difficult information to their patients while persuading them to adopt healthier lifestyle choices and behaviors. The ability to show others a different, fact-based way of thinking comes in handy throughout the healthcare industry, from patient education to making cases for treatment.

4: Problem-solving skills

Nurses rarely knows what they are walking into on a daily basis. Emergency situations, complicated cases, mystery illnesses and more will elicit your problem-solving abilities. From parsing out symptoms to relatively simple things like scheduling, a nurse’s problem-solving skills are constantly tested.

5: Attention to detail

True patient care is about the details, from reviewing and updating medical histories, recording vital signs and monitoring on-going conditions, to drug interactions and individual patients’ needs, nothing can be left to chance.

6: A love of learning

Aside from the coursework and nursing training, new learning happens virtually every day for RNs. In an ever-changing medical environment, no two days are ever alike. Natural curiosity and a love of learning are indispensable traits for successful nurses.

7: Caring for people

The nursing field is all about caring for people. Good nurses love people. Not only is it a demanding career that requires a passion for science, it requires an even greater degree of kindness and compassion for patients and their families. The best nurses can maintain motivation through their sincere desire to help people.

A Registered Nursing Career

Are you ready to start your career as a Registered Nurse?

Registered nurses are deeply involved in just about every area of healthcare. Nursing can offer competitive salaries, but it rewards go well beyond financial compensation. Although job satisfaction can be extremely high, it can also be an emotionally strenuous job for some people.

If working with patients and families on a daily basis, along with a myriad of other clinical and organizational responsibilities, sounds like the kind of career challenge you’re looking for, becoming a Registered Nurse could be the career path you’ve been seeking.

If you’re ready to rise up to the challenge and begin your career journey by earning your BSN degree, contact us at Eagle Gate College today.

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