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Profession Overview

Registered nurses (RNs) 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.

Advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) such as nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners, coordinate patient care and they may provide primary and specialty health care. Some APRNs are also known as Clinical Nurse Specialists. The scope of practice varies from state to state.

Nursing Overview

See below for typical tasks and duties of registered nurses and advanced practice registered nurses.

Registered Nurses Typically Do the Following

  • Record patients' medical histories and symptoms.
  • Administer patients’ medicines and treatments.
  • Set up plans for patients’ care or contribute to existing plans.
  • Observe patients and record observations.
  • Consult with doctors and other healthcare professionals.
  • Operate and monitor medical equipment.
  • Help perform diagnostic tests and analyze results.
  • Teach patients and their families how to manage illnesses or injuries.
  • Explain what to do at home after treatment.

Advanced Practice Registered Nurses Typically Do the Following

  • Take and record patients' medical histories and symptoms and set up plans for patients’ care or contribute to existing plans.
  • Perform physical exams.
  • Observe patients and diagnose various health problems.
  • Perform and order diagnostic tests and analyze results.
  • Give patients medicines and treatments.
  • Consult with doctors and other healthcare professionals as needed.
  • Operate and monitor medical equipment.

Is nursing a possible career for you?

Do you have the following qualities? If so, a nursing career may be a good fit.

Registered Nurse

  • Critical-thinking skills. Registered nurses must be able to assess changes in the health state of patients, including when to take corrective action and when to make referrals.
  • Compassion. Registered nurses should be caring and sympathetic, characteristics that are valuable when caring for patients.
  • Detail oriented. Registered nurses must be responsible and detail oriented because they must make sure that patients get the correct treatments and medicines at the right time.
  • Emotional stability. Registered nurses need emotional stability to cope with human suffering, emergencies, and other stresses.
  • Organizational skills. Nurses often work with multiple patients with various health needs. Organizational skills are critical to ensure that each patient is given proper care.
  • Physical stamina. Nurses should be comfortable performing physical tasks, such as helping to lift and to move patients. They may be on their feet for most of their shift.
  • Speaking skills. Registered nurses must be able to talk effectively with patients to assess their health conditions. Nurses need to explain how to take medication or to give other instructions. They must be able to work in teams with other health professionals and communicate the patients’ needs.

Advanced Practice Registered Nurse

  • Communication skills. Advanced practice registered nurses must be able to communicate with patients and other health care professionals to ensure that the appropriate course of action is understood.
  • Critical-thinking skills. APRNs must be able to assess changes in a patient’s health, quickly determining the most appropriate course of action and if a consultation with another health care professional is needed.
  • Compassion. Nurses should be caring and sympathetic when treating patients who are in pain or who are experiencing emotional distress.
  • Detail oriented. APRNs must be responsible and detail oriented because they provide various treatments and medications that affect the health of their patients. During an evaluation, they must pick up on even the smallest changes in a patient’s condition.
  • Interpersonal skills. Advanced practice registered nurses must work with patients and families as well as with other health care providers and staff within the organizations where they provide care. They should work as part of a team to determine and execute the best possible healthcare options for the patients they treat.
  • Leadership skills. Advanced practice registered nurses often work in positions of seniority. They must effectively lead and sometimes manage other nurses on staff when providing patient care.
  • Resourcefulness. APRNs must know where to find the answers that they need in a timely fashion.

Professional Education

Degrees Offered

There are a wide range of degrees offered within nursing. 

For NU students, the most appropriate degree programs are ones that are commonly known as “second degree nursing programs or accelerated nursing programs” that offer either an accelerated Bachelors of Science in Nursing (BSN) or a Masters of Science in Nursing (MSN) for applicants who have earned a non-nursing Bachelors degree (many times this masters may be referred to as a generalist MSN).

If you are first year student and you wish to pursue a traditional BSN pathway, you would need to transfer to an undergraduate institution that offers the BSN.

Years of Study

Programs range from 11 to 18 months for an accelerated bachelor’s to typically three years for a graduate masters entry level program (some programs may switch from full-time to part-time status during those three years).

Licensure Required

In all states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories, registered nurses must have a nursing license. To become licensed, nurses must graduate from an approved nursing program and pass the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX-RN.

Advanced Practice Registered Nurses and Clinical Nurse Specialists must have a master degree and some pathways may require additional certification.

Choosing a Nursing Program

Factors to consider when choosing a nursing program:

  • Type of degree offered (accelerated BSN or generalist MSN)
  • Required coursework pre-requisites
  • Program content
  • Geographic location
  • Faculty
  • Facilities
  • Experiential training opportunities
  • Class size
  • Student demographics
  • Extra-curricular opportunities
  • Cost

Some U.S. nursing institutions give preference to in-state (resident) students. Private nursing institutions may offer out-of-state and international applicants a greater number of positions within the program as compared to state-supported, public institutions.

Source: Occupational Outlook Handbook