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How to Become a Registered Nurse (RN)

Do you have a passion for health? Do you enjoy helping others? If so, then becoming a registered nurse could be a fulfilling career path for you. Registered nurses are essential to patient care in hospitals and other medical settings to help properly take care of those in need. It is important for registered nurses to have compassion and strong interpersonal skills to understand their patient’s needs. 

Registered nurses’ main priority is to provide high-quality care and support to their patients. This includes observing a patient’s vitals, conducting various assessments, informing patients about their health, and providing advice and emotional support. Registered nurses will need to keep a detailed record of the patient’s vitals, symptoms, medication, and history for their patient’s charts. 

Supporting and helping to heal patients through a difficult time in their life can be incredibly rewarding. Registered nurses can feel good knowing that they have made a difference in people’s lives through their meaningful work. Registered nurses can also have flexible schedules, allowing an ideal work-family balance in their lives.

Sample job description

[Your Clinic Name] is searching for an experienced and certified registered nurse to join our clinic team! We are looking for a confident and expert registered nurse who is capable of following proper procedures and has a comprehensive knowledge of clinic work. The preferred registered nurse will be responsible for observing patient behavior, administering physical and mental examinations, locating patient history, and recording patient progress. You will have to have a successful track record of fantastic client service and an easy-going attitude which will set patients at ease. In this position, you may also be occasionally required to treat and give medication to a patient who is in need of it, or delegate these tasks to nurses in the office. If this sounds like the dream job for you, please apply.

Typical duties and responsibilities

  • Talk with patients and record their medical history
  • Perform diagnostic tests and interpret results
  • Develop treatment plans
  • Dispense medication
  • Consult with doctors and other care providers
  • Use a variety of medical equipment
  • Counsel patients and their families

Education and experience

Registered nurses must have a high school diploma or its equivalent. They typically earn a bachelor’s degree, though some find work as an RN with an associate degree or diploma from a nursing program. All of these include hands-on clinical experience. Registered nurses need to be licensed by the state where they work, which requires passing an exam and, in some cases, a background check. Nurses also can become certified in different specialties.

Required skills and qualifications

  • Strong interpersonal skills for dealing with patients, doctors and staff
  • Discretion and the ability to handle confidential information
  • Ability to multitask and prioritize workload
  • Physical stamina and emotional stability
  • Compassion and a calm, caring demeanor
  • Strong problem-solving skills
  • Keen attention to detail

Preferred qualifications

  • 2+ years of experience working as an RN
  • Experience in both hospital and clinic rotations
  • Excellent interpersonal communication skills
  • Compassion and sympathy for patients
  • Knowledge of prescription medications and treatment plans

Typical work environment

The typical work environment of a registered nurse may be a hospital, a physicians’ office, an education facility, or a nursing home. Registered nurses are required to provide as well as coordinate care for patients and occasionally educate patients and the public about common healthcare concerns and practices. A registered nurse will be responsible for evaluating patients, recording patient data and locating patient history, performing physical exams and diagnostic tests when required, and giving patients treatments and administering medications. Typical work hours for an RN will be full-time and will be reliant on clinic hours.

Typical hours

Registered nurses work a variety of schedules because some health-care facilities are open early in the morning, late at night, or 24 hours a day. As a result, RNs might work evenings, weekends or holidays. They frequently log more than 40 hours a week and often are on call, meaning they must be available to work on short notice.

Available certifications

A registered nurse may benefit from having a certificate that relates to the position when applying or considering a nursing job. Some of the certifications which are beneficial to a registered nurse include but are not limited to:

  • Public Health Nursing Certification (APHN). The public health nursing certification may be useful to a registered nurse due to the variety of positions a registered nurse may work in. Public health nurses will work with communities and may be required by some states to have this certification, so this can prove useful to a registered nurse.
  • Adult Nurse Practitioner. An adult nurse practitioner certification may benefit a registered nurse as an extension of their practice and certification which will provide more confidence in expertise to potential employers.
  • Emergency Nurse Practitioner Certification. The emergency nurse practitioner certification will be immensely useful for any RN looking to work in an emergency-related field such as a hospital or urgent care clinic. This certification is required in some states which makes it a requirement if you are looking to work in those locations. It can also be beneficial in providing continued education and advanced knowledge of healthcare topics.

Career path

The first step to becoming a registered nurse is to earn a high school diploma or its equivalent. An RN typically receives a bachelor’s degree, ideally in nursing, although some get an associate degree or diploma from an approved nursing program. To become licensed, registered nurses must pass the National Council Licensure Examination. Some states require additional steps such as a criminal background check and training in CPR and advanced cardiac life support. 

US, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job outlook

SOC Code: 29-1141

2020 Employment3,080,100
Projected Employment in 20303,356,800
Projected 2020-2030 Percentage Shift 9% increase
Projected 2020-2030 Numeric Shift276,800 increase

With an aging population, the demand for registered nurses will continue to be strong. Some RNs who want to improve their career prospects decide to get certified in a specific discipline, such as pediatrics or gerontology, although it’s not required. Also, some hospitals provide tuition reimbursement for nurses who are pursuing advanced degrees.

Many patients prefer to receive treatment at home or in residential care facilities, so more registered nurses will be needed to provide care in those settings.

The American Nurses Association offers a weekly roundup of industry news in collaboration with SmartBrief.