What does a Registered Nurse (RN) do?

benefits of being a nurse

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A Registered Nurse (RN) is a healthcare professional who has a nursing license and is extensively trained in nursing. There are many types of nurses. Nursing assistants or medical assistants also cater to nursing but they are not always certified or registered. A registered nurse has hands-on training and expansive medical knowledge. Specialty nurses — such as nurse anesthetist, nurse midwife, and others — need to be a registered nurse first.

Learn what a registered nurse does:

How to Become a Registered Nurse (RN)

Commonly, there are 3 main academic avenues in pursuing a nursing degree. You can either earn a bachelor’s degree in Nursing (BSN), an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) or a diploma from a nursing school. Nursing programs are offered at universities, community colleges, and vocational schools.

The nursing curriculum usually includes: nutrition, anatomy, psychology, microbiology, chemistry, and social-behavioral sciences in addition to practical hands-on experience in clinical settings. Bachelor’s degrees often also include courses in leadership, communication, and critical thinking. It usually takes anywhere from 2-4 years to complete these programs pending on which avenue you decide to take.

Following nursing school, an RN must pass a certification exam called the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (or NCLEX-RN). However, in order to take the exam you must attend a school that has been accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN).

As of April 2016, the NCLEX-RN exam consists of 4 domains that include subcategories within them. The domains are as follows: Safe and Effective Care Environment (subcategories included: Management of Care, Safety and Infection Control Health Promotion and Maintenance), Psychosocial Integrity, and Physiological Integrity (subcategories included: Basic care and comfort, pharmacological and parenteral therapies, reduction of risk potential „ physiological adaptation). All of these domains and subcategories address content across the lifespan. It is computerized and offered several times a month.

According to the 2016 NCSBN exam the number of questions varies due to the exam being tailored to each individual. The test can be a minimum of 75 questions and can go up to 265 questions. The computerized exam is customized until it is determined if you have mastered the necessary skills to become licensed. The test format includes multiple-choice, fill in the blank, in addition to multimedia such as video and sounds. If you are well prepared, attended an accredited school, and create a study plan prior to taking the exam it should not be as daunting.

According to recent data from January through June 2016, over 85% of test-takers have passed the first time. After passing the NCLEX-RN exam, a registered nurse can seek employment as a nurse.

Registered Nurse Job Description

The job profile of a registered nurse is quite expansive. A registered nurse would have to attend to patients at the time of diagnosis and during the recuperation or recovery phases if applicable. A nurse would be responsible for explaining reports to patients, administer medicine, conduct medical tests, and interpret test results.

Nurses work very closely with physicians and therefore play a major role in the coordination and planning of a patient’s care, in addition often communicate with family members and provide emotional support when necessary. They can also be responsible for administrative duties depending on the health care setting.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states nurses are in demand with a high growth rate and nursing is one of the largest healthcare occupations. Nurses work in a variety of settings such as hospitals, schools, physician offices, home health care, and even travel around the United States to provide care in areas where there aren’t enough nurses. According to the BLS, 61% of nurses do work in a hospital setting followed by nursing facilities and physician offices at 7%.

Nurses are constantly on their feet, stretching, bending, and standing. Therefore, nursing can be a strenuous job. In addition, exposure to infectious diseases and hazardous substances is also common. Nurses in the hospital setting work long hours and are usually assigned in shifts, due to patients needing 24-hour care. Nights, weekends, and holidays in addition to being on call are often required. Those who work outside of this setting such as in schools, offices, or other places have regular schedules.

Continuing your Nursing Career

Many registered nurses decide to advance their careers and earn additional credentials once they have worked in the healthcare field a while. As a licensed registered nurse there are many opportunities to do so.

Educational facilities often offer RN-BSN (bachelor) or BSN to MSN (master’s degrees). Those with associate’s degrees often can find bridge programs to earn a bachelor’s degree allowing them to gain more leadership and clinical skills. Those who already hold a bachelor’s can easily transition into earning a master’s degree allowing them to become a Nurse Practitioner (allowing them to prescribe medications and order medical tests without a doctor’s consent). Both routes build off of your previous experience and education which can lead to salary increases and management positions. Some employers even offer educational reimbursements.

Nurse (RN) Video Transcript

Registered nurses, or RNs, are the largest healthcare occupation for good reason; they give patients medical care, educate them about their health issues, and offer emotional support. These medical professionals observe and record their patients’ condition. They help perform diagnostic tests to make effective plans for patient care. Before patients head home from a treatment or procedure, RNs explain how to manage the illness or injury.

A core part of medical teams, they consult with doctors and other health care professionals and may oversee the work of other nurses and assistants. Registered nurses work in hospitals, doctors’ offices, home health care services, and nursing homes. Some work in correctional facilities or schools, or serve in the military.

Nurses may also have the opportunity to travel, as they are needed across the U.S. and around the world. Risks such as back injuries from lifting patients or exposure to infectious diseases and chemicals are part of the job. They may work nights, weekends, and holidays, and be on call in off-hours.

There are three paths to becoming an RN: a bachelor’s degree in nursing, an associate’s degree, or a diploma from an approved nursing program. They must also be licensed. Some nurses earn a master’s or doctoral-level degree and work in management, research, or academic settings. Combining competence with compassion, nursing is a career that improves many lives.

Article Citations

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Registered Nurses.

National Center for O*NET Development. 29-1141.00. O*NET OnLine.

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