Most of us have visited a friend or family member in the hospital at one time or another. Or perhaps you’ve received medical care yourself. If so, you already have an idea of some of the duties performed by a registered nurse. And if this is a career you’d like to pursue, learning how to become a registered nurse could help you make a big difference in someone’s life, including yours.
But what does an RN do, exactly? What courses must this healthcare professional take to prepare to work in the nursing industry? And how many years of study are required? Keep reading to learn more about what it takes to take on the gratifying role of a registered nurse.
Different Types of Nurses and Their Specialties
There’s more than one type of nurse. In fact, the nursing industry provides a wealth of opportunities for applicants with the proper training and credentials. If you’re considering a career in patient care, you have several paths from which to choose after earning your Associate of Science in Nursing, Registered Nurse.
There are an array of career paths to choose from upon graduating with an associate degree in nursing, including:
- Cardiac nurse
- Critical care nurse
- ER nurse
- Geriatric nurse
- Perioperative nurse
- Oncology nurse
Many nurses go on to specialize further once they have some experience in the field and learn enough to determine where their own interests and ambitions lie. Those specialization opportunities multiply should you choose to eventually pursue a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, a Master of Science in Nursing, or a Doctor of Nursing degree.
Types of Work Environments
In these roles, you may find yourself working in a busy emergency room or cardiac care unit. As a perioperative nurse, you’ll assist patients both before and after surgery. If you specialize in oncology, you’ll likely work in a cancer ward. And as a geriatric nurse, you’ll assist older patients. This may include working in a rehabilitative or assisted living center.
Nurses are in demand in medical facilities and settings all over the United States. With the proper degree and licensure, the job outlook is strong for these highly trained medical professionals.
Salary and Job Outlook for Nurses
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field of registered nursing is expected to grow 6 percent through the year 2031, which means the addition of more than 195,000 jobs. The median annual pay in 2021 was $77,600, or just a bit over $37 per hour.
These are strong figures for a career that begins with only an associate degree. With as little as a two-year investment, you can change the direction of your life and learn the skills needed to earn a comfortable living in a highly rewarding field.
Common Responsibilities and Duties of an RN
The primary responsibility of a registered nurse is to coordinate care for patients. This may include providing care or educating patients and caretakers on how better to care for their own health or for the health of their loved ones.
Throughout the course of a day, registered nurses may:
- Review a patient’s medical history
- Assess their condition
- Consult with doctors and other members of the medical staff
- Administer medication
- Administer treatment
- Operate various types of medical equipment
- Educate patients regarding their own care
A career in nursing requires a lot of contact and communication with others and extreme attention to detail and carries with it a wealth of responsibility. As such, it can be a stressful career at times. However, most will say the benefits of assisting others and helping to save lives are well worth the challenges.
Benefits of Pursuing a Career as a Registered Nurse
The benefits of choosing a career in nursing are many. This field offers competitive pay and better-than-average job stability. Because an RN requires highly specialized training and skills, not everyone can work as a nurse. Often, these are the benefits that initially draw students to this career. However, the advantages go far beyond pay and prestige. They include:
- Flexible work schedule
- Good opportunity for advancement
- Transferable career skills
- Opportunities to travel
With an entry-level position in nursing, there are numerous directions you can take to advance your career. Through a combined effort of schooling and experience, you may decide to go all the way and eventually earn your Doctor of Nursing Practice. In several states, this title enables you to work as a primary care provider, especially in rural or underserved areas throughout the nation.
Challenges of a Nursing Career
Like most careers, nursing comes with challenges. Long hours and patients who are terribly injured or who pass away in your care are all part of the job. Doctors may be difficult to work with, and patients’ families can be demanding. The facility where you work may be understaffed, and there may be times when you question whether your tireless work and dedication are worth it, but rest assured — they are.
How To Become a Registered Nurse
The first step to becoming a registered nurse is to find the right nursing program that teaches you the skills you’ll need to be successful. The minimum academic qualification for a career as a registered nurse is an Associate of Science in Nursing, also commonly called an associate degree in nursing, or ADN. However, many hospitals and clinics prefer a bachelor’s degree. This means the longer you stay in school, the easier it may be to find an entry-level position in the field. The progression to becoming a registered nurse includes the following steps.
Explore Education Paths and Degree Programs
Initially, you’ll want to explore college degree programs in nursing. At Salem University, we offer an Associate of Science in Nursing, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, and a Master of Science in Nursing. All are aimed at teaching you the critical skills necessary to care for patient needs.
Develop Clinical and Soft Skills
As you earn your desired degree, you’ll develop skills in critical thinking, communication, problem-solving, and more. Additionally, you’ll have the opportunity to practice your clinical skills, including patient interaction and care, while you study areas such as anatomy, physiology, and microbiology.
As part of your coursework, you’ll encounter classes that teach you the basic concepts of nursing, along with specialized skills such as medication dosage, surgical nursing skills, and skills in areas such as pediatrics, geriatrics, or public health.
Obtain Proper Certification and Training
Once you’ve earned your associate or bachelor’s degree, you must meet specific RN requirements, including the necessary certifications and licensure to practice in your state. To earn your license, you must score a passing grade on the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX. A passing grade on the NCLEX ensures that you have the knowledge and skills required to care for patients safely and effectively.
After earning a degree, passing the NCLEX, and securing a job as a registered nurse, you may decide that you wish to specialize. There are literally hundreds of opportunities for those with the right credentials to choose a nursing specialty. Some of the more popular options include:
- Certified nurse midwife
- Correctional nurse
- Family nurse practitioner
- Home health care nurse
- Labor and delivery nurse
Some specialties are possible with your AS or BSN degree, while others may require a more advanced education. Still, all will put you on a clear career trajectory to a fulfilling and rewarding future in healthcare science.
Meet Continuing Education Requirements
Once you’ve found a position in nursing and begun working, you must keep up with new advancements and changes in healthcare. You’ll do so by taking continuing education (CE) credits each year. These are requirements for renewing your nursing license, and they help to ensure you’re able to provide the most advanced level of patient care possible. Requirements for license renewal vary according to the state in which you practice. For instance, in West Virginia, you must submit a fingerprint scan, pass a background check, and meet the continuing education requirements. These include 12 CE hours annually, including at least two hours of contact time dealing with veterans’ mental health and three hours of contact in drug diversion training.
These requirements may change with each renewal period, and it will be your responsibility to know and understand the steps you must take to remain licensed.
Pursue a Career in Nursing With Salem University
When you’re ready to explore the exciting and dynamic field of nursing as a career, we invite you to consider the many benefits of attending Salem University. Located in Salem, WV, Salem University has been educating tomorrow’s leaders since 1888. A well-established and reputable institution, we currently offer a wealth of degrees, from the associate level to the doctorate level. Each is designed to ensure students master the skills they need to remain competitive in a 21st-century workplace.
If you would like more information on Salem University and our associate degree in nursing program, we invite you to reach out and request information today. Financial aid may be available to those who qualify.