With 2.6 million individuals now working in the profession, registered nurses account for 60 percent of the health care industry according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Working closely with doctors and other health care workers in treating illnesses and injuries, registered nurses act as the primary care givers for most patients.
Registered nurses are detail-oriented people who are caring and sympathetic toward the needs of others, and enjoy working closely with patients and their families. Entering this profession requires a bachelor’s or an associate degree and the passing of a national certification test for licensing, but the employment out and registered nurse salary forecast make it a career with a bright forecast for future employment opportunities.
Most nurses begin their careers working as staff nurses in a hospital, but registered nurses work wherever people are in need of medical care. Correctional facilities, doctors’ offices, clinics, schools, public health centers, or patient homes are common work settings for registered nurses. Regardless of the setting in which they are employed, registered nurses work in collaboration with doctors and other health care professionals as a team to diagnose and treat illnesses and injuries.
Once the health care team prepares a treatment and care plan for a patient, it is the responsibility of registered nurses to oversee it on a daily basis. Registered nurses will administer and monitor patient reaction to medications and treatments called for under the plan. They are also responsible for starting intravenous lines for fluids, medications, and blood given to the patient. A nurse attending to a patient with an intravenous line will routinely check the line to verify that it is functioning properly. These and other observations of the patient, such as vital signs and medication reactions, are noted by the nurse in the patient’s chart.
As nurses acquire experience, many of them seek assignments in specialized areas of medicine such as oncology, pediatrics, maternity, obstetrics, critical care, surgery and emergency care. Registered nurse salary scales will vary depending upon the specialization chosen.
There are other specialized areas in nursing where patient care occurs outside of a hospital setting. Hospice nurses care for patients suffering from terminal illnesses. Hospices set up as part of a hospital, or in a separate facility. The focus of care for the hospice nurse is alleviating or minimizing patient pain and discomfort.
Oncology nurses specialize in the treatment of patients who have been diagnosed with cancer. These nurses are found in hospitals, clinics or doctors’ offices assisting doctors in conducting specialized tests to diagnose and plan courses of treatment.
Geriatric nurses usually work in nursing homes or nursing care facilities where they care for elderly patients. In addition to the tasks performed by other nurses, geriatric nurses spend a significant amount of time supervising the patient’s diet, nutrition and exercise. Educating patients and their families on the care being administered is an important role played by the geriatric registered nurse.
Ambulatory care is the treatment of patients who do not require hospitalization. These patients are usually seen in a doctor’s office or clinic. Ambulatory care nurses take patient histories, monitor and record blood pressure and other vital signs, and work with a physician to furnish care and treatment to treat patient illnesses and injuries. Unlike nurses who must sometimes work shifts or be on call in a hospital where patient care is provided 24 hours a day, ambulatory care nurses can look forward to work schedules similar to office workers.
Education and Licensing
The road to becoming a registered nurse begins with a bachelor’s or associate degree in nursing involving classroom instruction and supervised clinical training in a hospital. While a bachelor’s degree is preferred for future advancement within the profession, the associate degree can be obtained in just 2-3 years. If an employer offers tuition reimbursement benefits, the graduate can take advantage of this benefit to complete the bachelor’s degree. An alternative to obtaining a college degree is the nursing diploma offered by a few hospital-based programs, but the number of such programs has diminished in recent years.
Each state has its own standards for the licensing of registered nurses seeking employment within their jurisdiction; however, they all require that nursing graduates take and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) to qualify for a license.
Registered Nurse Salary
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the median registered nurse salary as $67,720 according to the latest survey in May 2010. A registered nurse salary will vary from the national median depending upon the specialty practiced and the geographical location of employment.
Nurses who obtain advanced degrees and become nurse practitioners, clinical specialists, and midwives can expect to earn substantially more than the median registered nurse salary because of the higher level of responsibility in those positions.
Registered nurses currently represent the largest segment of the health care industry, and the projected outlook for future employment is excellent according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Job openings for registered nurses are expected to grow by 22 percent through 2018.