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Registered Nurse (RN)

Registered nurses, or RNs, are licensed nurses who have completed coursework in the field of nursing as well as a set number of required clinical hours of instruction. These nurses can provide technical care to a patient as well as multifaceted evaluations to create plans for care and treatment.

RNs are responsible for the welfare of patients in hospitals, nursing homes, private clinics and doctors' offices. As a trained nursing professional, an RN assists physicians and works to implement and evaluate treatments needed to heal or ease symptoms when caring for patients.

An RN uses various diagnostic tools and medical equipment to assess a patient's health. RNs also manage the hygiene of patients, including changing dressings and catheterization. RNs may work at a private clinic or doctor's office or in a hospital setting where they spend time performing duties such as taking vital signs, monitoring intravenous therapy and operating diagnostic equipment like x-ray machines. RNs also monitor patients who are on ventilators, assist with surgery and provide bedside care.

Registered nurses work long hours, including nights, weekends and holidays. RNs are required to have an RN license before practicing in the United States. RN licenses are regulated by the NLC (National League for Nursing), which is responsible for setting RN standards and requirements for RN licensure.

Schooling for registered nurses consists of several phases, including prerequisites such as college courses in physics, chemistry and biology, as well as coursework in anatomy and physiology. RN programs can be found at community colleges or technical schools. Courses may include pharmacology, health assessment, medical-surgical nursing, maternal-newborn nursing, psychiatric nursing and pediatric nursing.

Some RNs complete additional specialized training in areas such as intensive care, gerontological care or oncology. A licensed Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) is a registered nurse with additional advanced education and training to manage patients with complex medical issues, such as family practice, gerontology, neonatal, pediatrics, women's health, and mental health.

After graduation, RNs must pass a certification exam to be recognized by the NLC as Board Certified Registered Nurses (BCRN). Study material is available through the NLC, and the RN must pass a computer-based test. RNs may choose to continue their education and even specialize in certain areas. Specialty certification is available for RNs who have successfully completed additional training requirements. RNs can be recertified every seven years by continuing their education or completing a specialty exam from an approved testing organization. RNs must also complete continuing education courses to stay up-to-date on current patient care procedures and medical equipment.

RN Frequently Asked Questions

What does it mean to be an RN?
Registered nurses (RNs) are full-fledged medical professionals who care for patients in a variety of settings, including clinics, hospitals, schools and care facilities. They assist physicians, take vital signs, assess patients, review medical history and educate patients on new medications or diagnoses.

How many years does it take to be a RN?
The average amount of time for a nursing student to become a licensed registered nurse is three years, assuming the student successfully completes a program at an accredited college or university.

What kind of nurse is an RN?
RNs are healthcare professionals who provide and coordinate patient care, educate patients and the public about various health conditions, and provide advice and emotional support to patients and their family members.

What kind of nurses get paid the most?
Certified registered nurse anesthetists consistently rank as the highest paid nursing career professionals. They are advanced and highly skilled registered nurses who work closely with medical staff during medical procedures that require anesthesia.

Is being an RN difficult?
Working as a registered nurse is a rewarding but challenging career. A wide range of patients are entrusted to nurses during their shifts – from the elderly undergoing complex procedures to patients who have suffered injuries or are in various stages of an illness. Despite their rewarding work, nurses also face many difficult situations, such as witnessing a patient's death, extremely long and sometimes stressful shifts, and other situations that can be emotionally and physically taxing. Nurses currently face more than just these obstacles; they must also deal with the effects of a global pandemic.

What is the difference between a registered nurse and a nurse practitioner?
Although RNs and NPs both focus on patient observation and care, the largest difference between the two is that NP duties include prescribing treatments, ordering tests, and diagnosing patients – duties normally performed by physicians – whereas RNs have no such authority. RNs, on the other hand, usually work under a physician who determines patient care and follow-up.

This means that the primary difference between registered nurses and nurse practitioners is that nurse practitioners have greater autonomy and responsibility due to their advanced education, training, and experience.

RNs, on the other hand, are highly trained in the assessment of patient history and symptoms, the collection of biological samples, and the performance of patient examinations. They evaluate patients’ test results and prescribe medications. They are also skilled at ordering diagnostic tests, operating medical equipment, supervising other healthcare staff members, and collaborating with other healthcare professionals to provide their patients with comprehensive treatment.

Some of the most common specialties for nurse practitioners are in pediatrics, geriatrics, hospital care, managed care facilities, government agencies, family practice, private care, emergency room care, and university faculty.

What are the educational requirements to be an RN?
There are several ways to become a registered nurse. Education for an RN can include: a bachelor's degree in nursing, which typically takes four years; an associate's degree in nursing, which usually takes about two to three years; or a diploma in nursing from a hospital or medical center (these aren’t as common as they used to be), which typically takes two to three years. Nursing programs offer classes in anatomy, physiology, social and behavioral sciences, psychology, and microbiology.

All registered nurses are licensed by the state in which they practice. To become licensed, one must first graduate from an accredited educational program and pass the National Council Licensure Examination. Requirements vary by state. Those who work in certain specialties may also become certified through their professional association. This is usually not required, but it does guarantee a certain level of mastery and competence to prospective employers.

All nursing programs include supervised clinical experience where students work alongside licensed nurses, work with patients, and get hands-on experience. The clinical experiences help students gain expertise in their field.

How difficult is nursing school?
Nursing programs demand a lot from their students, making the process of earning a degree in nursing more challenging than the process in most other fields. In fact, many nursing students fast-track their degrees by taking multiple hard classes at once. This can result in having to take several of the most stressful midterms and finals at the same time.

Do you have to take the NCLEX to be an RN?
Prospective nurses must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses in order to demonstrate competency as a registered nurse. Unlike other tests, applicants must apply to take the NCLEX-RN before they can actually register for the test. Each state board of nursing has its own requirements to qualify for the NCLEX-RN.

At a minimum, to qualify to take the NCLEX-RN you must first complete an accredited nursing program. When enrolling in a practical nursing or registered nursing program, it is important that you understand the credentials you will attain upon completion, particularly whether you’ll receive an associate’s degree or a bachelor's degree while attending school.

After completing your course of study, you will be prepared to take the National Council exam for licensure. This examination verifies that you have mastered the knowledge and skills necessary for a career in nursing.

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