A registered nurse career can be one of the most fulfilling and exciting vocational choices a person can make. To the public, registered nurse (or RN) is one of the best-known jobs in medicine. In fact, there are more people working as nurses than in any other single occupation in the medical field; however, because nurses are so often portrayed in books, television, and movies, everyone thinks they know what nurses do, but few understand the real demands of the job and the awesome responsibility that members of this profession carry on their shoulders.
Though there are many different kinds of nursing specialties, job responsibilities that are common to all nursing work include treating, advising, and offering emotional support to patients and their families, imparting vital health information to the community at large, recording patient histories, running and analyzing diagnostic tests, and administering medications. Nurses can also often be found running immunization clinics and blood drives. In hospitals, routine duties include checking dosages, ensuring that medications aren’t improperly leading to negative interactions, starting intravenous (IV) lines, observing and logging patient conditions, and carrying out doctors’ instructions with great care and precision.
A registered nurse career can take many different paths. Some registered nurses choose to specialize in a certain aspect of patient care in one of four different ways. Some are qualified in more than one. A particular setting or kind of treatment such as an operating room offers nurses the opportunity to assist surgeons, while a critical-care nurse would primarily attend to patients in a hospital intensive-care unit. Others specialize in a disease or other health condition such as diabetes, finding employment in settings such as private physicians’ offices, home care, and hospitals. Examples include addiction nurses, who deal with patients who need assistance in overcoming alcohol, drug, and other addictions. Oncology nurses handle cancer patients undergoing radiation or chemotherapy. Wound nurses treat patients who have sustained traumatic injuries and render care to postoperative patients with openings that facilitate non-natural methods of bodily waste evacuation, or those with urinary or fecal incontinence. Alternatively, a nurse may specialize in an organ or body system (e.g., cardiovascular, dermatology, ophthalmology, and gynecology) or a specific population/demographic group such as newborns, children and adolescents, or the elderly.
Some RNs, most notably those in the military, work in highly dangerous, front-line environments not far removed from battlefields, or on naval vessels, but the vast majority of nurses practice in more comfortable surroundings such as hospitals, homes, and schools. Nursing is a combination of head knowledge and physical labor. Extended periods of standing and walking, along with a fair amount of bending, aren’t unusual, and some lifting is often necessary when moving patients, so having a good back and using proper techniques are important. In addition, as with many other jobs in the medical industry, nurses can be exposed to noxious chemicals, odors, unpleasant sights and sounds, accidental needle-sticks, and contagious disease; however, training, experience, and paying close attention to the task at hand help to prevent many unfortunate incidents.
In order to embark on a registered nurse career, a student will need to complete an associate’s (ADN) or bachelor’s (BSN) degree program in nursing and pass a national licensing exam, while advanced specialties like nurse anesthetist and nurse midwife require a master’s degree. ADN programs, which are offered by many junior colleges, take about three years to complete, while BSN programs take slightly longer to finish. Hospital diploma programs take the same amount of time, but there are comparatively few of these. Any of these three routes will qualify an individual for an entry-level position on a nursing staff. All states, as well as the District of Columbia and U.S. territories, require not only that students be graduates of an approved nursing program, but that they receive passing scores on the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) to get their license.
As previously noted, nursing is the single largest occupation in the health-care sector. Consequently, there is almost always a high demand for excellent nurses and, at present, the outlook for job growth in the registered nurse career field is outstanding. Currently, many hospitals and other employers report problems with recruiting and retaining as many registered nurses as they need because competition for personnel is fierce and applicants have so many options. Growth in employment is expected to exceed 20% in the next decade as population and longevity increase and many currently practicing nurses reach retirement age. Salaries are quite good for this profession, usually in the range of $50,000 to $70,000 a year, all of which points to a registered nurse career as an excellent choice for individuals with an interest in medicine, helping others, and challenging themselves to the limit of their own abilities.