Nurse: Job Duties, Occupational Outlook, and Education Requirements

Research what it takes to become a registered nurse. Learn about job duties, employment outlook, salary and education requirements to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Nursing degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Nurse?

Registered nurses (RNs) provide patient care in a variety of settings, including hospitals, medical clinics, physician offices and long-term care facilities. They may also help educate the public about health issues and conditions, and provide support to patients and their families. RNs record medical histories, administer medication, coordinate patient care plans and observe patients. They are trained in operating a variety of medical equipment to help monitor conditions, run diagnostic tests and analyze the results. Often, these professionals must educate patients how to manage their injury or illness and what to do when they return home. Nurses must work with other nurses and doctors to help provide the best care possible for patients. The following table gives you an overview of what you need to know about entering this field.

Degree Required Associate's degree; bachelor's degree may be required for advancement
Education Field of Study Nursing
Key Skills Provide patient care, maintain patient records, provide health education
Licensure Required All states require RN license; other licensing requirements vary by state
Job Growth (2014-2024 ) 16%*
Average Salary (2015) $71,000*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What Are the Daily Job Duties of Nurses?

Although your exact responsibilities may vary depending upon your specific job title, you will typically have consistent, daily duties once you become a nurse. These may include dispensing medications, giving blood and fluids through intravenous lines, interpreting diagnostic tests, and monitoring patients' physical activities and nutrition. You may record vital signs, give immunizations, conduct health screenings, teach health education and maintain patients' medical records.

Once you have become a nurse, you might also work your way up to a unit supervisor position and oversee other nursing staff. You'll confer with physicians and other health care professionals regarding patient care and treatment plans. Within the field of nursing you can specialize in particular areas of patient care, focusing on specific medical conditions, body systems or patient populations.

What is the Occupational Outlook?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the nursing profession would expand by approximately 16% between 2014 and 2024, and that job opportunities would be good during that time ( In fact, as many as 439,300 new nursing jobs are expected to arise during the decade. The rapid growth of the nursing field is partially fueled by the increasing elderly population who will need healthcare, as well as the growing number of people with access to healthcare insurance and services. The BLS also stated that registered nurses in general earned average annual salaries of $71,000 in May 2015.

What Education Requirements Must I Fulfill?

To become a nurse, you must earn either an associate's degree or bachelor's degree in nursing. Associate's degree-level nursing programs can be found in community colleges, and they take between two and three years to complete. A bachelor's degree program in nursing can be completed in four years. Alternatively, you can earn a 3-year nursing diploma. Diplomas are granted by approved hospital programs, but these are few in number. Associate's degree programs in nursing offer courses such as general microbiology, anatomy and physiology, English composition, chemistry and developmental psychology.

Bachelor's degree programs in nursing might include courses such as community health, nursing management, science and technology, clinical science, human genetics and pharmacology. Be aware that individuals who complete bachelor's degree programs from accredited educational institutions often have greater opportunities for career advancement. You might choose to continue your education with a master's degree and go on to work in research, teaching or administrative positions.

All 50 states require registered nurses to be graduates of accredited nursing programs. In order to become a registered nurse, you must also pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). Your particular state may have additional licensing requirements. It's best to check with the nursing board in your state for its licensing eligibility requirements.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Dental hygienists and medical equipment technologists and technicians are some related careers that also require an associate's degree. Dental hygienists clean teeth, educate patients on proper mouth care and provide other preventative care. Diagnostic medical sonographers and cardiovascular technologists and technicians, including vascular technologists, use special imaging equipment to conduct medical tests to help doctors diagnose patients. Those interested in nursing might consider pursuing their master's degree to become a nurse anesthetist, nurse midwife or nurse practitioner. These professionals perform similar duties as an RN, but are considered advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs).

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