Registered Nurse (RN) Career Overview
| NurseJournal Staff
What is an RN?
Registered nurses (RNs) provide care to and educate patients in hospitals, physician offices, schools, nursing homes, and other settings. They work under the supervision of nurse practitioners (NPs) and physicians and may supervise the work of nursing assistants.
What Does a Registered Nurse Do?
RNs provide care to patients by assessing and monitoring their condition, assisting physicians during medical procedures, administering treatments prescribed by the healthcare provider, such as a physician, physician's assistant, or NP, performing diagnostic tests, operating medical equipment, and educating patients on follow-up care.
Their primary skills and responsibilities include the following tasks:
- Monitoring patients' conditions and informing the healthcare provider of important changes
- Educating patients on their health
- Performing diagnostic tests and updating patient medical records
- Assisting the healthcare provider during medical procedures
- High math and science skills
- Ability to perform well under pressure
SDI Productions / E+ / Getty Images
Featured Online Programs
Where Do RNs Work?
RNs work in virtually every healthcare setting, including hospitals, private physician practices, residential care (such as nursing homes), health clinics, and urgent care centers.
Hospitals (State, Local, and Private)
In hospitals, RNs monitor patients' health and perform tests, deliver care such as dressing wounds or administering treatments, supervise CNAs and other assistants, and collaborate with other healthcare providers.
Ambulatory Healthcare Services
In ambulatory healthcare services settings, such as physician practices, RNs take medical histories, answer patient questions, and supervise assistants.
Nursing and Residential Care Facilities
In nursing and residential care facilities, RNs administer care, perform medical tests and monitoring, oversee the work of certified nursing assistants, and act as liaisons to patients' families.
Why Become an RN?
RNs are the most trusted profession in the United States. Nurses with more advanced credentials such as a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) earn salaries well above the national median salary, and the demand for RNs is growing.
Advantages to Becoming an RN
Disadvantages to Becoming an RN
How To Become a Registered Nurse
To become an RN, students should expect to complete 2 to 4 years of education, achieve a passing score on the NCLEX-RN exam, and receive licensure from their state board of nursing.
Complete prerequisites for an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or BSN.
Attend ADN or BSN classes.
Graduate and pass the NCLEX-RN exam to receive RN licensure.
RN Certifications and Specializations
Ambulatory Care Nurse
Critical Care Nurse
How Much Do RNs Make?
RNs make an average annual wage of $80,010. Among the most common employment settings, nurses working for government healthcare (such as Veterans Affairs facilities) had the highest median wage as of 2020 at $84,490; those working in schools had the lowest at $64,630.
Jobs for RNs are projected to grow faster than average, increasing 7% between 2019 and 2029. This is primarily due to the growing need for geriatric healthcare.
|Top-Paying States||Annual Mean Wage||Total Number of RNs|
|Top-Paying Metropolitan Areas||Annual Mean Wage||Total Number of RNs|
|San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA||$149,200||40,600|
|San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA||$146,870||17,750|
|Industry||Median Annual Wage|
|Ambulatory Healthcare Services||$72,340|
|Nursing and Residential Care Facilities||$68,450|
Frequently Asked Questions about Registered Nurses
What is the difference between an RN and a NP?A NP is a nurse who has earned at least a master of science in nursing and has passed the national NP certification examination. An RN has either a diploma, an associate degree, or a bachelor's degree in nursing and has passed the RN certification exam. A NP is authorized to perform more medical functions than an RN, including prescribing medication and making diagnoses.
Can you complete an RN program online?While all RN programs require fieldwork/clinical hours, many schools offer hybrid or online RN programs that allow students to take online classes and complete clinical hours in their own communities.
What kind of accreditation should nursing programs have?Nursing programs should be accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education or by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). The ACEN accredits all levels of nursing programs, including diploma, associate degree, and doctoral programs as well as bachelor's and master's programs.
What qualities are important for RNs?RNs should be able to display empathy for patients and their families, balance heavy workloads, think clearly under pressure, and communicate effectively.
Professional Organizations for RNs
American Nurses AssociationANA is part of the ANA Enterprise, which combines ANA, the American Nurses Foundation, and the American Nurses Credentialing Center. ANA advocates for nurses and provides information, networking, and professional education. Membership is only open to RNs, but non-RNs can become subscribers and access information.
National Black Nurses AssociationThe NBNA has over 200,000 members and works to eliminate health disparities, support the careers and work of Black nurses, and encourage more Black people to enter the nursing field. Its member offerings include networking, professional education, and a conference. Membership is open to all credentialed nurses, retired nurses, and students.
The American Association of Colleges of NursingThe AACN is the institutional membership organization for nursing colleges that offer bachelor's or higher nursing degrees. Comprising more than 800 member organizations, the AACN develops and maintains educational standards, accredits programs, conducts research on nursing education, and fosters networking. Only organizations can join; once an organization joins, all of its nursing faculty and administration are members.
Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal NursesAWHONN has approximately 24,000 member nurses who provide care for women and newborn children. The association offers professional education, advocates for women's and children's health, conducts research, and establishes guidelines and best practices. Membership is open to nurses and others with an interest in women's and neonatal health.
American Society of Registered NursesASRN aims to “encourage the personal and professional development of nurses, on local, national, and international levels, and foster communication and education.” ASRN provides networking, advocacy, professional development, and a recognition program. Full membership is open to RNs working in the United States or Canada. There are alternate categories for RNs working in other countries, retirees, students, and organizations.
Related Registered Nursing Career Resources
Related Registered Nursing Program Resources
Nicole Galan is a registered nurse who earned a master's degree in nursing education from Capella University and currently works as a full-time freelance writer. Throughout her nursing career, Galan worked in a general medical/surgical care unit and then in infertility care. She has also worked for over 13 years as a freelance writer specializing in consumer health sites and educational materials for nursing students.
Galan is a paid member of our Healthcare Review Partner Network. Learn more about our review partners.
Featured Image: Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / DigitalVision / Getty Images
NurseJournal.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.
Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?
Resources and articles written by professionals and other Nurses like you.