When you and I encounter a nurse at a hospital or a doctor’s office, it is most often a registered nurse. Registered nurses make up the largest number of nurses across all disciplines, whether they are advanced practice nurses or not. How far a registered nurse goes in his or her career depends on the level of education and desire for career advancement. Some are content with a two-year degree while others go on to spend up to 10 years to earn a doctorate degree.
Registered nurses work in all sorts of settings. Some of the most common are private medical practices, outpatient facilities, hospitals, and public health clinics. Some of the lesser-known settings include colleges and universities, corporate medical departments, research facilities, pharmaceutical manufacturers, public and private schools, nonprofit medical missions, and so on. Regardless of the setting all registered nurses have one thing in common: a genuine desire to help people.
Becoming a Registered Nurse
There are three general categories of registered nursing characterized by the amount of education an individual receives. They are:
- associate of science in nursing (ASN)
- bachelor of science in nursing (BSN)
- advanced practice registered nurses
You can become an RN in as little as two years if you want to complete an associate degree program and pass your licensing exam. Entry level RNs with an ASN degree perform more advanced tasks than the licensed vocational nurse (LVN) but are not necessarily allowed to do as much as the BSN registered nurse. Obviously, what this type of nurse is allowed to do is determined by individual state regulations. But since a typical ASN degree program is heavily focused on routine patient care, most registered nurses in this category will do things like dispense medications, chart recovery progress, attend to patient needs, keep records, and so on.
Those interested in a BSN degree will enter a four-year program instead. This four-year program will combine two years of liberal arts and general education with an additional two years of medical school. The BSN nurse does have a bit more leeway in the types of tasks she is assigned; she also tends to start at a higher rate of pay and get preference in scheduling.
Lastly, the advanced practice nurse is one who goes on to complete a master or doctorate program. Advanced practice nurses gain the skills and knowledge necessary to work as nurse anesthetists, nurse practitioners, nurse clinical specialists, and so on. Because of their advanced education they command some of the highest salaries in the nursing profession.
Regardless of the level of registered nursing we’re talking about, all candidates must be licensed in order to begin work. Some states require just the completion of an approved educational program and the state licensing exam. Other states require candidates pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) exam before they’re eligible to take the state exam. Also be aware that all states require students complete a state approved nursing program in order to be licensed. You cannot take a licensing exam if the education program you’ve completed is not approved by the state.
Duties of the Registered Nurse
It is impossible to list all the duties of the registered nurse because there are literally hundreds of different specialties involved here. Suffice it to say, the most basic care provided to patients is usually handled by licensed practical nurses rather than registered nurses. But the registered nurse in a hospital setting, for example, will still be dispensing medications, administering IVs, and the like. Some registered nurses will act in a supervisory role as department heads or shift supervisors.
Outside of the traditional hospital or clinical setting duties may be unlike anything we normally associate with nursing. For example, a registered nurse working for a pharmaceutical company may find herself fulfilling dual roles of consultancy and clinical testing. The consultancy portion would be assisting scientists in the development of new pharmaceuticals while the clinical testing would involve administering experimental medications to patients and monitoring results.
Job Outlook and Salary
Right now the need for registered nurses far outweighs the supply. In fact, the nursing shortage is so acute in some places that new graduates barely have to go through the interview process to get hired. According to government projections the outlook for registered nurses is very good through 2020 and beyond. The field is expected to see double-digit growth for quite some time. Some experts further believe there will be a significant spike in the number of open positions once the new healthcare regulations are fully implemented in 2014.
As for salary, it is hard to peg. Again, the large variation in specialties makes it difficult to give the top end of the pay range. However, new graduates entering a traditional setting can expect a starting salary of $65,000-$73,000. It goes without saying that earning potential increases where the demand for a specific type of registered nurse is high.
RN Salary Vs LVN Salary
Although many potential students consider taking one of the many LVN programs, there are a few things to keep in mind: the cost of attending a private LVN school can be as much as $35,000-$45,000. On top of that, it can take anywhere from 12 to 18 months to complete. The average LVN salary is quite a bit lower than that of a registered nurse.
So, it may take an extra year to finish an RN program, but the difference in salary is well worth considering skipping going to a vocational nursing program and begin taking the prerequisite courses for an associate degree in nursing. It is also much easier to take an RN to BSN program, as opposed to an LVN to BSN program. All things considered, it may be a good idea to go straight for a registered nursing degree.
As a career, registered nursing tends to be high on the list in terms of job satisfaction, career development, and earning potential. It is a career that not many of us are interested in pursuing, but all of us will depend on at some point in our lives. Whether you’re looking to embark on your first career or pursue a second one, you could certainly do much worse than registered nursing.