What is a Registered Nurse? - The Complete Guide

Written By: Editorial Staff @ NursingProcess.org

As a registered nurse (RN), you will be a patient's caregiver, advocate, and teacher. Your goal is to provide quality healthcare while protecting patients' rights and privacy. RNs are in high demand across the country, so this career choice is an excellent one for those seeking job security. In this guide, you will learn all about what an RN does, the education you will need to become one, how much you will earn, your work environment, and your overall career outlook.

What Is an RN?

An RN, or a Registered Nurse, is an individual who has graduated from a nursing program and who has passed a national licensing exam (NCLEX-RN) allowing him or her to practice within the medical field. The Board of Nursing regulates your scope of practice as an RN, and this can vary based on state laws. RNs are some of the most recognized members of any medical team, whether in a hospital, a nursing home, or even in-home healthcare settings.


What Does an RN Do?

As a registered nurse, your duties will vary based upon your state's scope of practice laws and your work setting. In most states, you will perform many of the following tasks during your shift:

• Administer medications as ordered by a physician.
• Consult with other healthcare providers in order to determine the best treatment plan.
• Monitor patients' progress following an illness, injury, or surgery.
• Educate patients and their families about health conditions, treatment plans, medications, and support options.
• Manage medical records both on paper and electronically.
• Remain up-to-date with new tools and technology as they are introduced.
• Support doctors, nurse practitioners, and other healthcare professionals in providing outstanding care.
• Perform physical examinations.
• Obtain patients' health histories and other vital information.
• Take vital signs.
• Perform triage duties.
• Read, interpret, and analyze information about patients in order to make quick and sometimes critical decisions.
• Research conditions, injuries, symptoms, and possible outcomes in order to improve those outcomes.
• Use a variety of medical equipment and supplies.
• Plan long-term care needs for patients and discuss these with patients' caregivers.

Where Does a Registered Nurse Work?

You might work in a variety of settings throughout your career as an RN. Most commonly, you will work in hospitals, but you might also find employment in physician's offices, home healthcare companies, nursing and rehabilitation facilities, and even outpatient care centers like clinics. Some registered nurses might also work in prisons or schools.


As an RN working in a hospital, you will be the person who spends the most time with patients. You may work in general patient care, helping patients who are ill, who have been injured, or who are recovering from surgery. You might also choose to work in a trauma center, emergency room, maternity ward, or other part of the hospital to provide more specialized care to patients.

Physician's offices:

In a physician's office, your duties may change slightly. You will work only during the hours the physician's office is open, though you may stay late on some occasions to manage patients' records and file their charts. You may work in a general practitioner's office, but you might also choose to work with a gynecologist/obstetrician, a podiatrist, an ENT specialist, or some other subspecialty within the medical field.

Home Health Care Services:

As an RN in the home health setting, you will visit patients' homes to provide care. Hours may vary depending on the patients' needs; you may work overnights if patients require round-the-clock care. Most RNs who work in this field spend much of their time assisting with things like occupational therapy, rehabilitation, hospice, wound care, and basic grooming and hygiene needs.

Nursing Care Facilities:

Should you choose to work in a nursing and rehabilitation facility, you will be the primary caregiver for the patient during your shift. You will oversee a team of LPNs, CNAs, and NAs depending on your state, and you will work together to provide the best possible care for the residents under your watch. You might work days, evenings, or nights, and you will be required to work some holidays and weekends, as well.

Outpatient Care Centers:

Outpatient care centers encompass clinics, health departments, and in some cases, even urgent care centers where patients may come when they are sick or injured outside of normal business hours. Here, your work schedule may vary somewhat based upon the outpatient care center's hours of operation, but most are closed on major holidays and are not open overnight.

Work Schedule & Environment

Typical Schedule:

Most RNs work full-time, and many work more than 40 hours each week. Your work schedule will vary somewhat based upon your place of employment, as well. For example, in a hospital, you may be scheduled to work nights on weekends and holidays. In a physician's office, you might only work from morning until afternoon Monday through Friday.

Typical Environment:

Most registered nurses work in medical facilities that are climate-controlled and sanitary. RNs working in home health care are the exception to this; they will perform their duties inside patients' homes, and the environment can change drastically from one home to the next. You will encounter unpleasant conditions from time to time regardless of where you work. You will need to deal with body fluids including blood, unpleasant odors, wounds, and different types of traumatic injury or illness.

Step by Step Process to Become an RN

As an RN, your education requirements are much stricter than an LPN, but not as strict as a nurse practitioner. You will need to earn either an ADN (associate degree in nursing) or BSN (Bachelor of Science in nursing) degree in order to practice within your state.

1. Acquire your high school diploma or GED.
2. Choose between ADN or BSN programs for your RN education path.
3. Choose a school that offers the path you prefer and ensure that school is approved by the nursing board in your state. As an example, if you are planning to practice as a registered nurse in California, the program should be approved by the California Board of Registered Nursing.
4. Ensure the school is accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).
5. If the school is approved by your state's nursing board and accredited by either the ACEN and the CCNE, ensure you meet the criteria for admission, and then submit your application.
6. Apply for financial aid and/or student loans, if required.
7. Maintain a good grade point average during your education.
8. Complete your clinical rotation and externship by the provided deadline.
9. Graduate from the program with good grades.
10. Apply for RN licensure within your state, typically through your state's nursing board.
11. Pass the NCLEX-RN examination.
12. Receive your registered nursing license for your state.
13. Enter the workforce by applying for positions in hospitals, nursing homes, outpatient care facilities, and other medical centers.

What Education will I Need to Become a Registered Nurse?

• ADN Programs

An associate degree in nursing program, or ADN program, is the fastest way to become a registered nurse. These programs are usually offered by private universities and colleges, though you may also find an ADN program at a community or technical school.

Admission Requirements

• A minimum high school GPA of 2.5.
• Completion of prerequisite high school courses is recommended, as well. These include biology, anatomy, chemistry, and health. Psychology is also a great option.
• Copies of transcripts from any other colleges or universities you have attended.
• A minimum score of 65 on the ATI TEAS (Test of Academic Skills) exam, which is required for students entering the nursing field.
• A clear criminal background and the ability to pass a drug screening.

Program Duration

An ADN program takes two years to complete, though some schools may offer fast track programs you can complete partially online.


In the classroom portion of the ADN program, you will take several courses that will be important to the rest of your career. These include the following:

• Foundations in Nursing
- This course will introduce you to the nursing profession and provide you with a history of nursing, information about legal and ethical issues, the role of the professional nurse, and standards and scope of practice.
• Nursing Care of Adults
- In this course, you will learn basic medicine and how to perform the many duties of a registered nurse. It covers acute, short-term, and long-term care.
• Behavioral Health
- This course focuses on mental health and how to assess a patient's behaviors. It can also help you learn how to interact with patients and their families in different situations.
• Pharmacology
- Pharmacology courses are about medications and how they interact not only with the human body, but with one another. This course is important for recommending medications and measuring them appropriately.
• Maternal and Child Nursing Care
- In this course, you will learn about pregnancy, birth, newborn care, and the care of children. This is especially important if you wish to work in obstetrics.

Clinical Rotation

Every ADN program requires a clinical rotation, and the hours required vary from state to state. During this portion of your education, you will gain hands-on experience performing tasks with patients under faculty supervision. Check with the nursing board in your state to determine how many hours you will need; you must obtain these hours to sit for the NCLEX-RN examination.

Program Cost

Costs vary depending on the type of school you choose to attend. For example, if you attend a public school, costs for an ADN program range from $900 to $43,780, but on average, students pay $29,888. In a private, not-for-profit university or college, you will pay anywhere from $9,700 to $62,080, or an average of $72,440. Finally, if you attend a private, for-profit institution, your costs will range from $8,040 to $84,200, with an average cost of $80,480. These costs do not include books and supplies, which range in cost from $2,630 to $6,560.

Types of School Tuition & Fees Range Average Tuition & Fees
Public $900 - $43,780 $29,888
Private Not-For-Profit $9,700 - $62,080 $72,440
Private for-profit $8,040 - $84,200 $80,480

What will I Learn?

By the end of your ADN program, you will have learned the following:

• The history of nursing in the medical industry.
• How to provide nursing care to adults in various settings.
• Medical terminology.
• Medications and how they interact with each other.
• How to measure and administer medications for patients according to a prescribed order.
• The ethics and legality of nursing.
• How to maintain patients' privacy and dignity.
• How to take accurate and clear medical histories.
• How to manage patient medical records.
• Patients' behavior and how it can help with diagnoses, hinder communication, or even interfere with treatment.

• BSN Programs

A BSN program (Bachelor of Science in nursing) requires more credits than an ADN program. Because of these, colleges offering a BSN are typically more competitive, and the admission requirements are a little tougher. It also takes longer to earn a BSN than an ADN, but a bachelor's degree looks better on your resume if you are attempting to enter a crowded workplace.

Admission Requirements

• A minimum GPA of 3.0, but keep in mind that many schools will only accept candidates with a GPA of 3.5 or higher.
• In some cases, you may need to complete a two-year general postsecondary education prior to enrolling in a BSN program.
• Prerequisite courses such as anatomy and physiology, developmental psychology, chemistry, biochemistry, and even statistics are strongly recommended. Some schools may even require these before you enroll.
• A minimum score of 65 on the TEAS exam, a minimum score of 21 on the ACT exam, or a minimum score of 1250 on the SAT exam.
• Letters of recommendation from reputable individuals when possible.
• The ability to pass a criminal background check and drug screen.

Program Duration

The BSN program is a four-year program. In some cases, you may be able to earn the required credits more quickly, especially if you will attend a private university.


In the classroom portion of your education, you will take the following courses, which will help you during the entirety of your nursing career:

• Professional Nursing Skills
- This course includes a history of nursing, professional ethics and legal issues, the role of nursing in preventing illness, and how to maintain a patient's health.
• Adult Nursing Care
- This course teaches you how to help adults dealing with injury or illness through a series of demonstrations and lectures. You will learn how to treat and address acute, short-term, and chronic conditions in a variety of healthcare settings.
• Surgical Nursing
- With a focus on team healthcare, this course teaches you how to care for patients before, during, and after surgical procedures. It combines lectures, demonstrations, and labs that will help you develop the skills you need to provide care in the most demanding settings.
• Community Nursing
- Should you choose to work in a community healthcare setting, this course gives you the information you need to prevent and manage diseases in individuals and groups. It teaches how to provide care, the policies that surround public health, epidemiology, budgeting for community healthcare, and even how to measure and evaluate the care being provided to patients.
• Leadership and Management Skills for Nurses
- This course is vital for nurses who wish to move up the ranks once they enter the workforce. It provides vital information about ways to support coworkers and patients, and it also teaches you how to be a leader.
• Nursing Intervention for Women and Families
- In this course, you will learn how to provide healthcare to women and children. This includes both general wellness and the treatment of illness or injury.

Clinical Rotation

Much like the clinical rotation for an ADN program, the number of hours you will need for your BSN degree is determined by your state. During this period, you will work directly with patients to provide care under the supervision of professors, registered nurses, and even physicians.

Program Cost

The cost of your BSN program will vary depending on your location and the type of school you choose to attend. For example, in a public-school setting, you could pay anywhere between $3,320 and $100,200 for your education. Most students pay an average of $51,160 in total. In a not-for-profit private school, you might pay anywhere from $11,440 to $158,240, with most students paying an average of $88,400. Finally, in a for-profit private school, costs range from $11,520 to $188,920, with the average student paying $81,320. Books and supplies for a four-year nursing program cost anywhere from $3,500 to $6,500.

What will I Learn?

During your BSN program, you will learn all of the skills vital to becoming an important and competent part of a healthcare team. This includes:

• Basic nursing skills.
• Triage skills.
• Disease prevention and management.
• Pre, intra, and post-surgical care.
• The ethics and laws involved in providing patient care as an RN in your state.
• How to measure and administer medications to patients as per a doctor's orders.
• Ways to care for patients with acute, short-term, and long-term illnesses.
• How to be a leader and an effective part of a patient's team of healthcare providers.
• Best practices when caring for newborns, infants, and children.
• How to care for pregnant women and their unborn babies.
• The best ways to assess patients' behavior.

• ELM (Entry Level Master's) / Direct Entry Masters Programs

Finally, you might opt for an ELM (Entry-Level Master's) program, especially if you have a degree in another field and you want to pursue advanced nursing in one of many exciting specialties. You must have at least a bachelor's degree in another field to pursue this education path, and the admission requirements can be quite strict since master's degree programs are highly desirable.

Admission Requirements

• A bachelor's degree in another field.
• An official transcript from the accredited college or university that awarded your bachelor's degree.
• Completed prerequisite courses such as human anatomy, microbiology, human physiology, organic chemistry, and the associated labs.
• Letters of recommendation, both personal and professional.
• Your resume or a document outlining your professional experience.
• A GPA of at least 3.0. The higher your GPA, the more likely you are to be accepted into one of these programs.

Program Duration

On average, it will take you two years to complete your Entry Level Master's program. In some cases, you may be able to participate in a "fast track" program allowing you to learn at a faster pace. Some students can complete their ELM programs in as little as 18 months. This is especially true if you choose to complete some of your education online.


In the classroom portion of your education, you will take more advanced courses that build upon the framework of your baccalaureate degree. These include the following:

• Medical Surgical Care of the Adult and Geriatric Patient
- This course teaches pre-, intra-, and post-surgical care for adults and the elderly. It is designed to provide a solid foundation for any specialization you may choose.
• Pathophysiology
- In this course, you will learn more about the physiological processes that accompany disease and injury.
• Pharmacology
- A pharmacology course is important for learning about drugs and the way they interact in the body, with diseases, and with each other.
• Bioethics and Health Policy
- Bioethics and Health Policy explains the ethics that come along with medicine and biological research. This course also provides information about current laws and policies regarding healthcare.
• Mental Health Nursing
- While this course is especially helpful for aspiring nurses who want to practice in a mental healthcare facility or practice, it is required curriculum for your ELM. The information in this course will help you better understand psychological conditions that you may encounter during your career.
• Community Health Nursing
- This course blends primary healthcare with community care and focuses on epidemiology, disease, and more.
• Scientific Writing
- This course is unique to ELM programs and is designed to provide students with the skills they need to write research papers or scientific publications.

Clinical Rotation

The clinical residency portion of the ELM degree occurs in a licensed healthcare facility under the direct supervision of faculty. In most states, it is a seven-week internship that provides roughly 250 hours of clinical experience in acute care. Bear in mind that clinical residency requirements may vary from state to state.

Program Cost

The ELM-RN program comes at a considerable cost. In a public-school setting, students pay anywhere from $6,600 to $50,120 for their ELM, with the average cost topping out at $26,958. In not-for-profit private colleges and universities, you can expect to pay anywhere from $25,100 to $79,120, with the average cost at $49,920. Finally, in a for-profit private school, you will pay anywhere from $33,080 to $73,580, but most students pay a total of $46,700. Books and supplies are not included in these figures, and they range from $3,500 to $6,500.

What will I Learn?

After completing your ELM program, you will have learned the following:

• Advanced nursing skills.
• The treatment and prevention of disease and injury in infants, children, adults, and the elderly.
• Community nursing practices and standards.
• Advanced pharmacology and pathophysiology skills.
• A background in the specialty you choose.
• Pre-, intra-, and post-surgical care in general surgical and more specialized surgical settings.
• Ethics and policies related to nursing and healthcare in general.
• A background in psychology and mental health.
• Leadership skills that apply directly to the nursing field.

Pursuing an Online RN Program

In today's fast-paced world, you may find yourself interested in pursuing your degree after you have entered the workforce. In this case, an online program is a great tool that can help you complete the classroom portion of your education on your own time. Many accredited schools offer ADN, BSN, and ELM programs online, but bear in mind that you must complete your clinical rotation in an approved facility in order to graduate and receive your degree.

RN Scholarships & Financial Aid

As you pursue the more desirable degrees that can help you further your career in nursing, you will find that the costs associated with your education will climb. Fortunately, there are scholarships, federal grants, and loans that can help you with these costs.

• Scholarships

- Scholarships for aspiring nurses can relieve much of the financial burden associated with pursuing any degree. You can apply for more than one scholarship, as well. Some are based solely on financial need, and others are awarded based on your academic merit.

• Federal Grants

- Like scholarships, there are many different government grants available to aspiring registered nurses. Your goal should involve applying for every grant for which you are eligible. The FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is your starting place. You can find a link to the FAFSA and more information about the numerous grants available to you through the Federal Student Aid website, which is provided by the Office of the US Department of Education.

• Federal and Private Loans

- After applying for various scholarships and grants, you will likely find that these do not cover the entire cost of your education. In this case, you have loan options that can help. Federal student loans are available to most students, but for those who have excellent credit, private loans may offer better repayment terms. To apply for a federal student loan, simply fill out the FAFSA form that is linked above. To apply for a private loan, visit your bank or other financial institution.

• Work-Study

- Many secondary education institutions offer work-study programs that can help offset some of the remaining costs involved in becoming a registered nurse. Some of these programs are federally-funded, and you can check your eligibility when you fill out the FAFSA form to qualify for federal grants. A work-study program offers you a discounted or even free education in exchange for your agreement to work for a particular agency or facility for a predetermined amount of time.

How do I Obtain Licensure as RN?

In order to work as an RN, you must be licensed. The guidelines for licensure vary from state to state, but all 50 states require that you sit for and pass the NCLEX-RN examination. The following steps will guide you through the processes involved in taking this exam.

• Apply for Your License

- The first step involved in obtaining licensure as a registered nurse involves applying for your exam and license. Whether you are a graduate or you are soon to graduate, you will apply for both through your state's nursing board. Some states require notarized applications, and almost all states require you to pay an application fee. You will need to pass a criminal background check in most states before you can sit for the exam, as well.

• Register for NCLEX-RN Exam

- After submitting your licensure application, you will need to register for the NCLEX-RN examination. You will register for the exam through the Pearson VUE website. After submitting your information and making the payment of $200 ($350 for international students), you will receive an Authorization to Test (ATT) email. This will give you a 365-day timeframe during which you can sit for the examination.

• Take NCLEX-RN Exam


The NCLEX-RN format is a bit different from other tests. You will answer a minimum of 75 questions or a maximum of 265 questions. You must answer 75 questions correctly within the six-hour allotted time in order to pass the exam. You will pass the examination after you answer 75 questions correctly. If you answer 265 questions total before getting 75 correct answers, you will fail. There are two optional breaks during the exam; the first occurs two hours into testing, and the second occurs an hour and a half after the first.

Starting in 2017, students sitting for the NCLEX-RN examination must answer 15 "experimental" questions in a "Special Research Section". This takes an additional 30 minutes to complete, and the result does not count toward your final NCLEX-RN score. These questions were designed to assist in the development of future examinations. Once you have completed the exam by answering 75 questions correctly or answering a total of 265 questions, you will receive a short survey asking about your testing process. You will receive your official results only from the nursing board or regulatory body in your state.

Exam Content:

Per the NCSBN, or National Council of State Boards of Nursing, the exam is broken down as follows:

• Physiological Adaptation (14%)
- You will be asked questions related to providing physical health and promoting wellness through care and comfort.
• Management of Care (20%)
- This topic covers methods of providing the best quality healthcare possible while protecting clients and healthcare providers.
• Safety and Infection Control (12%)
- These questions focus on the best ways to protect both patients and healthcare personnel from hazards relating to health and the environment.
• Health Promotion and Maintenance (9%)
- Health Promotion and Maintenance questions are about the early detection of health conditions, the best ways to achieve optimal health at any age, and the knowledge of growth and development principles.
• Psychosocial Integrity (9%)
- This topic tests your knowledge of providing care that supports the wellbeing of the patient emotionally, socially, and mentally. It also tests your ability to provide care to patients who have acute or long-term mental illnesses.
• Reduction of Risk Potential (12%)
- These questions are all about reducing the likelihood that patients will contract diseases or develop other health problems based on their existing conditions, the treatments provided to them, or the procedures they undergo.
• Pharmacological and Parenteral Therapies (15%)
- In this topic, you will be asked questions related to your knowledge of medications and parenteral therapies designed to be part of a patient's treatment plan.
• Basic Care and Comfort (9%)
- Finally, these questions test your ability to provide assistance to patients as it relates to their ability to go about their normal lives.

Question Types:

All the questions on the NCLEX-RN examination are multiple choice. Some will ask you about terminology, some may ask you about the most likely diagnosis, and others may ask you to provide the best treatment option for a given scenario.

• Things you Need to Know about an RN License

License Verification/License Status

You can verify and check the status of your RN license through the Nursys system, which is provided by the National Council of the State Boards of Nursing, or NCSBN. Through the e-Notify for Nurses system, you can manage your license at no cost to you.

License Renewal

Your RN license is not issued for a lifetime, so it will need to be renewed occasionally. The renewal requirements vary from state to state, but most will require that you pay a renewal fee and provide proof that you have worked a minimum number of hours or participated in a minimum number of continuing education (CE) classes. You must renew your license on or before the expiration date, and you can find the expiration date through the Nursys website listed above.

Licensure by Endorsement

If you move from one state to another, or if you live on the border of two states and wish to practice as a nurse in both, you may qualify for licensure by endorsement. To do so, you must have an active nursing license in another state and undergo a criminal background check. If your state is part of the Nursing Licensure Compact (listed below), you may not need to obtain a separate license to practice there.

Nursing Licensure Compact

26 states in the United States belong to what is called the Nursing Licensure Compact (NLC). This is an agreement between states that allows RNs from one state to practice in another freely, without the need to obtain licensure in each state. For example, if you live in Colorado and you are licensed in that state, but you will be moving to Wisconsin, you can legally practice medicine in Wisconsin without obtaining licensure directly through that state. Essentially, nurses who receive licenses in NLC states have a multistate license to practice in any of the states listed below.

26 Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC) States
1 Arizona 2 Arkansas 3 Colorado 4 Delaware 5 Florida
6 Idaho 7 Iowa 8 Kentucky 9 Maine 10 Maryland
11 Mississippi 12 Missouri 13 Montana 14 Nebraska 15 New Hampshire
16 New Mexico 17 North Carolina 18 North Dakota 19 Rhode Island 20 South Carolina
21 South Dakota 22 Tennessee 23 Texas 24 Utah 25 Virginia
26 Wisconsin

Recommended Certifications

After passing the NCLEX-RN examination, there are several certifications that may be beneficial to you and your career in nursing. Many of these relate to a specific specialty. Many of these are offered by the ANCC, or American Nurses Credentialing Center. They include, but are not limited to:

• Ambulatory Care Nursing

- This specialization focuses on treating patients with acute and chronic illness and injury outside of the hospital setting.

• Nurse Executive

- With the Nurse Executive specialization, you have shown that you are capable of creating policies and procedures for nursing staff to follow within a medical facility. Nurse Executives focus much of their time on various management and administrative tasks.

• Nursing Case Management

- A Nursing Case Manager is someone who coordinates patient care within a specific setting to provide the best possible treatment. Nursing Case Managers often seek secondary certifications within their chosen specialties, as well.

• Pain Management Nursing

- With this certification, you have demonstrated your ability to determine the severity and cause of patients' pain through various diagnostic exams.

• Public Health Nursing (Advanced)

- This certification is for public health nurses who have demonstrated their ability to understand how health and community fit together.

• Forensic Nursing (Advanced)

- With the Forensic Nursing certification, you demonstrate that you have advanced knowledge and skills when it comes to caring for individuals involved in criminal activity for the purpose of collecting evidence.

RN Scope of Practice

The Scope of Practice for a registered nurse ultimately dictates what you can and cannot do for patients as part of a healthcare team. Each state has its own laws and limitations, so be sure to check the Scope of Practice for your state.

• What you can Do

Because you will have more education as an RN than an LPN, you will also have greater responsibilities. Some of the things you can do as an RN that you cannot do as an LPN include:

• Administering intravenous medications;
• Completing health assessments;
• Administering chemotherapy or dialysis treatments;
• Pronouncing time of death along with a doctor's order (only in some states);
• Administering blood products to patients;
• Taking verbal orders for physicians;
• Developing nursing care plans;
• Access and flush PICC lines or other types of central lines; and
• Administering TPN (total parental nutrition), cardiac drips, or insulin drips.

• What you Cannot Do

Though an RN has a much larger scope of practice than an LPN, there are some things you will not be able to do in most states. These include writing prescriptions to patients, giving medications to patients without a doctor's order, coming up with patient diagnoses, and creating treatment plans without a doctor's input.

Qualities, Skills, Knowledge & Abilities you will Need to Work as an RN

• Personal Qualities

It takes a very special kind of person to succeed as a registered nurse, so it is important that you possess these personal qualities if you plan to have a nursing career:

• Strong Work Ethic

- RNs often work many long hours, overnight shifts, and even holidays depending on their employers. Nurses are considered "critical" employees, which means they must go to work even during travel bans. Because of this, it is vital that you have a very strong work ethic.

• Emotional Stability

- You will find yourself in a variety of very emotional situations throughout your career. Patients can and sometimes do die, whether they are children, adults, or the elderly. Because of this, you will need emotional stability to be an effective and successful RN.

• Empathy

- If you are to provide the best possible care to your patients, it is vital that you are able to empathize with them.

• Flexibility

- Everything changes drastically from day to day when you are an RN. You may be asked to work daytime hours one week, but overnight hours the next. Your responsibilities will also change frequently. You must be flexible in order to accommodate these changes.

• Attention to Detail

- In some cases, your ability to pick up on small details may save patients' lives.

• Knowledge

You will obtain the knowledge you need to succeed as a registered nurse during your schooling, but ongoing knowledge that may serve you will include:

• Pharmacology

- Being aware of new drugs and even drugs that are currently being tested in clinical trials can help you stay ahead of the game.

• Anatomy

- Familiarizing yourself with human anatomy regularly can keep you sharp.

• Psychology

- Patients' behavior can tell you a lot about their conditions, and it can also affect their recovery. Because of this, gaining and maintaining a solid foundation in psychology can serve you well throughout your career.

• Nursing Care

- Brushing up on your nursing care knowledge will give you an advantage, particularly if you are interested in a promotion or entering the workforce.

• Familiarity with Your Specialization

- Finally, if you want to specialize in a particular field of medicine, it is important for you to learn as much about that field as possible.

• Abilities

The most successful registered nurses all have the following abilities that help them further their careers:

• Collecting and processing information

- A registered nurse will need to gather, process, and analyze information from various sources.

• Multitasking

- RNs often do several things at once, so the ability to multitask will serve you very well.

• Communicating with different types of people

- Nurses will work with people of all ethnicities, from all countries, and of all religions. You must be able to communicate with everyone effectively in order to provide the best care.

• Adapting to changing conditions

- Healthcare settings change quite often. You should be able to adapt to changes in scheduling, facility policies, patients' conditions, staffing requirements, and more.

• Working calmly under pressure

- Finally, you will need to keep your cool during intense and life-threatening situations. Being able to think clearly and calmly under pressure may save patients' lives.

Tools & Equipment you will use as an RN

Because you will have many unique responsibilities as an RN, you will also use a variety of tools to help you collect and analyze data. The tools and equipment you will use include:

• Stethoscope

- With this simple device, you can listen to patients' heartbeats, take their blood pressures, and even hear the condition of their lungs as they breathe. It is by far one of the most powerful instruments for detecting issues.

• Medical Handbooks & Guides

- Handbooks, especially the Drug Handbook, are quick references that you can use to help you follow the best procedures.

• Smartphone or Tablet

- These devices put you in constant communication with other healthcare providers and offer a means to share information pertinent to patients' health.

• Blood Pressure Monitor

- These devices measure patients' blood pressure, which is a vital sign that can tell you a lot about a patient's health.

• Thermometer

- These devices measure a patient's temperature, which when elevated may signal some sort of an infection.

• Pulse Oximeter

- These devices measure a patient's pulse and oxygen saturation in the blood, which indicate the basic function of the patient's heart and lungs.

Registered Nurse Salary

An RN has more training than an LPN, and because of this, a higher salary. As an RN, you can expect to earn a good living. Factors that may influence your salary include your experience, your location, and even the medical facility or setting in which you work. Experienced nurses tend to earn more than their lesser-experienced counterparts, for example.

• What Is the Average Salary?

On average, registered nurses in the United States earn $73,550 per year, which is equal to $35.36 per hour.

Hourly Average Wage $35.36
Annual Average Salary $73,550

• What Is the Starting Salary?

A registered nurse entering the workforce for the first time can expect to make about $47,120 in her or his first year. This is equal to roughly $22.65 hourly.

Starting Hourly Wage $22.65
Starting Annual Salary $47,120

• What Is the Salary With Experience?

An experienced RN, or someone who has roughly 10 years of experience working in various medical settings, earns an average of $102,990 each year. This translates to $49.52 an hour.

Experienced Hourly Wage $49.52
Experienced Annual Salary $102,990

National RN Salary Details

Level of Experience Hourly Wages Annual Salary
Less than 1 year (Starting) $22.65 $47,120
1-4 years $27.01 $56,190
5-9 years $32.91 $68,450
10-19 years $40.27 $83,770
20 years or more $49.52 $102,990
Average Salary $34.70 $72,180

Career Outlook

• How Many RNs Currently Work in the United States?

Right now, there are 2,955,200 registered nurses in the United States in various medical facilities, schools, prisons, and home settings. This number is expected to continue to climb as more and more people gain access to insurance and the baby boomer generation continues to age.

RNs Currently Employed (2018) 2,955,200

• Projected Annual Average RN Job Openings

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that some 203,600 new registered nurse positions will become available each year, signifying tremendous growth.

Projected Annual Average Job Openings (New + Replacement)

• What Is the Demand for RNs?

Between 2016 and 2026, it is estimated that there will be 437,000 new RN job positions in total, accounting for 14.8% growth. This is on track with other professions in the medical field.

Employment 10 Year Change, 2016-26
2016 2026 Number Percent
2,955,200 3,392,200 437,000 14.8%

State Wise RN Salary & Employment Details

State Employment Starting Salary Salary with Experience Average Salary
Alabama 47,440 $41,520 $76,840 $56,900
Alaska 5,570 $62,000 $117,450 $86,450
Arizona 52,610 $52,660 $98,790 $73,430
Arkansas 23,380 $41,370 $76,900 $57,630
California 274,650 $63,450 $149,440 $101,750
Colorado 47,590 $52,330 $96,080 $70,550
Connecticut 32,930 $55,530 $101,740 $78,270
Delaware 11,320 $53,850 $94,490 $70,820
District of Columbia 10,320 $55,890 $105,820 $80,500
Florida 174,710 $46,550 $83,390 $64,630
Georgia 73,330 $45,160 $83,290 $64,750
Hawaii 11,300 $59,570 $120,510 $88,910
Idaho 12,330 $44,680 $80,200 $62,470
Illinois 121,670 $47,100 $99,590 $70,890
Indiana 63,870 $42,460 $80,160 $60,050
Iowa 32,370 $41,450 $75,230 $56,290
Kansas 27,130 $42,130 $77,870 $58,260
Kentucky 45,500 $42,990 $78,570 $59,810
Louisiana 44,780 $43,310 $83,820 $63,370
Maine 14,190 $46,420 $83,500 $63,800
Maryland 53,330 $54,460 $99,710 $74,710
Massachusetts 85,140 $55,400 $134,300 $89,060
Michigan 92,670 $51,590 $90,900 $69,100
Minnesota 61,830 $50,260 $99,910 $73,940
Mississippi 28,590 $40,790 $77,940 $57,010
Missouri 67,920 $41,810 $81,650 $60,830
Montana 9,800 $49,060 $82,500 $64,300
Nebraska 21,240 $43,790 $79,170 $60,370
Nevada 20,250 $61,860 $105,880 $83,790
New Hampshire 13,260 $50,030 $94,450 $68,680
New Jersey 79,400 $57,540 $103,800 $80,580
New Mexico 16,200 $51,910 $92,090 $68,670
New York 180,730 $53,060 $113,450 $80,830
North Carolina 99,050 $43,910 $81,170 $61,330
North Dakota 8,710 $45,020 $78,190 $60,840
Ohio 128,030 $47,560 $81,780 $63,960
Oklahoma 27,660 $43,450 $79,200 $60,630
Oregon 35,220 $64,270 $113,610 $87,000
Pennsylvania 139,480 $48,050 $95,870 $68,770
Rhode Island 12,150 $55,250 $99,240 $75,200
South Carolina 41,800 $43,760 $81,560 $63,470
South Dakota 12,130 $41,440 $75,900 $55,920
Tennessee 60,080 $42,180 $77,990 $58,410
Texas 207,810 $50,360 $96,690 $70,390
Utah 21,470 $45,130 $80,750 $62,360
Vermont 5,850 $51,060 $92,210 $67,780
Virginia 63,820 $44,190 $92,630 $66,670
Washington 55,350 $54,050 $113,600 $80,120
West Virginia 20,880 $41,330 $78,920 $59,380
Wisconsin 55,410 $51,740 $90,750 $67,930
Wyoming 4,970 $44,290 $82,300 $62,980

Furthering my Education with Bridge Programs

Bridge programs are much like ELM programs in that they allow you to transfer any credits you may have earned during your RN education to another degree, such as a Bachelor of Science in Nursing or Master of Science in Nursing degree. You can often complete a bridge program more quickly than a traditional BSN or MSN, as well.

• RN to BSN

You may have chosen to receive an associate degree when you became an RN but found that most employers prefer to hire individuals who have a BSN, instead. Rather than going to school for the entire four years it typically takes to get a BSN, a bridge program considers the coursework you completed during your ADN program and transfers it into the BSN program. This can drastically shorten the time it takes to earn a bachelor's degree. In fact, you may be able to earn it in as little as two years.

• RN to MSN

Along those same lines, if you have an associate degree but want to go for your master's in order to work in management or teaching, an RN to MSN program may be of interest to you. This program is for individuals who currently have an ADN but who want an MSN, instead. Rather than spending four years to get the bachelor's degree and another two for the master's, you can shorten the process to about four years total.

• BSN to MSN

Finally, the BSN to MSN bridge program is a great choice for those who have already achieved a Bachelor of Science degree, but who want to continue to further their education. You can earn your MSN in as little as 18 months with the BSN to MSN bridge program.

Helpful RN Sites & Organizations

Registered Nurses Occupational Information

- This O*Net link provides vital information about the RN occupation, including sample job titles held by RNs across the country, the various skills needed to succeed as an RN, detailed work activities, and work context.

The American Nurses Association (ANA)

- The ANA website offers helpful insider news and links to upcoming events. Membership with the ANA is optional, but provides helpful perks, such as discounts on continuing education and more.

American Society of Registered Nurses (ASRN)

- ASRN membership is also optional, but there are advantages. Becoming a member gives you access to pharmacy discounts, some of the top literary journals, and awards, grants, scholarships, and fellowships that can help you further your nursing or medical career.

National Student Nurse Association (NSNA)

- This organization serves to help boost the professional development of nursing students across the country. Membership allows you to gain recognition for the leadership activities you choose to participate in, and it also grants you access to annual meetings that will help you stay informed about nursing trends.

National Society of Ophthalmic Registered Nurses (NSORN)

- The NSORN provides information intended for nurses who specialize in ophthalmology. Membership provides access to various educational programs, annual meetings, and regional meetings that can help further your career.

American Association of Perioperative Registered Nurses (AORN)

- AORN is a special group that assists in educating and supporting registered nurses who work in surgical settings to provide perioperative care.

American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)

- The ANCC is the largest and most prestigious credentialing body for nurses. It offers a variety of credentials above and beyond the RN title that can boost your career and prove your knowledge within certain specialties.

Other Nursing Career Guides

Best Nursing Schools in Your State
  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin