Registered Nurse Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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What are the pros and cons of registered nurse careers? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a registered nurse is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career in Registered Nursing

Registered nurses (RNs) treat patients, provide advice and help develop comprehensive treatment plans. Learn more about the pros and cons of a registered nursing career to decide if it's right for you.

PROS of RN Careers
Excellent career opportunities (19% job growth from 2012-2022)*
Opportunity to make a positive difference in patients' lives*
Variety of educational options *
More than a dozen RN specializations**
Largest occupation in the healthcare industry (2.6 million jobs as of 2014)*

CONS of RN Careers
Licensure and continuing education requirements*
Potentially stressful working conditions*
Work nights, weekends and holidays*
Exposure to potentially hazardous diseases and chemicals*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), **American Nurses Credentialing Center.

Essential Career Information

Job Description

Most RNs work alongside other healthcare professionals to provide patient care. Some nurses specialize in working with families, children or the elderly. Others work in emergency rooms or intensive care units. RNs may also assist physicians with surgeries or conduct tests to help treat cancer patients. In some instances, RNs may have little direct patient contact.

According to the BLS, about 29% of RNs worked in hospitals as of 2014; others worked in long-term care facilities, in doctor's offices or outpatient centers. RNs regularly have the opportunity to travel.

Salary Information and Career Outlook

As of May 2014, RNs earned a median salary of about $66,000; the top 10% of RNs earned roughly $98,000, reports the BLS. Approximately 526,800 new jobs are expected for RNs between 2012 and 2022.

There's a high turnover rate in hospitals, so some facilities offer extra benefits, such as signing bonuses, to lure top talent. Roughly one-fifth of RNs are part-time employees, so there is some job flexibility built into this career.

What Are the Requirements?

There are a variety of ways to gain the education needed to become an RN. Students who have no experience and want quick access to the field may complete two-year Associate of Science in Nursing programs. Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) can complete one-year LPN to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) programs to shorten their educational paths. According to the BLS, many RNs eventually pursue a BSN. All programs typically require some combination of classroom and clinic-based learning.

Licensing Information

All RNs need to be licensed by their state to legally practice nursing. After completing a postsecondary program, graduates need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). Once licensed, RNs fulfill continuing education requirements every few years in order to maintain licensure. RNs must be willing to continually expand and update their knowledge of the healthcare field.

What Are Employers Seeking?

RNs are part of an in-demand industry, so opportunities should be plentiful for those who are licensed. Still, experience is required or preferred in many positions. Training or experience in a nursing specialty, such as surgical or acute care, is also desired. Below are some examples of job postings from March 2012:

  • An assisted living facility in Georgia is looking for an RN to coordinate their pharmacy, run their quality assurance program and train staff. Someone with supervisory and long-term care experience is preferred.
  • A staffing firm in California seeks travel RNs with post-partum, neonatal intensive care, obstetrics and gynecology experience.
  • A Texas-based infusion therapy provider seeks RNs with associate's degrees and at least two years of experience. Employed RNs travel 80% of the time and are expected to maintain infusion certification.
  • A senior-living hospice provider in California is hiring on-call RNs with at least one year of hospice experience.

How to Get an Edge in the Field

RNs who have a BSN may gain preference over RNs who hold associate's degrees. RNs can also join nursing organizations, such as the National League for Nursing, which provides networking and continuing education opportunities. Additionally, inner cities and rural areas are in particular need of RNs, so those who live in or are willing to travel to these areas may have an advantage.

Get Certified

Another way to stand out is to obtain certification in a nursing specialty. The American Nurses Credentialing Center offers certification in more than a dozen nursing specialties, including gerontological, pediatric and medical-surgical nursing (www.nursecredentialing.org). In order to obtain a professional credential, you need to meet education and experience requirements; completion of an exam is required as well.

Other Careers to Consider

Advanced Practice Nurse

If you're looking to specialize in a nursing field, you might consider becoming an advanced practice nurse (APN), such as a nurse practitioner or clinical nurse specialist. APNs can serve as primary care providers; in some cases, they perform the same duties as doctors.The downside to this field is that you need a master's degree in nursing, and advanced certification may be require as well. However, you can gain additional income and specialize in specific types of care.

Licensed Practical Nurse

If you're interested in nursing but want a quicker route to career entry, consider becoming an LPN. There are fewer academic and training requirements, and career entry may be achieved in a year or less. LPNs can still impact the lives of patients, but they have less responsibility than RNs; in fact, LPNs are often supervised by RNs. According to the BLS, LPNs earned a median salary of about $41,000 as of May 2011; the number of employed LPNs was expected to grow 22% from 2010-2020.

EMT or Paramedic

If you'd like to help patients in pre-hospital emergency situations, an emergency medical technician (EMT) or paramedic career could be a good fit. In order to work in this field, you need to complete a postsecondary training program specific to the EMT-Basic, EMT-Intermediate or Paramedic level; licensure is also necessary. As of May 2011, EMTs and paramedics earned a median salary of roughly $31,000. The number of employed professionals in this field was projected to increase by 33% from 2010-2020, reports the BLS.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Master of Science - DNP Executive Leader
      • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
      • Master of Science - DNP Path (Doctor of Nursing Practice)
    Master's
      • Accelerated BSN to MSN
      • MS in Nursing
      • Master of Science - DNP Adult Nurse Practitioner
      • Master of Science - DNP Family Nurse Practitioner
      • Master of Science in Nursing - Adult - Gerontology Practitioner
      • M.S. in Nursing - Family Nurse Practitioner
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelors of Science in Nursing - RN to BSN (RN License Required)
      • Bachelor: Health Science
      • Bachelor: Healthcare Admin
    Certificate
      • Family Nurse Practitioner Graduate Certificate
      • Nurse Educator Graduate Certificate
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Ashford University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BS in Nursing (RN to BSN)
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
      • Doctor of Nursing Practice with an Emphasis in Educational Leadership
      • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration
    Master's
      • MBA and MS in Nursing: Nursing Leadership in Health Care Systems (dual degree)
      • MS in Nursing: Nursing Leadership in Health Care Systems
      • M.S. in Nursing: Nursing Education
      • MBA: Health Systems Management
      • MS in Health Care Administration
      • MS in Nursing: Nursing Education
    Bachelor's
      • BS in Nursing (Registered Nurse - R.N. to BSN)
      • BS in Health Care Administration
      • BS in Health Sciences: Professional Development & Advanced Patient Care
      • Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Health Science
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Colorado Technical University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Management - Health Care Management and Leadership
    Master's
      • MS - Nursing - Nursing Administration
      • MS - Nursing - Nursing Education
      • MS - Healthcare Management
      • Master of Science in Management - Healthcare Management
    Bachelor's
      • BS - Nursing (RN to BSN completion)
      • BS - Business Administration - Health Care Management
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Saint Mary's University of Minnesota

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Health and Human Services Administration
    Bachelor's
      • RN to Bachelors of Science in Nursing
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Utica College

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy
    Master's
      • MBA - Health Care Management
      • Masters in Health Care Administration
      • Online Master of Science in Health Care Administration - Acute Care
      • Online Master of Science in Health Care Administration - Long Term Care
      • Online Master of Science in Health Care Administration - Service Organization
    Bachelor's
      • RN to Bachelor of Science
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Regent University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Strategic Leadership - Healthcare Leadership
    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership - Healthcare Management
      • Master of Business Administration - Healthcare Management
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN)
      • Bachelor of Science in Healthcare Management
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Trident University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Health Sciences (Ph.D. HS)
    Master's
      • Master's - Health Administration
      • Master's - Health Sciences
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor's - Health Sciences
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Herzing University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science - Nursing With a Concentration in Family
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Public Safety Leadership
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Project Management
    Certificate
      • Diploma: Medical Assisting
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Education Sepcialist - Nursing Education
    Master's
      • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration

Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • Master of Science - DNP Executive Leader
  • Accelerated BSN to MSN
  • Bachelors of Science in Nursing - RN to BSN (RN License Required)
  • Family Nurse Practitioner Graduate Certificate

Which subject are you interested in?

Ashford University

  • BS in Nursing (RN to BSN)

What is your highest level of education?

Grand Canyon University

  • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
  • MBA and MS in Nursing: Nursing Leadership in Health Care Systems (dual degree)
  • BS in Nursing (Registered Nurse - R.N. to BSN)

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado Technical University

  • Doctor of Management - Health Care Management and Leadership
  • MS - Nursing - Nursing Administration
  • BS - Nursing (RN to BSN completion)

Are you a US citizen?

Saint Mary's University of Minnesota

  • Master of Arts in Health and Human Services Administration
  • RN to Bachelors of Science in Nursing

What is your highest level of education completed?

Utica College

  • Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy
  • MBA - Health Care Management
  • RN to Bachelor of Science

What is your highest level of education completed?

Regent University

  • Doctor of Strategic Leadership - Healthcare Leadership
  • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership - Healthcare Management
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN)

What is your highest level of education completed?

Trident University

  • Health Sciences (Ph.D. HS)
  • Master's - Health Administration
  • Bachelor's - Health Sciences

What is your highest level of education completed?