If you are interested in pursuing a career in nursing and becoming a nurse, then your first step is to identify your path into the field. For many aspiring nurses, becoming a registered nurse (RN) is the most logical entry point.
RNs enjoy a competitive salary, significant job stability, and a high level of personal and professional satisfaction due to the real and lasting impact that they have every single day on the lives of their patients. But for those unfamiliar with the many different nursing titles out there, there is an obvious question to be answered: What, exactly, does a registered nurse do?
Below, we answer this question by walking through the typical roles and responsibilities that RNs perform on a daily basis. We also explore the different environments that RNs tend to work in and highlight some of the key steps that you’ll need to take on your path to becoming a registered nurse.
Registered nurses perform a wide variety of tasks from day to day depending on where they work, the patient population they care for, and the size of the overall nursing team that they’re employed on.
“A typical day for a registered nurse is multifaceted,” says Donna Glynn, PhD, RN, ANP, and associate dean of pre-licensure nursing at Regis College. “No two days are ever the same. If you expect to walk into that healthcare organization and have the same day that you had the day before, you're never going to see two days that are even remotely the same. Every patient is different, every family is different, every situation is different—and that's what makes it so exciting.”
That being said, some of the tasks most commonly assigned to RNs include:
“It’s really focused on that higher level of assessing the patient, identifying the patient's critical needs, and implementing a plan to meet that patient's needs,” says Glynn.
Typically, a registered nurse will report either to their nursing manager or the physician responsible for the patient’s care, depending on the situation. On the other hand, RNs will often directly supervise licensed practical nurses (LPNs), licensed vocational nurses (LVNs), certified nursing assistants (CNAs), and nursing students, as necessary.
Registered nurses can work in a variety of healthcare settings. Most commonly, an RN will work in a hospital, nursing care facility, home healthcare service, physician’s office, outpatient clinic, or school. Some large corporations may also employ RNs directly on their premises in much the same way as schools do. You might even choose to become a military nurse.
Similarly, a registered nurse might work with a wide range of patient populations or specialize in a specific area such as oncology, neonatal, pediatric, family medicine, geriatric, critical care, addiction, or rehabilitation.
Glynn notes that some of the most important skills for RNs to develop are their critical thinking, clinical judgment, delegation, and case management skills. Building those skills and becoming truly proficient is a critical component of being able to provide total, person-centered care. Other important skills include organizational skills, stress management, and the ability to communicate effectively.
If you find that you’re lacking in a particular area, there’s some good news as well: You’ll have plenty of opportunities to improve.
“As nurses, we’re always learning,” says Glynn. “You never get to a point in your career where you know everything there is to know. There will always be new medications, new procedures, and new technologies. It’s one of the most exciting parts of the job.”
If you’re interested in becoming an RN, it’s important to understand the educational and licensing requirements that you’ll have to meet.
At a minimum, you will need to earn an associate’s degree in nursing, pass the NCLEX-RN Exam, and apply for your nursing license in the state in which you wish to practice. But it’s important to note that many employers no longer consider applicants for RN positions who have only earned their associate’s degree.
In order to increase your hireability, the general consensus is that earning your Bachelor's of Science in Nursing (BS) is the way to go. If you’re looking to enter the field of nursing as quickly as possible, a number of accelerated nursing programs also exist which can help you become a registered nurse in as little as 16 months.