There are approximately 2.6 million registered nurses in the United States. Job growth indicators for the next decade point to a faster than average growth at 22%. Around 60% of all nurses work in hospitals.
Registered nurses (RNs) take medical histories, support doctors with diagnostic tests, teach patients and their families about their illnesses and medications, give medications, and assist with follow up. Some nurses educate communities about health risks or infectious diseases, run vaccination clinics, and operate medical equipment. RNs create patient plans, independently or with other medical personnel; plans include administration of medication, interactions, IV instructions, managing treatments, assessing and recording patient condition. There are a wide range of services RNs provide; specific duties depend in large part upon specialties. Specialties can involve the specific setting, such as perioperative nurses in operating rooms; specific health conditions the RN has been trained for, such as diabetes; the organ systems the RN has been trained for, such as nurses who work with skin conditions; or a specific population, such as nurses who work with newborns. Many nurses combine two or more specialties.
There are many possible work settings and types of treatments. Ambulatory nurses work in offices or clinics; critical care nurses are found in intensive care units; trauma nurses are trained for the emergency room; transport nurses might work in ambulances; holistic nurses work in wellness centers. At home care is provided by home healthcare nurses. Terminally ill patients are tended by palliative care nurses. Blood, fluids, and medication are given intravenously by infusion nurses. Patients with chronic disorders are seen by long-term care nurses. Job-related injuries or diseases are addressed by occupational health nurses. Nurse anesthetists tend patients under anesthesia. Psychiatric nurses work with patients suffering from mood disorders or psychosis, while radiology nurses give ultrasounds, radiation therapy, and MRIs. Transplant nurses have been trained to work with transplant recipients and living donors. These are just a few examples of the multitude of specializations nurses might train for or have experience in. There are oncology, HIV, wound, postoperative, cardiovascular, dermatology, gastroenterology, gynecology, nephrology, 0phthalmic, orthopedic, and respiratory nurses, as well as other types of specialists.
There are also jobs that require a license but do not involve patient care, such as forensic nurses, infection control nurses, and nurse educators. Some nurses are consultants, medical supply researchers, policy advisors, or medical writers.
Most RNs work in healthcare facilities such as clinics, hospitals and private or group practices. These facilities are brightly lit, clean and well organized. Some nurses travel to healthcare facilities, private homes, or schools. Many nurses work overtime, weekends, night shifts, or other irregular hours, in addition to being on call. Among the risks RNs face is exposure to dangerous solutions, medications, or compounds, as well as to infectious diseases. Those who move patients or heavy equipment must be careful not to injure muscles or bones. Many nurses are on their feet throughout most of their shifts. Important characteristics for nurses include empathy, good communication skills, and being detail oriented. Because the work can be stressful, they need patience and the ability to function under pressure.
Associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees, or graduation from an approved nursing program are all ways to become a nurse. After education is completed, applicants must pass a national licensing exam. Advanced practice nurses typically have earned a master’s degree. Bachelor’s programs provide a greater amount of nonhospital clinical experience than do the other two means. Nurses in research, administrative, or teaching positions generally have at least a bachelor’s degree. Some nurses begin with a lesser degree, then attend a bachelor’s or master’s program in order to advance; many take advantage of tuition reimbursement plans offered by their employers. It is possible to enter the field with a non-nursing bachelor’s degree through an accelerated program lasting one to two years.
Coursework includes classroom instruction in anatomy, chemistry, physiology, nutrition, microbiology, psychology, and nursing. In addition, students receive hands-on-training under the supervision of an experienced nurse or doctor.
All states require nurses to complete an approved program and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). Some states have other requirements.
The American Nursing Credentialing Center, the National League for Nursing, and many other groups provide specialist credentials.
Career advancement can come in the form of becoming a head nurse, manager, administrator, assistant director, vice president, or chief of nursing. Advanced practice nurses such as midwives, clinical nurse specialists, nurse anesthetists, and nurse practitioners work closely with a physician or independently; these all require a master’s degree at minimum.
The median annual salary for registered nurses is around $63,000. Those in the middle of the pay scale earn between $52,000 and $77,000. The lowest 10% earn less than $44,000, while the top 10% earn more than $92,000.