Registered Nurse Training Programs and Requirements

RNs typically hold an associate's or bachelor's degree in nursing, in addition to state licensure. RN programs train individuals to work with patients and physicians, as well develop nursing care plans.

Essential Information

For many entry-level registered nursing jobs, applicants need at least a diploma from a nursing program accredited by the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC). However, most employers prefer applicants with an associate's or bachelor's degree in nursing, along with state licenses to practice as an RN. Some RNs may specialize in an area such as pediatrics, labor and delivery, oncology or surgery.

Registered nurses should be detail-oriented, patient, sympathetic and emotionally stable. Because they're likely to come in contact with infectious diseases, they must observe strict health and safety guidelines to prevent contamination. They also should be able to administer CPR. Some RNs are expected to work irregular hours since hospitals and nursing care facilities operate 24 hours a day.

  • Program Levels in Registered Nursing: Associate's degrees, bachelor's degrees
  • Program Specializations: Pediatrics, labor and delivery, oncology, surgery
  • Program Length: 4 years for bachelor's programs
  • Other Requirements: Detail-oriented and emotionally stable

Associate's in Nursing

Associate's degree programs in nursing are typically offered by community and junior colleges. Graduates of associate's degree programs can apply to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) for RN licensure. Courses might include:

  • Client care
  • Nursing skills
  • Pathophysiology
  • Nursing jurisprudence
  • Pharmacology
  • Psychology

Bachelor's in Nursing

During the last two years of a 4-year nursing program, students generally spend time in clinical settings, where they apply their knowledge. These programs prepare individuals to demonstrate effective communications skills with patients and physicians, and also develop effective nursing interventions. Students enrolled in a bachelor's degree program take courses in:

  • Communication
  • Medical equipment use and maintenance
  • Medical terminology
  • Patient care techniques

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The BLS states that registered nurses as of May 2014 make a mean annual wage of $69,790. From 2012-2022, the employment for these nurses is expected to grow 19%, which is faster than average.

Continuing Education

All states require registered nurses to graduate from an approved nursing program and pass the NCLEX-RN. Aspiring RNs should check with their state's board of nursing to determine other requirements. With experience and, in some cases, additional education, RNs can pursue a number of specialty certifications from nursing organizations ranging from the American Board of Neuroscience Nursing to the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing.

While working for health care facilities, registered nurses often attend workshops or conferences to stay current on nursing trends and improve patient care. These RN meetings generally occur at places of employment, resorts or convention centers. Day-long workshops sponsored by hospitals often feature guest speakers who discuss ways to communicate better with patients and resolve nursing issues. Some workshops qualify for continuing education credits. Professional nursing organizations, such as the American Nurses Association, typically sponsor 2- to 3-day annual conferences, where registered nurses can network with their peers. Conferences generally are held at resort locations or convention facilities. These gatherings often focus on leadership and personal development or on a specific area of nursing, such as trauma, brain injuries or strokes.

Some form of continuing education generally is required for license renewal or continued employment. RNs who aspire to positions as nurse practitioners, midwives, clinical nurse specialists, nurse anesthetists or nursing administrators might benefit from completing a master's degree program in nursing. Doctorate programs also are available, with some focusing on clinical aspects of nursing and others geared toward nurses who desire positions in research or academia.

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