RN Career Outlook

Registered Nurse (RN) Degrees Career Profile, Salary, & Education

Nursing in general is an applied science that combines aspects of medicine, biology, pharmacology and even psychology in the delivery of health care to individuals in physical distress. Nurses assist and complement physicians, and work in all the same areas and specialties as doctors, while retaining a professional identity separate from doctors and unique to their own occupation.

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Of the several types of nurse, by far the most predominant is the Registered Nurse (RN), a highly trained health care professional who possesses the education, skills and competency to practice all aspects of the care and recovery of the sick and the maintenance of well-being in the healthy. RNs ensure that patients receive care that is appropriate, timely, and professional, in a variety of settings.

Registered nurses perform a number of essential and basic functions, including treating and educating patients, recording symptoms and medical histories, performing diagnostic tests and analyzing the results, and administering treatment and medications under the supervision of a physician.

RNs are not limited to employment as bedside nurses in hospitals. Registered nurses are employed by physicians, attorneys, insurance companies, private industry, school districts, ambulatory surgery centers and fire departments, among others. Some registered nurses are independent consultants who work for themselves, while others work for large manufacturers or chemical companies. Research Nurses conduct or assist in the conduct of research or evaluation (outcome and process) in many areas such as biology, psychology, human development, and health care systems.

Registered Nurse Degrees, Education and Training

There are three major educational pathways that lead to a Registered Nurse certification. These paths begin with an associate degree in nursing (ADN), a bachelor's of science degree in nursing (BSN), or an RN diploma.

Associate of Science Degree in Nursing (ADN)
The quickest and most frequent educational path to an RN degree begins with a two-year Associate of Science in Nursing. About 846 community and junior colleges currently offer ADN programs.

Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing (BSN)
There are currently more than 674 accredited nursing programs that offer a four-year course of study culminating in a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree.

RN Diploma Program
Also referred to as a “hospital diploma,” these specialized programs last about three years, with a strong focus on core studies, intensive nursing classes, and clinical training and internships. Until about a decade ago, most RNs in the U.S. were initially educated in one of these diploma programs.

Although requirements vary from state to state, licensed graduates of any of these three programs qualify, generally speaking, for entry-level positions as staff nurses. In all 50 states and the District of Columbia, once the student has graduated from an approved nursing program, he or she must then pass the NCLEX-RN, a national licensing examination, in order to obtain a nursing license. Most states also have their own additional qualifying requirements beyond these national requirements. There are also numerous opportunities to move beyond these basic degree programs, as about 417 nursing schools currently offer master's degrees, and 93 offer doctoral degrees in nursing.

To find out more available certificates and degrees that can lead to a RN degree, visit the Nursing Degrees and certifications page.

Explore Career Opportunities in Registered Nursing

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2004, about 2.4 million people were employed as registered nurses, making this the single largest occupation in the healthcare field. Nearly 60 percent of RNs were employed in hospitals.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, employment of registered nurses is expected to grow “much faster than average for all occupations” during the upcoming decade. Due to the large number of nursing jobs that will be created, registered nurses are predicted to create the second largest number of new jobs among all occupations in the U.S. Job opportunities for registered nurses will be excellent, to the point that the industry is even now experiencing difficulty attracting and retaining an adequate number of RNs.

U.S. Department of Labor figures indicate that the median annual salary of registered nurses in 2004 was $52,330, with a range running from less than $37,300 to a high of more than $74,760. The highest median wages were paid by employment services ($63,170) and hospitals ($53,450).

Numerous specializations lie within the scope of the RN, including:

Other popular specializations for Registered Nurses include:

Emergency Room Nurse
Medical emergencies requiring immediate treatment can occur at any time. Emergency room nurses work with emergency room physicians and with paramedics to ensure timely care in crisis situations.

Hospice Nurse
Hospice nurses work for hospitals or services evaluating and providing care and emotional support to the terminally ill. They also provide grief counseling to critically ill patients and their families.

Rehabilitation Nurse
These registered nurses specialize in restoring physical functionality to patients who have suffered from some form of physical disability, due to illness, stroke, or accident.

School Nurse
Many elementary and secondary schools, and most colleges and universities, are required to have a registered nurse on site to provide immediate care to students suffering from illness or a medical emergency.

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