Registered nurses (RNs) are licensed health care professionals who provide direct care to patients on various levels that may include assessing, planning, implementing and evaluating nursing care of the sick and injured. RNs treat patients in a wide variety of settings and venues, including doctors' offices, outpatient treatment facilities, home health care agencies and hospitals.

Day in the Life of a Registered Nurse

On a typical day, a registered nurse might perform any of the following duties:

  • Administrating medication
  • Tending to patient hygiene
  • Completing patient rounds
  • Consulting or reporting to other health care professionals
  • Explaining follow-up care to patients
  • Helping establish plans for patient care
  • Case management
  • Operating medical equipment
  • Performing diagnostic tests
  • Recording patients' medical histories

Most RNs work in comfortable health care facilities, but their schedules can vary from job to job. For example, those employed in hospitals and nursing care facilities may need to work nights, weekends or holidays or be on call or subject to work on short notice.

Nurses who work in settings that do not have 24-hour care, such as schools, offices and some government agencies, are more likely to work a normal 40-hour weekly schedule. Some RNs choose to work as floater nurses, perhaps working the night shift on weekends in a hospital. Such a nurse may work in a different unit or ward each time she reports to work, but this flexible schedule may be a good fit for her personal or family life.

In some cases, RNs travel for work, especially if they work in home health care or public health. In some situations, they may also transport patients when the usual transportation crew is unavailable.

Important Characteristics for Registered Nurses

Successful nurses feel compassion toward patients. They communicate well with patients, physicians and other co-workers. They are also skilled in making critical and time-sensitive decisions. It's important for RNs to have physical strength and stamina, since they spend much of their time walking, standing, moving and lifting. RNs can also be exposed to infectious diseases and toxic/hazardous compounds, so maintaining a strong immune system is key. Every RN should know how to manage the emotional strain the job can bring.

Typical Steps for Becoming a Registered Nurse

1. Decide which type of nursing program or degree to pursue.

There are three primary paths to meet nursing education requirements:

  • Bachelor's degree in nursing (BSN). Typically a four-year program, the BSN is the most versatile of the RN training options. The BSN leads to greater career opportunities in clinical nursing and administrative roles. Choose registered nursing schools accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, or both. It is also possible to advance from an associate degree or diploma to a bachelor's degree through an accelerated RN-to-BSN program.
  • Associate degree in nursing (ADN). Usually a two- or three-year program at a community college, the emphasis is on practical instruction and applied training.
  • Diploma from an approved nursing program. Typically a three-year program administered in a hospital, the curriculum is tied to clinical practice, with rotations and hands-on training. This option is becoming increasingly rare.

2. Take the prerequisites required by your nursing program.

Most schools do not allow you to enter directly into a nursing program. Once you are accepted as a pre-nursing student, you will need to take all required prerequisites courses, such as, anatomy, physiology, microbiology, math and chemistry.

3. Complete the nursing component of your education.

With your prerequisites behind you, you can focus on the nursing component of your education, which include classroom instruction and clinical rotations.

4. Pass the licensing exam to become a registered nurse.

You will need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX-RN, to earn a nursing license. Licensing requirements vary by state; check with the board of nursing in the state where you plan to practice.

5. Apply for entry-level-nursing jobs.

Once you have completed the nursing education requirements and passed all state-required testing for nurses, you can apply for entry-level jobs in your field.


  • Registered Nurses, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm
  • Summary Report - Registered Nurses, O*NET OnLine, https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/29-1141.00
  • Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, http://www.acenursing.org/
  • Accredited Baccalaureate & Graduate Nursing Programs, Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, https://directory.ccnecommunity.org/reports/accprog.asp

Most Popular Industries for
Registered Nurse

These industries represent at least 1% of the total number of people employed in this occupation.

Industry Total Employment Percent Annual Median Salary
Hospital 1,535,440 60% $63,890
Medical Office 454,100 17% $59,600
Nursing And Residential Care 162,190 6% $56,570
Government 144,990 5% $64,340
Office Services And Staffing 98,770 3% $67,720
Education 79,640 3% $53,620
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We have some additional detailed pages at the state level for Registered Nurse.

Numbers in parentheses are counts of relevant campus-based schools in the state; online schools may also be available.

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