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Registered Nurse

Career Overview

How Long Does Becoming a RN Take

6 years

Average salary: RN



Registered Nurse Career Guide

Registered nurses (RNs) are healthcare professionals who can provide patient care in various different settings and roles.  Outside of clinical settings, they can provide consulting and education services to a variety of different companies. Diverse and specialized, these HCPs form the backbone of the healthcare industry. 


Registered nurses are medical professionals who are licensed to practice in their respective states. The exact nature of their responsibilities will differ depending on their facility, team size, and department. Generally speaking, they provide hands-on healthcare services, in collaboration with a team of fellow nurses, doctors, physicians and other HCPs. Nurses are also responsible for educating patients and patient families on their condition, as well as instructions to follow before and after their hospital stay.


Tasks and Responsibilities:

Though your exact responsibilities may depend on where you work, RNs can expect to carry out the following tasks in most settings:


  • Monitoring patient condition and informing supervisors on important changes

  • Providing assistance in medical procedures

  • Applying medications or treatments prescribed by a Physician or NP

  • Assisting with the development and implementation of patient care plans 

  • Performing diagnostic exams and updating medical records accordingly

  • Supervising nursing assistants, nursing students, LPNs and VPNs

  • Operating and observing medical equipment

  • Educating and informing patients and their families on their health and follow-up care 

  • Providing wound care (cleaning, bandaging, etc) 



Practicing RNs are normally found in almost any clinical setting. This includes hospitals, physician offices, and health clinics. RNs can also find work in patient homes, and residential care centers. For both practicing and administrative roles, you can find work in schools, corporations and even government institutions. 


With additional education and certifications, RNs can also find work in more specialized fields. To name a few:

  • There are Pediatric RNs who specialize in caring for children in schools and hospitals. 

  • Oncology nurses are focused on caring for cancer patients, either in hospitals or specialized care facilities. 

  • Gerontology RNs care for older populations, typically in residential care settings. 

  • Radiology Nurses provide care for patients in need of radiation therapy or diagnostic imaging processes. 

  • Ambulatory Care RNs work in outpatient settings to provide care for patients in need of diagnosis and treatment, but not hospitalization.


Salary and Projected Growth: 

According to the BLS, Registered Nurses earn an average of $77,600 annually.  What you actually earn will depend on a number of factors: facility, credentials, work experience and geographical location, just to name a few. Work experience in particular is a crucial determining factor. The bottom 10% of RNs earned just $59,450 in May 2021, while the top 10% raked in as much as $120,250 annually. Higher education and more experience generally correlates to higher salaries.


As of the most recent BLS findings, these are the current highest paying RN states in America:


  • California: $ 124,000

  • Hawaii: $106,530

  • Oregon: $98,630

  • District of Columbia: $98,540

  • Alaska: $97,230


As for growth, RN jobs are projected to increase by 7% from 2020 to 2030. For reference, that is about as fast as average. With the growth of older populations, the demand for RNs in residential care will be particularly pronounced. Significant growth is also expected for facilities that provide long-term rehabilitative care for strokes, head-injuries, facilities who treat Alzheimer’s patients and outpatient care centers. 


How to become a Registered Nurse

Step 1. Earn your nursing degree (ADN, diploma or BSN) from an accredited program 


Generally speaking, you want to opt for your Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Your 2-year ADN will let you become RNs faster, compared to the 4-year BSN program. However, BSN salaries are overall higher and they are afforded more job opportunities in administrative roles. Regardless of what you choose, make sure the program is accredited. Not all American Nursing Schools are accredited, and this will affect your NCLEX eligibility. To check this, refer to your local State Board of Nursing. They usually have a list of schools that qualify. 


Step 2. Pass the NCLEX-RN and gain your certification


Once you graduate from your degree program, you can finally apply for certification with your State Board of Nursing. To qualify, you have to pass the National Council Licensure Examination - Registered Nurse (or NCLEX-RN for short). You can take a number of review classes or refer to outside learning material two months in advance, to make sure you are preferred.


Step 3. Find your first RN Job

Once you pass the NCLEX-RN and fulfill your State Board of Nursing’s other requirements, congratulations! You are now a licensed Registered Nurse. All that’s left to do is to look for your first RN job, in your area. We all start somewhere!


Continuing Education

If you want to keep your license active, you need to stay on top of your Continuing Education Units (or CEUs). Exact requirements will depend on your state. Some will ask you to fulfill a number of CEUs within a limited time frame, while other states simply do not have any. You can contact your State Board of Nursing to inquire about these requirements, as well as the deadlines. 


Further Reading:

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