In today’s rapidly growing healthcare industry, the role of registered nurse has been evolving over the last few decades from bedside caregiver to a highly trained specialized member of the interdisciplinary medical force in promoting improved well-being. Often named as one of the top 10 occupations in America for the largest job growth, registered nursing involves serving as a healthcare advocate for patients, families, and communities in a vast array of care settings to ensure everyone receives the treatment needed to overcome illness or injury. Registered nurses are well-respected members of the healthcare team who have a strong commitment to healing the sick and making a positive difference in the lives of those in need.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the over 2.6 million registered nurses in the United States earn an average annual salary of $68,910, which is equivalent to $33.13 per hour. While RNs employed in nursing homes make considerably less than average at $62,010, those working for the federal government have the highest annual salaries at $79,190 on average.

Beginning Salary

For registered nurses with a BSN degree, the average starting salary with less than one year of work experience is $45,630 each year. However, additional years of nursing experience are directly correlated to increased earning potential because RNs who have worked for 20 years or more bring home an average annual salary of $80,190.

Key Responsibilities

In their chosen area of practice, registered nurses are given the responsibility of coordinating patient healthcare services, educating patients about their health conditions, and offering important emotional support to patients and their families in a stressful time. On a typical day, RNs can be found recording patients’ medical histories, establishing care plans, administering patients’ treatments or medications, observing patients’ symptoms, operating medical equipment, performing diagnostic procedures, consulting with physicians, and teaching patients how to manage their specific condition. In some cases, registered nurses are also given supervisory positions in overseeing the work of licensed practical nurses (LPNs), nursing assistants, and home health aides with their patients.

Necessary Skills

Registered nurses spend their day working with patients who are suffering from a range of acute and chronic medical conditions, so being compassionate, caring, sympathetic, and friendly is a necessity. Along with having the emotional stability to cope with human suffering, RNs must possess the physical stamina for lifting patients and standing on their feet for hours. Since registered nurses are required to ensure patients are given appropriate care, they should also have organizational and critical thinking skills with a strong attention to detail for assessing any changes in the health of multiple patients. Registered nurses must also possess speaking skills to explain complex medical conditions to patients as well as communicate patients’ needs to other members of the healthcare team.

Degree and Education Requirements

On the pathway to becoming a registered nurse, there are three approved educational paths towards receiving state licensure to practice. Registered nurses can earn a one-year diploma, two-year associate’s degree, or four-year bachelor’s degree from an accredited nursing program to qualify for entry-level positions as staff nurses. Since an increasing number of employers now require a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), many registered nurses with an associate’s degree or diploma are returning to school through RN-BSN program. In addition to taking courses in human anatomy, microbiology, physiology, chemistry, biology, nutrition, psychology, communications, and other behavioral sciences, most accredited ADN and BSN programs will require the completion of supervised clinical practicum in an approved healthcare setting.

Pros and Cons of the Position

Many registered nurses choose the profession for the abundance of job opportunities, great salary potential, decent health benefits, interesting specialty areas, and the beneficial room for advancement. Most claim the largest advantage of this recession-proof career is the emotional satisfaction that comes with making a positive difference in countless lives. That being said, no job is perfect and becoming a registered nurse has its downfalls too. Nursing is a physically and psychologically demanding profession that may involve long overtime hours with shift work to provide healthcare to patients 24/7. Registered nurses must also work daily in a potentially dangerous work environment where they can be exposed to toxic chemicals, hazardous waste, infectious diseases, and even violence.

Getting Started

After earning the appropriate educational experience in nursing, the first step towards becoming a registered nurse in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories will be to receive the nursing license. Specific requirements for obtaining RN licensure can be found by checking with your state’s board of nursing, but all states will mandate that you at least receive a passing score on the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). Once you begin working in the nursing field as a registered nurse, you may also want to consider becoming certified by professional associations in your specific area of practice, such as gerontology, pediatrics, cardiac care, medical-surgical nursing, and many others. Earning an accredited master’s degree in nursing can also help you get started on advancing your career into advanced practice nursing for becoming a nurse practitioner, anesthetist, midwife, educator, or administrator.

Future Outlook

Due to the rising demand for healthcare services among the aging baby boomer population and the large number of workers retiring in the foreseeable future, the job prospects for registered nurses are expected to be superb over the next decade. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employment of registered nurses will grow dramatically faster than average at 19%, which will create around 526,800 new jobs before 2022. More RNs will be needed to care for patients with an increasing number of chronic medical conditions, including arthritis, obesity, diabetes, and dementia. While registered nurses can find plentiful job opportunities in hospitals and long-term facilities too, the greatest growth will be in outpatient care centers, physicians’ offices, and other ambulatory care settings where patients do not stay overnight.

Overall, registered nurses are well-trained healthcare professionals who are responsible for ensuring each patient receives the medical treatment, personalized intervention, counseling, and education needed to get on the road to recovery. Whether working at the hospital bedside, in the doctor’s office, within a prison, or on a luxury cruise ship, registered nurses play a prominent role in maintaining a link between patients and physicians for high-quality health services.