As defined by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nursing is “the professional care given to promote health, provide comfort, and make patients feel better”. Nurses deliver that care through their work in different healthcare settings, including hospitals; doctors’ offices; long-term care facilities; schools; private, home, and nursing home settings; public health clinics; and many others. They also provide care in the military and to disaster victims during times of emergency.
BLS also reports that there are more than 3 million registered nurses currently working in the United States today. Most work full-time, although nearly 19 percent of registered nurses were reported as working part-time. And a large number of RNs do shift work or work that includes evening, night, weekend, and holiday hours.
Registered nurse pay has been on the rise recently. Median annual wages for registered nurses have increased steadily from $56,300 to $67,490 since 2010, and the BLS predicts they will continue to rise, reaching $82,220 by 2022.
What Do Nurses Do?
Registered nurses (RNs) do more than just give patients a checkup and write out prescriptions. Their job duties vary depending on their specialty and work location. However, some of the most common things that RNs do include:
- Administer patient care through the observation, examination, treatment, and teaching of patients. This includes recording a patient’s medical history, vital signs, symptoms, progress notes every time they visit the clinic or hospital.
- Diagnose illness and disease using both subjective observations as well as objective data.
- Monitor patients’ progress to determine if care plans are successful.
- Prescribe medications, treatments, and other therapies.
- Teach patients about nutrition, proper hygiene and healthy living practices; preventative healthcare; and disease prevention and management through good health habits such as exercise, diet choices, and good hygiene.
- Assess patients to formulate appropriate care plans for treatment, prevention, and health promotion.
- Collaborate with physicians, medical staff, social workers, therapists, home health agencies, and families on each patient’s case.
How Do You Become a Nurse?
There are three paths you can take towards becoming a nurse:
- The most common way is to earn an associate degree in nursing (ADN).
- A second option is to get your diploma in nursing after completing a hospital nurse training program that usually lasts 6-12 months or takes part in an online Diploma in Nursing program.
- The third option is to pursue entry into the profession through a baccalaureate program in nursing, which can take as little as three years to complete.
Whether you choose a degree from an ADN or BSN-granting institution is up to you, but your ultimate goal should be to become a registered nurse who holds a bachelor’s degree.
One of the first steps on this journey is to check the credentials of the school you hope to attend. All nursing schools should be accredited by either the National League for Nursing (NLN) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).
Registered nurses with bachelor’s degrees generally command higher salaries and better employment opportunities than those who hold associate degrees. Community colleges that offer ADN programs usually cost less than four-year colleges and universities that offer a BSN.
Also, if you complete a diploma nursing program, you typically will not be eligible to take the licensing exam required to work as a registered nurse in most states.
Finally, you shouldn’t rule out an online degree from schools like American InterContinental University where many courses are available anytime, anywhere. However, it is important to note that online classes usually have less interaction with professors and other students or they may not offer a hands-on approach to learning nursing techniques and practices.
Personality Traits of a Good Nurse
People who make good nurses are usually described as compassionate, caring, and helpful. They enjoy working in stressful situations where they must remain calm under pressure. Nurses should be able to deal with intense emotions like anger, sadness, or fear that can accompany patients’ conditions or their personal lives; plus, nurses need to stay up-to-date on health-related issues that affect their own lives.
People who make good nurses also have good communication skills and can interact well with patients, families, physicians, therapists, technicians, and other health care providers. They provide emotional support to patients by listening closely to concerns, offering encouragement, and helping them feel involved in their treatment plan.
Nurses should be able to read body language and understand nonverbal cues from patients who may be reluctant to discuss how they feel.
They must also have strong problem-solving skills so they can arrive at proper diagnoses and treatment plans for their patients, communicate findings or concerns with other members of the health care team, and advocate on behalf of their patients when necessary.
Good listening skills and strong verbal communication abilities count too, as nurses spend plenty of time in conversation with patients. They need to be able to explain medical procedures so that patients can follow along and feel at ease. Nurses are often considered the patient’s first line of defense against disease or injury, so they must feel confident speaking up when they see something that doesn’t feel right.
The Nursing Process
During your nursing education, you will learn how to follow a standardized process for patient evaluation and diagnosis called the nursing process. This is a seven-step method nurses use to collect data and identify problems. It includes:
- Assessment – getting thorough information from patients about their symptoms and medical history
- Nursing diagnosis – applying knowledge of symptoms and patient conditions to identify nursing concerns that need immediate attention
- Planning – determining steps needed to prevent further illness or injury, as well as how nurses can help patients address current health issues
- Implementation – carrying out plans by providing treatment, education, support, and counseling to patients
- Evaluation – assessing whether or not nursing interventions are effective for helping patients achieve their health goals
- Resolution – resolving problems that arise during the plan of care, revising assessments, reassessing patient status based on new information, and continuing to adjust plans of care as needed
- Recovery – providing support through the recovery process as patients cope with injury or illness, facilitate rehabilitation efforts, and regain health
- Teaching – instructing patients on how to maintain or increase their level of wellness after leaving the hospital
You don’t have to remember all of these steps by heart. The idea is for you to become familiar with the process so that you can apply it in your own nursing practice.
Educational Qualifications for an Undergraduate Nursing Course
Most nursing programs require applicants to complete a minimum of two years’ worth of college coursework. Some students can get their bachelor’s degree after completing an undergraduate program in another area of studies, such as science or liberal arts. However, if you already have a bachelor’s degree and want to become a nurse, you will need to meet the course prerequisites for the nursing program.
Nursing school is very competitive and you will need to be at the top of your class to get in. You should already have earned excellent grades during your undergraduate studies, but it also helps if you have some work experience in a medical setting. Health care internships or part-time jobs can help build your resume and give you a better idea of whether or not nursing is the right career for you.
Nursing programs vary in intensity and length, but most take place during evenings or weekends to accommodate students who are still employed full-time. Some schools offer accelerated programs that allow students to graduate within about 18 months, while others take up to four years. In all programs, students study topics such as anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, biology, chemistry, nutrition, psychology, sociology, and clinical skills development.
In a typical nursing program curriculum, classroom learning is combined with hands-on clinical experience in a medical facility or local community agency. Such experiences allow you to get to know patients and their families, observe them in various health care settings, and participate in nursing duties.
Licensure Requirements for Registered Nurses
There are three stages of licensure for registered nurses:
- The first is the graduate nurse (GN) or licensed practical nurse (LPN) license you get after completing your RN education.
- The second is the registered nurse (RN) license you get after passing a state-approved licensure exam.
- The third and most advanced form of nursing certification is the advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) designation for nurses who want to do more specialized work such as nurse practitioners and clinical nurse specialists.
Can I be a Good Nurse: Self-Assessment Quiz
By asking yourself the following questions, you can learn more about whether or not you are suited for a nursing career:
- Do I enjoy helping family and friends?
- Am I interested in science and medicine?
- Can I work under pressure, keep calm when things get intense, and solve problems quickly?
- Is it easy for me to share my thoughts and feelings with others, especially when it comes to medical issues?
- Can I sit or stand in one place for long periods while also paying attention to detail and following directions carefully?
If any of the above statements describe you, nursing could be your ideal career. But if the majority of them do not, other medical careers might suit you better.
Top Nursing Specializations in Demand
Nursing is a diverse field with many different career paths you can follow. Here are some of the most popular specializations in demand today:
- A nurse practitioner (NP) diagnoses and treats illness, disease, injury, or health conditions within their scope of practice. An NP works both independently and collaboratively with physicians.
- Clinical nurse specialists (CNS) can either work in a hospital, clinic, or other medical facilities. They are responsible for managing the care of patients during an acute episode of treatment throughout the entire experience.
- Certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNA) specialize in anesthesia and pain management within their own practice, while also collaborating with physicians to administer medication to patients during surgical, obstetrical, or other types of medical procedures.
If you are interested in becoming a nurse anesthetist, keep in mind that this is a very competitive specialty with high educational requirements. For example, to become a CRNA in the US you must hold at least a Bachelor’s degree in nursing and complete formal training through an accredited nurse anesthesia program.
As per the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, registered nurses are in high demand today across many industries. From hospitals to local clinics and other medical facilities, qualified professionals who can perform routine administrative tasks with little or no supervision are in short supply. So regardless of your area of specialization, finding a job should not be too difficult as long as you meet the necessary licensing and educational requirements.
Which Nursing Specialization should I Choose: Self-Assessment Quiz
A career in nursing can be a rewarding and fulfilling choice for you, but only if you enter the right field. You should consider what kind of nurse job interests you most before signing up for training courses.
- Would you rather work with adult patients?
- Would you enjoy helping medical professionals perform complicated procedures?
- Are you interested in learning about and treating people who have long-term illnesses?
- Would you enjoy helping children overcome medical problems?
- Would you like to work closely with patients while also providing support to family members?
If one of the above statements sounds appealing, then a nursing career in that specific field would likely be right for you.