Registered Nurse: What Is an RN, Salary, and How to Become One

Whether in hospitals, clinics, or other healthcare facilities, RNs are crucial in providing high-quality care to those in need. Articles Careers

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Are you interested in a meaningful career and making a difference by providing medical care, assistance, and patient support? Becoming a registered nurse (RN) could be your ideal option.

Let's look closer at the world of RNs, including the responsibilities, different workplaces, potential earnings, and the necessary steps to become one.

What Is an RN?

As healthcare professionals, RNs are equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to ensure patients receive the best care. An RNs expertise is invaluable in administering medication, monitoring vital signs, and assessing patients' overall health. 

Whether in hospitals, clinics, or other healthcare facilities, RNs are crucial in providing high-quality care to those in need. With a compassionate nature and commitment to patient well-being, RNs are dedicated to making a meaningful difference in the lives of individuals requiring medical assistance. 

RN Responsibilities

Regardless of the type of registered nurse you choose to be, all nursing specialties have baseline responsibilities. 

The primary duties of an RN include:

  • Performing medical history and physical assessments
  • Formulating nursing diagnoses and patient care plans
  • Administering medications and other medical interventions
  • Counseling and educating patients
  • Advocating for patients
  • Evaluating patient outcomes

Among all RN duties, these responsibilities are crucial to ensuring effective patient care and require close collaboration with the medical team to adjust treatment plans.

Each nursing specialty will come with its unique job duties and responsibilities.

Related: 10 Fastest Registered Nurse (RN) Programs in 2023

Where Do RNs Work? 

There are numerous healthcare settings where RNs can work. Some of these settings include:

  • Hospitals: RNs are fundamental in providing patient care in every hospital department. 
  • Out-Patient Clinics: In any medical clinic you can think of, from ambulatory care centers to specialty clinics, you will undoubtedly find an RN. 
  • Long-Term Care Facilities: Nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and rehabilitation centers depend on RNs. 
  • Home Healthcare: Many people and healthcare services depend upon RNs traveling to people's homes to provide quality care. 
  • Schools: Kids get sick and need medicine too. RNs are necessary for children's health screening, first aid, and support in managing chronic illnesses while children are at school. 
  • Public Health: Community health centers and government agencies depend on RNs for health promotion and disease prevention in communities. 
  • Occupational Health: RNs are required to ensure the health and safety of employees in workplaces. 

RN Specialties

RNs have a plethora of specialties to choose from, making the opportunities seem limitless. We've compiled a list of 15 of these specialties for you to consider, but remember that this is just a glimpse of the vast nursing field.

  • Intensive Care RN
  • Emergency Room RN
  • Pediatric RN
  • Psychiatric Mental Health RN
  • Geriatric RN
  • Obstetric and Gynecological (OB/GYN) RN
  • Hospice RN
  • Oncology RN
  • Community Health RN
  • Perioperative RN
  • Infectious Disease RN
  • Wound Care RN
  • Dialysis RN
  • Care Coordinator
  • Rehabilitation RN

Although this list only includes a few, some require experience and specialized training, while others offer direct training for new graduate RNs.

Every nursing specialty presents unique opportunities to positively impact patients' lives and contribute to their overall health and well-being.

Benefits of Becoming an RN

Nursing is a profoundly rewarding career that offers countless personal and professional growth opportunities. Some of the key aspects that make nursing an exceptional career choice include:

  • Making a difference: As a nurse, you can make a direct and positive impact on people who are vulnerable by providing comfort, care, and support when they need it the most.
  • Job Security: Nursing is in high demand, providing job security and stability for those pursuing a career in this field. RNs have numerous career opportunities, making them a highly sought-after profession.
  • Career Flexibility: Nursing presents many options and areas of focus, allowing you to tailor your career to your interests and passions. Additionally, various work schedules are available, including part-time or full-time positions and the choice between traditional and non-traditional shifts.

How to Become an RN

There are two types of nurses: licensed practical nurses (LPN) and RNs. Due to advanced nursing training, an RN has more responsibilities and duties compared to an LPN.

To become an RN, one must complete specialized nursing education and pass the NCLEX-RN. This exam is the qualifying achievement to be recognized as a "registered" nurse. 

Step One: Nursing School

The first step to becoming an RN is to attend nursing school. There are two main educational pathways you can take.

ADN-RN: An Associate's Degree in Nursing (ADN) program usually takes 2-3 years to complete. These programs are offered at community colleges and vocational schools. Associates degree programs provide the basic knowledge and skills necessary to work as an entry-level RN. 

BSN-RN: A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program is a 4-year program offered by universities and colleges. BSN programs provide a more comprehensive education in nursing, including courses in nursing theory, research, leadership, and community health. Having a bachelor's degree in nursing can open more career opportunities and may be preferred by some employers.

Verifying a nursing school's accreditation is crucial regardless of your chosen pathway. Accreditation for nursing programs guarantees that they are legitimate and comply with the accepted standards for nursing education. 

Related: 10 Best Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Programs in 2023

Step Two: Nursing Licensure 

Once you have completed an ADN or BSN program from an accredited nursing school, you can sit for the National Council Licensure Examination, more commonly known as the NCLEX-RN. 

It is advisable to consider your preferred state for your first nursing job before taking your NCLEX-RN. Although some states honor compact nursing licenses recognized by multiple states, others require a state-specific license. If you obtain your initial RN license in a non-compact state and plan to move, it will be necessary to endorse your RN license, which requires filling out paperwork and incurring costs.

After completing these two steps and passing the nursing boards, NCLEX-RN, you are officially an RN. Your next steps will include applying for jobs and gaining experience. 

RN Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average salary of an RN is $77,600.00. However, the specific setting and specialty in which an RN works can impact their annual pay, as can an RN's geographical location or years of experience. 

Unfortunately, the BLS does not provide a breakdown of RN salaries based on experience. Nevertheless, Glassdoor has this information available, revealing that RNs with varying years of experience earn different wages.

  • 15+ Years RN Experience: $97,446.00 annually.
  • 10-14 years RN Experience: $94,952.00 annually. 
  • 7-9 years RN Experience: $89,327.00 annually.
  • 4-6 years RN Experience: $84,013.00 annually.
  • 1-3 years RN Experience: $79,957.00 annually.

Although RNs can increase earnings with career advancements and experience, it is important to note that the profession does not have a tenured role similar to teaching. This means that nurses do not earn more solely based on their years of experience. Nurses with more experience are more likely to pursue further education and career advancement opportunities, which come with increased pay. 

The salary offered to RNs can also differ based on the geographical location in which they are employed. The BLS breaks down the annual mean wages of RNs by state, and their May 2022 data shows the following:

  • California, Hawaii, Oregon, Massachusetts, and Alaska are the five highest-paying states for RNs, with a mean wage ranging from $87,990.00 to $133,340.00. 
  • South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Arkansas, Missouri, Indiana, Tennessee, South Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippi are the 10 lowest-paying states, with an annual mean wage ranging from $37,9360.00 to $74,330.00.

Remember that the salary websites do not distinguish between different levels of education for RNs (ADN-RN, BSN-RN, or MSN-RN) but collectively provide all RNs' information. 

RN Career Outlook

The COVID-19 pandemic did not cause the nursing shortage, but it was indeed emphasized by it. The baby boomers are the largest generational group of people growing old while still working, and as they retire and need more care, the demand for nurses will only increase. According to the BLS, the employment of RNs is expected to increase by 6% from 2021 to 2031, resulting in an estimated 203,200 job openings for RNs each year during the decade.

Pursuing a career as a registered nurse can be truly rewarding for those who aspire to help and care for others during their most difficult times. Despite the challenges of being an RN, the chance to support and care for those in need makes every effort worth it.

Editorial Team / Admin

Erin Lee has 11 years experience as a BSN, RN and specializes in Critical Care, Procedural, Care Coordination, LNC.

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