Nursing Duties, Responsibilities and Career Options

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a registered nurse. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about schooling, job duties and employment outlook to find out if this is the career for you.

Essential Information

Registered nurses (RNs) are required to complete at least two years of formal education and obtain a license in order to work in a nursing capacity. They care for patients in a multitude of ways, and can move into leadership roles in clinics and hospitals with responsibility for overseeing nurse assistants and certified medical aides.

Required EducationAssociate's degree
Additional Requirements State nursing license
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022)* 19%
Average Salary (2013)* $68,910 annually

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Nursing Duties

Registered nurses often work in hospitals or outpatient facilities, where they provide hands-on care to patients by administering medications, managing intravenous lines, observing and monitoring patients' conditions, maintaining records and communicating with doctors. They are also relied upon to give direction and supervision to nurse aides and home health aides.

Beyond the physical support and care they provide, registered nurses provide emotional support to patients and patients' family members. They may educate patients and the general public on disease management, special diet plans and medical conditions. They help patients and their families understand how to manage their diseases or health issues and provide information on home care after their treatment. They may also teach individuals how to self-administer medication or complete other self-care tasks.

Nurses employed by physician offices and other types of facilities may have different duties depending on the level and type of care being offered.

Education and Licensure

An aspiring nurse's first responsibility is to look ahead in this broad profession and decide on the right educational track. An associate degree takes two years to complete, whereas a bachelor's degree takes four years and includes additional clinical training experience in non-hospital settings. Nurses who wish to enter into administration, research, consulting or teaching positions may wish to pursue accelerated master's degrees in nursing, which can be combined with the pursuit of the BSN credential.

Once they are have earned the desired degree, individuals must pass the NCLEX-RN, a national licensing exam. From there, RNs can proactively manage their path through this profession by pursuing subspecialties based on a certain type of patient, a certain category of illnesses, or a specific type of facility, such as an imaging facility, an emergency room or a cancer treatment center. While all nurses are responsible in some form for the care, comfort and well-being of patients, their overall responsibilities will differ widely depending on the direction they choose.

Work Environment

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nurses may work in hospitals, home health care clinics, private physician offices, nursing care facilities and employment agencies. Hospital or urgent care nurses may be required to work evening, weekend and holiday shifts, since most facilities of that type are open 24 hours a day, every day of the year. In some cases, nurses are on call and must be ready to work on short notice. In some cases, registered nurses run clinics or conduct educational seminars or blood drives. A nurse in a physician's office, however, may have a more standard schedule.

Salary Stats and Employment Outlook

Although the healthcare industry is changing, the BLS predicted a growth of 19% in this profession for the 2012-2022 decade. The average annual wage for registered nurses was $68,910 as of 2013, per the BLS.

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