Nursing is an applied science that combines aspects of medicine, biology, pharmacology and even psychology in the delivery of health care to individuals in physical distress. Nurses assist and complement physicians while retaining a professional identity separate from doctors and unique to their own occupation.
Of the several types of nurse, the most predominant is the Registered Nurse (RN), a highly trained health care professional who possesses the education, skills and competency to practice all aspects of the care and recovery of the sick. RNs ensure that patients receive care that is appropriate, timely and professional in a variety of settings.
Registered nurses perform a number of essential and basic functions, including treating patients, recording symptoms and medical histories, performing diagnostic tests, and administering treatment under the supervision of a physician.
The quickest and most frequent educational path to an RN degree begins with a two-year Associate of Science in Nursing. There are also approximately 674 accredited nursing programs that offer four-year courses of study culminating in a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. Lastly, the “hospital diploma” is a specialized program that lasts about three years. Until about a decade ago, most RNs in the U.S. were initially educated in one of these diploma programs.
RN Diploma Program Although requirements vary from state to state, licensed graduates of any of these three programs qualify for entry-level positions as staff nurses. In all 50 states and the District of Columbia, once the student has graduated from an approved nursing program, he or she must then pass the NCLEX-RN, a national licensing examination, to obtain a nursing license. Most states also have their own additional qualifying requirements beyond these national requirements.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2004, about 2.4 million people were employed as registered nurses, making this the single largest occupation in the healthcare field. Nearly 60 percent of RNs were employed in hospitals.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, employment of registered nurses is expected to grow “much faster than average for all occupations” during the upcoming decade. Due to the large number of nursing jobs that will be created, registered nurses are predicted to create the second largest number of new jobs among all occupations in the U.S. Job opportunities for registered nurses will be excellent, to the point that the industry is even now experiencing difficulty attracting and retaining an adequate number of RNs.
U.S. Department of Labor figures indicate that the median annual salary of registered nurses in 2004 was $52,330, with a range running from less than $37,300 to a high of more than $74,760. The highest median wages were paid by employment services ($63,170) and hospitals ($53,450).
Numerous specializations lie within the scope of the RN, including: