20 Pros and Cons of Being a Registered Nurse

Written By: Jennifer Schlette MSN, RN

Anyone considering a career in nursing should be aware of what are the pros and cons of being a registered nurse before beginning their education. Nursing is an incredibly rewarding occupation, but certain factors may make an individual more likely to choose it over another career. If you are considering becoming a nurse, it's essential to be aware of all that it entails so you can determine if it is right for you. Below you will find the top 13 pros and cons of being a registered nurse. The pros and cons listed below should help you decide if being a registered nurse is a career path you should choose.

What is a Registered Nurse?

Registered nurses (RNs) are the backbone of the healthcare system. They not only provide clinical care to patients, but they also plan and administer it. Much like doctors, RNs must go through extensive schooling in order to become licensed for practice. But what makes them different from their doctor counterparts is that they have an additional focus on bedside manner and holistic wellness. You will find registered nurses working in a variety of settings such as hospitals, clinics, schools, and research labs to name a few.

Top Cons of Being a Registered Nurse

(The following are the top 20 disadvantages of being a Registered Nurse.)

1. You will need to have a degree.

In order to become a registered nurse, you will need to complete an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree, which will take you about two to four years to complete after high school. When evaluating the pros and cons of being a registered nurse, the first step would be deciding which degree is most appropriate for you. You need to be a self-starter and determined because there is no way around this degree requirement. So, if you are not ready to buckle in and dedicate the required time to your education, then this is not the path for you.

2. How will you pay for this degree?

So, we have already established that you will have to earn a degree to become a registered nurse. The question is, how much does it cost? Well, the answer is not that simple. The cost of your RN education varies depending on what kind of degree you want to earn. An associate's degree in nursing will cost you around $30,000-$40,000 to achieve. A bachelor's degree in nursing will cost you approximately $50,000 to $100,000 to earn. That is a lot of money. One of the top disadvantages of being a registered nurse is that regardless of which degree you choose to pursue, you are looking at a pretty hefty bill. I hope you have a substantial savings account. If you do not, I guess you will have to consider student loans that can land you in a reasonable amount of debt.

3. Your education may limit your career choices.

Although earning an associate's degree in nursing will earn you the title of a registered nurse, not all employers will hire nurses with an associate's degree. Some may refuse to hire you because you do not have a bachelor's degree, as it is their minimum educational requirement. Not earning a bachelor's degree may severely limit your job prospects. Even if employers are willing to consider hiring you with an associate's degree, some may pay you less than your coworkers who have bachelor's degrees.

4. You will have to pass a state exam.

In order to practice nursing in the United States, you must pass the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX). The NCLEX-RN exam tests a candidate's knowledge and ability to provide safe care to patients across all practice settings. This exam is the final step in the process of becoming a registered nurse and obtaining your license to practice. You will be unable to work as a nurse until you pass this exam. So, what happens if you cannot pass this exam. I guess you just wasted a lot of time and money.

5. Your license may not be reciprocated.

There is no national standard for the licensing of nurses, and most states require nurse licensure applicants to meet their individual requirements. So, although you are licensed in one state, you may not be able to practice in another. One of the biggest disadvantages of being a registered nurse is that not every state has reciprocity of license. Also, what you might not know is that your license and your diploma and transcripts need to be evaluated by the state board of nursing if you are planning to practice as a nurse in another state than your original license. The educational requirements for licensure vary from state to state.

6. There are various pay scales.

As a registered nurse, your salary can vary dramatically depending on location and institution. Some states, such as California, require all RNs to be paid the same regardless of their experience. Others, such as Florida, allow hospitals to set wages for new hires below state minimums. As a result, you can expect salary ranges that differ by nearly $20 per hour across the country. That amount can really add up. In addition to these differences in registered nurse’s salaries at different locations and institutions, you will find that there is a difference in pay for an associate’s prepared nurse and a bachelor’s prepared nurse and that both will see different salaries based on their experience. The great degree of variation in your salary is one of the biggest factors to consider while weighing the pros and cons of being a registered nurse.

7. You may have to work shifts.

As a registered nurse, you may find yourself working evening, night, or early morning shifts. In specific jobs and professions, shift work is a requirement of the job. Some institutions may require that registered nurses in hospitals rotate between day shift and night shift. Shift work can negatively affect your work and personal life. If you are a registered nurse who works in this type of environment, you will want to adopt healthy lifestyle habits that may reduce the adverse effects on your health. Shift work is often problematic for people. You will find that these irregular long hours will really impact your sleep schedule. One study found that those who worked the night shift were more likely to sleep during the day and not receive enough restful sleep. This can lead to chronic fatigue, which can affect your mood as well as increase the risk of depression and your risk of making an error. Another study found that weight gain was typical in those who worked the night shift, even if they were trying to eat right and maintain a healthy weight. This may be due to the disrupted sleep schedule and eating at odd hours without knowing what time it is. A study also showed that those who work night shifts may gain more abdominal fat than those working the same job during the day.

8. You may have to work weekends or holidays

One of the disadvantages of being a registered nurse is that at times you will have to work weekends and holidays. It is a standard part of being a nurse, which can often be frustrating, especially when it comes to spending time with family and friends. Your friends and family cannot always plan a get-together for the weekend when you are free. Unfortunately, it is just part of the job.

9. You will spend a lot of time on your feet

As a registered nurse, you may be on your feet more than in any other profession. You will be standing for long periods of time. Being on your feet for extended periods of time can cause stress and pressure on your feet, ankles, and lower back and leg muscles. You may find yourself highly fatigued and sore on your days off.

10. You will have a lot of physical demands

As a registered nurse, you will be placing a lot of physical demands on your body. You will be pushing, pulling, and lifting patients on a regular basis. Moderate to heavy pushing and pulling, such as when transferring patients, can put a lot of stress on your shoulders, arms, and lower back. It can also lead to musculoskeletal disorders. Lifting patients can have similar effects, including strains on your neck, back, and legs. Injuries that can occur from these tasks can slow you down or stop you from working altogether. Then what will you do?

11. You may not get a break

Many people become registered nurses because they want to help other people. Unfortunately, sometimes your job will have you working long hours without enough time to eat or go to the bathroom. It happens everywhere, and it is not suitable for your personal health or your career. You will work many 12 to 13-hour shifts without a break. Not having a lunch break or even time to eat will make you exhausted and eventually may make you regret your career choice.

12. You will be in contact with bodily fluids

As a registered nurse, you will come in contact with bodily fluids. Coming in contact with another person’s bodily fluids is one of the cons of being a registered nurse. Depending on the circumstance, these fluids can be harmful to your health. You can come in contact with urine, respiratory sputum, vomitus, feces, sweat, or saliva to name a few. All of these fluids can cause infection if you are not careful. I'm sure you did not know you were signing up for that.

13. You may be in contact with contagious diseases.

All registered nurses have a duty to care for patients. Still, as a registered nurse, you will come into contact with contagious diseases. Sometimes you will know that a patient has a contagious illness, and sometimes you will not. Suppose you are caring for a patient who has come into contact with someone else who has an infectious disease. In that case, you may also become infected. You may also run the risk of passing on the infection to someone else in your family.

14. You may have to work with hazardous substances

As a registered nurse, hazardous substances may come into direct contact with you regularly. Though there are many procedures and precautions in place to keep you safe, it is still possible that you may be exposed to some of these materials. Some of these substances can cause you to get sick, while others are designed to be harmful if they come in contact with your skin. That does not really seem like something I would want to sign up for.

15. You can become burned out

Often registered nurses feel as though they're alone in their struggles, and the only way out is quitting nursing altogether. At some point in your career, there is a good chance that you will be considered moving on to greener pastures. Nurse burnout isn't exactly fun for anyone involved. It's when your body just can't take another 12 hours of patient care. It's when you wake up with the feeling that today is going to be a rough one. It's when you have an emotional breakdown in the middle of work because maybe it wasn't actually ok that you missed out on Valentine's day for your sweetheart.

16. You will encounter stressful situations

Anytime you are dealing with people's lives, as a registered nurse does, you can encounter highly stressful situations. Suppose you're not prepared to deal with these stressful situations, both mentally and physically. In that case, it can be extremely difficult to keep a positive attitude and ensure that your patient is given the best treatment possible. Life and death situations are among the most common types of stress for registered nurses because their job requires them to make decisions that could change someone's life forever. Stress will negatively impact you, both personally and professionally. Stressed out RNs may be more likely to make mistakes treating patients. Stressed out registered nurses are also less likely to take good care of themselves, which means they will be at risk for serious health problems, such as cardiovascular disease and obesity.

17. You will encounter emotionally taxing situations

A career as a registered nurse may be emotionally taxing and downright traumatic at times. One of the most complex parts of working as a registered nurse is dealing with death and dying. Registered nurses may encounter these situations in the course of their career: a patient's end-of-life, a terminal diagnosis, death or dying family member, attempted suicide, or attempted murder. These kinds of events often leave a profound emotional impact on people, no matter how tough they are. When you have to manage these situations, it's difficult not to become emotionally involved.

18. You are open to lawsuits

Many people are under the impression that only physicians can be sued. Unfortunately, that is not the case. As a registered nurse, you, too, are open to lawsuits. The thought that you could be sued is one of the biggest disadvantages of being a registered nurse. You may think you're too small of a target for this to happen to you, but it happens all the time. A study from Nursing Law found that registered nurses are sued twice as often as physicians. That sounds pretty scary and is definitely one of the top things to think about while weighing the pros and cons of being a registered nurse!

19. You may have to deal with complex patients.

As a registered nurse, you will encounter the dreaded difficult patient at some point in your career. Having a problematic patient can ruin your day, maybe your shift. It might make it hard for you to work with that patient or other patients like them in the future. This type of patient could also make you feel like you aren't doing a good enough job. You may end up feeling pretty defeated.

20. You may find yourself working short-staffed a lot.

One of the top disadvantages of being a registered nurse is that at times you will not be fully staffed at work. This can lead to some problems in the workplace. You will find that if you are not fully staffed, your patient caseload will be substantially higher than usual. You will have to spend less time with patients because you are too busy. You are also more prone to making mistakes because you are spread too thin. You may even put your license at risk when you work short-staffed.

Top Pros of Being a Registered Nurse

(The following are the top 20 advantages of being a Registered Nurse.)

1. You may be nicely compensated.

A career as a registered nurse will enable you to have a pretty nice income. The median salary in the United States for a registered nurse is $75,330, which is pretty nice if you ask me. In states such as New York, California, and Alaska, RNs make over $100,000 a year. Having such a high income can afford you many finer things in life. You can also live very comfortably. So, if money and comfortable life are what you want, then becoming a registered nurse would be a good choice.

2. You can make overtime pay

One of the top pros of being a registered nurse is that you can earn overtime pay. Working overtime as a registered nurse can be very lucrative. Whether you are an agency nurse or working for a hospital, there are opportunities to make money from working extra hours. A registered nurse can earn as much as time and a half in some positions. Overtime pay allows a person to make a lot of money in a single month, depending on the number of hours worked.

3. You can work anywhere.

Being a registered nurse means that you can find a job anywhere in the United States. Being so versatile is one of the biggest advantages of being a registered nurse. Registered nurses are always needed in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and other health care facilities. As a registered nurse, you can also work as a consultant or instructor for new nurses or even go into administration. There is no limit to the different ways that you can use your expertise most effectively.

4. You can travel and work.

If you enjoy traveling and getting paid to do so, you should consider becoming a registered nurse who is known as a travel nurse. Becoming a travel nurse could be the best thing you ever did. With the average travel nurse salary being relatively high and most contracts ranging from 12-36 months long, there's certainly room to build up your bank account. If you're a registered nurse, the most important thing to understand is that with travel nursing jobs, everything is in your control. You will get to choose the state you want to live in, with whom you work, and what institutions you want to work in. And you don't have to give up your nursing career just because you're traveling. As a traveling nurse, your job will allow you the opportunity to explore new places, cultures, and people while sharpening your skills as a professional in the medical field. So, if you are someone who loves to explore new places, then while analyzing the pros and cons of being a registered nurse you definitely cannot ignore the fact that this career offers you the opportunity to become a travel nurse.

5. You can end up getting a reasonable amount of time off.

An ideal career for someone who wants flexibility in their schedule is that of a registered nurse. As a registered nurse, you can have many days off by grouping your workdays together. This is because you work in shifts. There are typically three or four 12-hour shifts in a week that you will have to work. Grouping these shifts together could really give you a lot of time off. This type of schedule is very convenient. Being a registered nurse will allow you to experience life in an enjoyable way that other jobs would not permit.

6. You will be in high demand.

Nursing is a high-demand career, and that demand will continue to grow because of the aging population. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, between 2020 and 2030, jobs for registered nurses are expected to grow by 9%. A job growth rate of 9% is right on par with similar occupations. One of the advantages of being a registered nurse is that you will have a job that is high in demand which will always keep you employed.

7. You can work in various settings.

There are numerous settings that a registered nurse can work. One of the most significant benefits of being a registered nurse is that you can work in many different places and take care of all types of people using your skills to make a difference. Some of the settings that a registered nurse can work in are hospitals, private clinics, nursing homes, or skilled care facilities, to name a few. Registered nurses can also work as public health nurses, visiting people in their homes and making sure they are healthy. Other registered nurses work as school nurses to take care of children. The more experience you have the greater your chance of landing your dream job.

8. You will have pretty good benefits.

In general, as a registered nurse, you can expect some great benefits. RNs get full medical coverage from their employers. This is really important because sometimes health care costs can be enormous. RNs get paid vacation days and sick leave, which is helpful when you need to take time off but still want to work. Lastly, registered nurses often receive a pension from their employers after they retire. This is a great way to ensure that you will have enough money after you retire.

9. You will be working in one of the most trusted professions

Suppose you choose to pursue the career of a registered nurse, in that case, you will be entering the most trusted profession in the United States. According to a 2012 Gallup poll, 82% of Americans have a great deal of confidence in registered nurses. This percentage is higher than any other profession included in the survey, including doctors. That has got to make you feel great that so many people think so highly of you.

10. You will not have to buy work clothes

One of the advantages of being a registered nurse is that you will have the luxury of wearing scrubs to work. You will not have to go and shop for hours and hours for professional business attire which can be expensive. Also, getting ready for work will be so easy. It will only take a few minutes of your time. You can just throw on any scrubs in your dresser, pop in some white shoes, and you are good to go for the day.

11. You will not get bored

The best part of working as a registered nurse is you will never get bored. Every day is different. There is always something new to learn and discover or an opportunity to teach others! You will encounter so many different patients, all with various reasons for seeking care. The variety goes on and on! Every day is a new adventure when you are a registered nurse.

12. You will help save lives

Nurses constantly prove that they are the unsung heroes of the medical community. One of the perks of being a registered nurse is the fact that you get to save lives. You will give people a second chance at life. Knowing that you were part of saving somebody's life will provide you with a sense of pride and accomplishment. Being a registered nurse is one of the most fulfilling careers you could ever have.

13. You can always learn something new

As a registered nurse, every day is an opportunity to learn something new. One of the pros of being a registered nurse is that this career allows you to continuously learn and explore a wide variety of opportunities to learn from working in the emergency department, labor and delivery units, psychiatric units, hospice care centers, special patient units, medical-surgical units, and many more. It is essential to always be willing to roll up your sleeves and dive right into this profession and take advantage of what it has to offer. Being a registered nurse, you will be exposed to many great opportunities and experiences that ultimately shape your future.

14. You have the opportunity for advancement

As a registered nurse, you will always have the opportunity for career advancement. You could advance your career through continuing education or through earning a higher degree. For example, some registered nurses choose to return to school and earn a master’s degree or a doctorate. You could also advance your career by studying in an area that you are passionate about. This may be through research, quality improvement, or administration.

15. You can pursue your higher education online

As a registered nurse, you have the ability to earn your graduate degree online. Online RN to MSN programs will allow you the flexibility of balancing your busy work and family life with your education. Many students find that their busy schedules make it difficult to attend face-to-face classes several times a week. The fact that online graduate nursing programs are available to students nationwide has made them popular among registered nurses seeking to continue their education. Online graduate nursing programs also tend to be more affordable than traditional RN programs, which makes them even more attractive.

16. You can earn certification in your field

As a registered nurse, you will have the option to become certified in your field of specialty. For example, you can earn your critical care nurse certification (CCRN) or your emergency room nurse certification. Certification is a sign of excellence in your field. It also increases your pay and makes you more competitive for jobs. Nurse certification also brings a sense of prestige and pride.

17. You do not have to work full time if you do not want

Registered nurses will also have the luxury of not working a full-time schedule if they do not want or need to. You can choose to work only per diem, just picking up the shifts that you want. This is perfect for those nurses who cannot find full-time employment or do not want to commit to a full-time schedule. The pay scale tends to be higher with per diem employees as well. Not only do you have this option available, but you could also work part-time if it suits your needs better. Having options such as per diem or part-time is one of the biggest advantages of being a registered nurse.

18. You are an essential part of the healthcare team

As a registered nurse, you will be valued as an essential part of the healthcare team by those around you such as your peers. You will gain satisfaction from knowing that you're assisting in improving people's lives. A registered nurse is a major irreplaceable part of the healthcare team. You will be viewed as a vital component in the communities that you serve.

19. You will stay physically fit

A registered nurse is one of those careers that you will be physically active in. You will not be sitting behind a desk all day. You will spend a great deal of time during your day walking from room to room and patient to patient. Your job will entail a lot of pulling, pushing and lifting. I mean, with a job like this, you could save money on your gym membership.

20. You can get a lot of discounts

One of the exciting pros of being a registered nurse is that you will be entitled to various discounts. Some of these discounts include car insurance, apparel, to numerous entertainment venues. There are so many more discounts out there that you could get just based on your chosen career.

The Bottom Line

So, what are the pros and cons of being a registered nurse? There are many benefits, but some significant disadvantages that need to be considered before making the commitment of venturing down this career path. The decision to become a registered nurse is not easy, and it should be made with careful consideration. As you just have seen, I have outlined the top 13 pros and cons of being a registered nurse and what you can expect from various aspects of this career choice so that you will know whether or not it's right for you! Hopefully, after reading about all the pros and cons of being an RN, your mind will have been put at ease because now you can make a solid decision about this career path. It's essential to know all aspects of any decision before making it. Keep in mind that everyone around you will have their own opinion of if you should become a registered nurse, but ultimately it is your decision alone.

Jennifer Schlette MSN, RN
Jennifer Schlette is a registered nurse in pediatric critical care in New York City. She is the former Director of Undergraduate Nursing at a college located in New York. After obtaining her BSN from the College of Mount Saint Vincent, she went on to complete her MSN.