What is a Registered Nurse

Registered nurses (RNs) are some of the most important members of the medical profession. They are responsible for providing direct patient care, management and coordination of patient care, education of patients and their families, and professional development activities. This broad scope of practice makes for a demanding. It requires advanced knowledge and skill in many areas. This article provides an overview of the role and outlines the qualifications needed to become one. Additionally, it explores the various types of nursing jobs available and how to pursue them.

Duties –  What Do Registered Nurses Do?

Registered nurses are responsible for providing direct patient care in a variety of settings. They must be able to assess and diagnose patients, develop treatment plans, administer medications, provide treatments, and help coordinate a patient’s overall health care. Additionally, they must also be knowledgeable in using medical technology such as electronic health records (EHRs) and other computer programs.

Registered nurses are often the first point of contact for patients. They may provide emotional support to family members, answer questions about treatments or medications, and make sure they understand what is happening to their loved one. In addition to direct patient care duties, registered nurses may also be involved in educating patients on preventative care strategies or addressing certain health conditions.

Registered nurses must stay up-to-date on current healthcare standards and trends. They must have excellent communication skills to effectively communicate with physicians as well as other healthcare staff. They must also maintain competence by completing continuing education courses to keep their licenses up-to-date.

The Role of the RN compared with Other Nursing Professions

Registered nurses (RNs) have a wide range of responsibilities, but their primary role is to provide care for patients. RNs are responsible for assessing, diagnosing and treating illness and injury, providing preventive care, administering medications and conducting tests in order to diagnose illness or injury. They also provide emotional support to patients and their families. RNs use a variety of medical equipment such as stethoscopes, syringes and catheters to assist with diagnosis and treatment. Additionally, they conduct patient education regarding health issues and health maintenance.

RNs work in many different settings such as hospitals, clinics, residential care facilities, schools and home healthcare agencies where they may collaborate with physicians on patient care plans. In addition to providing direct patient care, RNs may be involved in research projects or participate in community outreach programs designed to promote public health initiatives.

The role of the RN is distinct from other nursing professions such as licensed practical nurses (LPN) or certified nurse assistants (CNA). While LPNs typically perform basic nursing tasks like taking vital signs or providing bedside care under the direction of an RN or doctor, RNs are responsible for more advanced clinical duties such as performing diagnostic tests or providing medical treatments. CNAs typically provide basic personal assistance services such as bathing and grooming rather than medical treatment or diagnosis. Thus it is important that healthcare facilities understand the differences between the roles of each type of nurse when assigning tasks.

Nurse practitioners (NP) or advanced practice registered nurses (APRN) are also distinct from RNs. While both roles require a nursing license, NPs and APRNs have advanced education, specialized training, and certification. NPs are qualified to diagnose and treat medical conditions independently while RNs typically follow orders from physicians. APRNs may also specialize in certain areas such as family practice, pediatrics or gerontology.

Different Types of Registered Nurse

Registered nurses fulfill a variety of different functions within healthcare settings. Each role requires different experience and, often, additional qualifications. Some of the more common roles are listed below:

  1. Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN): Advanced practice nurses are highly skilled registered nurses who have earned a master’s degree in a specialized area of nursing, such as women’s health, pediatrics, or geriatrics. They are responsible for providing patient care and managing the overall medical needs of their patients. These nurses often serve as primary healthcare providers by diagnosing illnesses, providing treatment plans, and prescribing medication.
  2. Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS): Advanced practice nurses who demonstrate a high level of expertise in their area of specialty, such as pediatrics, geriatrics, oncology, or psychiatry. They coordinate patient care, provide clinical education and advice to other nurses and physicians, and develop policies and procedures for the healthcare facility.
  3. Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA): CRNAs provide anesthesiology services including pre-operative assessments, administering anesthesia during surgery, monitoring patients after surgery and providing pain management.
  4. General Duty Registered Nurse: General duty registered nurses provide basic medical care to patients, such as administering medications, assisting with tests and treatments, monitoring vital signs and communicating with doctors about patient needs and changes in condition.
  5. Emergency Room Nurse: ER nurses have specialized training to help them respond quickly to emergencies in the ER. Responsibilities include triage of incoming patients; monitoring vital signs; administering treatment; performing diagnostic tests; providing emotional support; providing assistance with resuscitation efforts; communicating updates to physicians; gathering medical history information from patients; and keeping detailed records of each patient’s care.
  6. Operating Room Nurse: Operating room nurses are responsible for assisting surgeons before during and after surgical procedures by preparing operating rooms, assembling equipment needed for the procedure, setting up instruments for the surgeon’s use during surgery and helping move patients into recovery rooms following surgery.
  7. Certified nurse midwives:  Provide care for women during pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period. They offer gynecological care and family planning counseling, as well as diagnose and treat common conditions such as urinary tract infections. They may also provide prenatal care, including monitoring the health of the mother and baby, ordering tests, prescribing medication and providing education and support.

The Work Environment – In What Settings to RNs Work?

Registered nurses may work in a variety of settings. These include hospitals, physician offices, long-term care facilities, outpatient clinics, schools, public health organizations, nursing care facilities and insurance companies. They may also travel to patients’ homes or coordinate home health services. Additionally, registered nurses may work in administrative roles such as nursing directors or supervisors.

Benefits of Nursing as a Profession

Registered nursing is a rewarding profession that offers many benefits. Nurses have the opportunity to help people on a daily basis, which can be incredibly fulfilling. Additionally, there are plenty of opportunities for career advancement and specialization in various fields. Plus, the demand for nurses is expected to continue to grow over the next decade according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the profession can be well-paid. (See below)

The top reasons for becoming an RN are:

  1. Job security – RNs have a high demand and they are not expected to be replaced by machines any time soon.
  2. High salary – the median annual wage for registered nurses is $77,600, making it a lucrative career option.
  3. Variety of roles – there is a wide range of options for practicing as a registered nurse, from hospitals to private practice to home health care.
  4. Professional development – RNs can take advantage of opportunities for career advancement and specialization.
  5. Personal satisfaction – helping people on a daily basis is incredibly fulfilling and rewarding work.

The Downsides of Working in Nursing

While nursing can be a rewarding profession, there are certain downsides that come with the job. The long hours and large patient loads can take a toll, and the potential for burnout is high.

  • Work Schedules can be demandingNurses may have to work nights, weekends, and holidays. They may also be on call, meaning they have to be available for work at all hours.
  • Increased Exposure to Injuries and IllnessesNurses are exposed to many potential hazards such as sharp objects, hazardous chemicals, and infectious diseases. They must take steps to protect themselves from these risks.
  • Stress and BurnoutNurses often have to deal with challenging patients or complex medical situations which can lead to high levels of stress. It is important for nurses to remain aware of the signs of burnout and take steps

Important Qualities and Skills for Registered Nurses

Registered nurses must possess certain qualities and skills to be successful. These include:

  • Compassion – RNs must have a caring nature to be able to effectively work with patients.
  • Communication – excellent communication is essential for RNs when interacting with physicians and other healthcare staff.
  • Attention to detail – RNs must be incredibly organized and pay attention to details as they may face complex medical situations.
  • Analytical Thinking & Problem-Solving Skills – RNs often need to identify trends or patterns in patient care data and act quickly on decisions that will improve patient outcomes.
  • Physical Stamina – the job of an RN may require long hours, so physical stamina is important for staying alert throughout the shift.
  • Technical Skills – RNs must be proficient in the use of medical technology and equipment.

How to Become a Registered Nurse in the U.S.

In the U.S., becoming an RN requires completing an accredited nursing program and passing the NCLEX-RN exam. Here are the steps:

  1. Complete an accredited nursing education program – RN programs typically take between two to four years to complete and include classroom learning, lab work, and clinical practice.
  2. Earn state licensure – once you’ve graduated from your program, you must apply for licensure in your state by submitting a background check, fingerprints, educational transcripts, and other documentation as required by law.
  3. Pass the NCLEX-RN exam – after receiving your license you must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) in order to practice as an RN.
  4. Pursue professional development – many states require registered nurses to complete continuing education courses in order to remain licensed, and there are many options for advancing your career through specialization.

Education and Training for Registered Nurses in the U.S.

In the United States, registered nurses must complete an accredited nursing program in order to become licensed. Nursing programs may vary in length from two years for an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) to four years for a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).

Students enrolled in registered nursing programs will participate in classroom learning, lab work and clinical practice. Coursework focuses on preparing students to pass the NCLEX-RN exam and includes topics like anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, nutrition, medical-surgical nursing, maternity nursing and mental health nursing.

Some of the top-rated Associate’s Degree programs (ADN or ASN) in the U.S. are:

Some of the top U.S BSN programs are:

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

In order to practice as an RN in the United States, an individual must obtain licensure from their state’s Board of Nursing. Requirements vary by state, but generally include submitting transcripts from an accredited nursing program, passing a criminal background check, and taking and passing the NCLEX-RN exam.

Nursing licenses must be renewed every two years. Some states may require nurses to complete continuing education courses in order to maintain their license, while others may mandate additional testing or exams for renewal.

In addition to licensure, registered nurses may opt to pursue certifications in specific specialties such as pediatrics or gerontology. These certifications are available through credentialing organizations like the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). RNs may also register with professional nursing associations such as the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) or the National League for Nursing (NLN).

By obtaining licensure, certifications, and/or registrations, nurses will demonstrate their commitment to their profession and ensure that they have access to the most updated information and technologies in order to provide safe and effective care.

The NCLEX-RN exam

The NCLEX-RN exam is a comprehensive assessment of the applicant’s knowledge and skills in nursing practice. It consists of multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank, ordered response and other types of questions. The exam is administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN).

In order to be eligible for NCLEX-RN testing, individuals must have successfully completed an accredited nursing program and submit an application with their state board of nursing. Following successful completion of the exam, nurses are issued a license to practice as an RN in their state.

On-the-Job Training

Although most of the training for RNs takes place in the classroom, on-the-job training is also essential to mastering nursing skills and techniques. Nursing students typically participate in clinical rotations at hospitals and other healthcare organizations where they may observe experienced nurses or assist with patient care.

Once hired as a registered nurse, new graduates will usually receive additional on-the-job training from their employer. During this time, they will become familiar with facility policies and protocols as well as any specialized equipment used in the unit. Experienced nurses may also serve as mentors who can provide guidance and support during this period of transition.

Advanced Degrees

Many nurses choose to pursue advanced degrees in nursing. This can include a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). A MSN prepares nurses for advanced practice roles such as Nurse Practitioner, Clinical Nurse Specialist, Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) and more.

A DNP degree is the highest level of academic attainment within the nursing profession and allows graduates to focus on scholarly research related to nursing care delivery and healthcare systems.

Becoming a Registered Nurse Around the World

Registered nurses can also pursue international nursing opportunities. Many countries around the world require qualified and experienced RNs to help with their health care needs, including the United States, Canada, Australia and other countries in Europe.

Requirements in other countries:


In Australia, registered nurses must have a minimum of two years of experience in addition to completing a Bachelor or Master of Nursing degree. An RN with additional qualifications is eligible to apply for advanced practice roles such as Nurse Practitioner and Clinical Nurse Specialist.


In Canada, registered nurses are required to complete a bachelor’s degree in nursing and pass the national registration exam. Some provinces may also require additional qualifications or certifications depending on the area of practice.


In Denmark, registered nurses must have completed either a 4-year bachelor’s degree in nursing or a 5-year professional diploma program. The Danish National Board of Health also requires applicants to pass the Rigtige Sygeplejerske (RS) exam prior to registration as an RN.


In India, registered nurses must have completed a 3-year diploma in nursing or a 4-year bachelor’s degree in nursing. The Indian Nursing Council also requires applicants to pass the All India Nurses Registration Examination prior to registration as an RN.


In Malaysia, registered nurses must have completed either a 3-year diploma in nursing or a 4-year bachelor’s degree in nursing. The Nursing Board of Malaysia also requires applicants to pass the Nursing Registration Examination prior to registration as an RN.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, registered nurses must have completed either a 3-year diploma in nursing or a 4-year bachelor’s degree in nursing. The Nursing and Midwifery Council also requires applicants to pass the Nursing and Midwifery Council Pre-Registration Examination prior to registration as an RN.

Career Advancement for RNs

For those registered nurses based in the United States, there are a number of opportunities for career advancement. Many RNs decide to pursue advanced nursing degrees such as a Master’s or Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP). These programs provide nurses with the knowledge and skills necessary for leadership roles within healthcare organizations, including positions as nurse educators, clinical specialists, and administrators.

In addition to advancing their education levels, RNs can also gain professional experience through certification programs. A wide range of certifications are available in areas such as emergency care, critical care, gerontology, maternal-child health, informatics and others.

How Much Do Registered Nurses Earn? – Salary Data

If you’re considering a career as a registered nurse, one of the most important factors to consider is salary. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for registered nurses in 2022 was $80,010. However, salaries can vary depending on factors such as location, experience, and specialty.

In general, registered nurses with more experience and education tend to earn higher salaries. For example, according to Nurse.org, nurses with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree earn a median annual salary of $75,484 per year, while those with a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree can earn up to $120,000 per year.

Location can also play a significant role in RN salaries. For example, according to US News & World Report’s Best Jobs rankings for 2022, California has the highest employment level for RNs and also offers some of the highest salaries in the country. Other states with high RN salaries include Hawaii, Massachusetts, Oregon and Alaska.

Specialty can also impact RN salaries. Nurses who specialize in areas such as critical care or emergency nursing may earn higher salaries than those who work in other specialties.

StateAverage RN Salary
New York$85,610
Washington D.C.$84,040
New Jersey$83,670

Note: The figures in the table are based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and represent the average annual salary for registered nurses in each state as of May 2020. Salaries can vary depending on factors such as experience level and location within the state.

Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for registered nurses is positive, with a projected growth rate of 6% between 2021 and 2031. This growth rate is as fast as the average for all occupations, and it is expected to result in approximately 175,900 new RN jobs by 2031. The BLS attributes this growth to an aging population that requires more healthcare services and advances in medical technology that allow for more complex treatments.

How to Get a Job as a Registered Nurse?

The best way to start your search is by creating an up-to-date resume that outlines your education and experience. Supply a cover letter addressing why you are applying for this position and how you can help contribute to the team.

It’s also important to research potential employers and learn more about their requirements and expectations. Networking with other nurses in your area or online can provide invaluable insights into what it takes to get hired at different organizations. Additionally, look for job postings on job boards or websites such as Indeed or Monster.

Finally, be sure to prepare for your interviews by researching the organization and role in advance.

History of Nursing

Nursing is a profession that dates back to ancient times, with evidence of care provided by individuals providing medical aid in the service of others. During the Middle Ages, nursing was mainly focused on religious orders and monastic institutions such as those of St. Benedict, who dedicated their lives to caring for the sick and injured in their communities. In the 19th century, nursing began to become more modernized with Florence Nightingale leading the way and paving the path for professional nursing standards. Nightingale’s work helped bring about reforms to healthcare practices, which resulted in improved sanitary conditions in hospitals and better patient outcomes. In the early 20th century, nurses began working in hospitals, gaining formal recognition as a distinct profession from doctors. Since then, nursing education has evolved to include many different specialty fields and specialties within nursing practice.

Similar Occupations

  • Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
  • Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)
  • Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL)
  • Nursing Care Coordinator
  • Home Health Care Nurse
  • Medical-Surgical Nurse
  • Cardiac Care Nurse
  • Emergency Room Nurse

Frequently Asked Questions

Do You Need To Consider Accreditation When Earning a Nursing Degree?

Yes. It is important to ensure that any nursing degree program you are considering is accredited by a recognized accrediting body, such as the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN).

How to Become a Registered Nurse with a Bachelor’s Degree

In order to become an RN with a bachelor’s degree, you must first complete an accredited nursing program. You must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) to be eligible for licensure. After passing the exam, you can apply for a state nursing license and seek employment.

Should You Consider a Doctor of Nursing Degree as an RN going into Advanced Practice?

Yes, a Doctor of Nursing (DNP) degree should be considered for those looking to pursue advanced practice nursing roles. The DNP program is designed to build on the education and experience of a registered nurse. It provides advanced training in areas such as healthcare policy, research methods, quality improvement, and leadership.

What are licensed practical nurses (LPN) and licensed vocational nurses (LVN)?

Licensed practical nurses (LPN) and licensed vocational nurses (LVN) are healthcare professionals who provide basic medical care, such as changing dressings, providing medications, and monitoring vital signs. They work under the direct supervision of an RN or physician.

What Are Some RN Work-From-Home Jobs?

Some work-from-home jobs for registered nurses include telehealth nurse, case manager, health educator, and virtual triage nurse. These positions involve providing healthcare services over the phone or through video chat, in accordance with licensing requirements in your state.

What Are The Most Unusual Nursing Jobs?

The most unusual nursing jobs include wilderness nurse, legal nurse consultant, flight nurse, and correctional nurse. These positions require specialized skills and may involve working in remote locations or with special populations.

What is a certified nurse assistant or aide?

A certified nurse assistant or aide is a health care professional who provides basic nursing and personal care services to patients in a variety of settings, such as hospitals, nursing homes, and hospice.

What is the Registered Nurse Scope of Practice?

The Registered Nurse Scope of Practice is a set of standards, procedures and guidelines that outline the range of clinical care, services and treatments a registered nurse is qualified to provide. These include assessment and diagnosis, patient education, documentation and record keeping, medication administration, health promotion activities, indirect or direct patient care.

What Kind of Coursework Do You Study in Nursing Education Programs?

Coursework in nursing education programs typically includes topics such as anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, medical terminology, nutrition, patient assessment, pathophysiology, clinical reasoning and decision-making. Additionally, students may study nursing ethics and law, health care systems and policy, research methods and evidence-based practice. Classes are often supplemented with hands-on experience.