What Are Registered Nurses?
Registered nurses work with physicians and other healthcare specialists to plan, coordinate and provide patient care, as described by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. They may occasionally instruct patients, family members or the public about health and healthcare, and some registered nursing jobs require the supervision of nursing aides, orderlies, licensed practical nurses or other healthcare assistance personnel. Although most registered nurses work in medical facilities, interacting directly with patients, some may work as educators, consultants, advisors, researchers, administrators or in other behind-the-scenes positions. For more information, see our registered nurse career page.
Registered Nursing Program Information
Registered nursing schools exist within universities, community colleges and approved medical training facilities. Many programs allow students to choose between campus-based or online classes. Programs do require some hands-on time in a supervised clinical environment, but those that offer online courses may maintain relationships with regional facilities where distance education students can complete their clinical sections. Accreditation is very important for registered nursing schools, so potential students should make certain that their chosen program is recognized by an appropriate regional or national accreditation agency before applying.
Students in registered nursing degree programs typically receive a well-rounded education, supplementing detailed training in nursing, anatomy, biology and nutrition with some coursework in the liberal arts and social sciences. Registered nursing courses commonly provide instruction in foundations of nursing, medical-surgical patient care, mental health nursing, gerontology, maternity care and nursing leadership.
Registered Nursing Program Types
There are three main academic programs available for aspiring registered nurses:
- Diploma Program: Registered nursing diploma programs are typically offered at hospitals and other medical facilities instead of colleges or universities. They tend to more practical than academic, focusing on patient care and clinical skills rather than classroom work, and usually take two or three years to complete.
- Associate of Science in Nursing: Associate degree programs in nursing can be found mainly at community colleges and take about as long to complete as diploma programs when attended full time. These programs can often be taken in a hybrid format, combining online coursework with a site-specific clinical section, and can be great for students already in the workforce who can only fit part-time training into their schedules. Associate programs also offer college course credit, which can be a big help to students who plan to continue their education later.
- Bachelor of Science in Nursing: These programs can be a great choice for students who really want to dig in and study the field of nursing. Bachelor's degree programs in nursing can usually be completed in four years or less of full-time study and often come with options to complete course content online. Accelerated programs are also available at some schools for students who have already earned their bachelor's degree in another field and want to earn their nursing degree.
Graduate programs are also available, but these are typically reserved for current RNs who wish to continue their studies in order to pursue advanced roles in the field. However, there are BS-MSN degree programs for students who have a bachelor's in a non-nursing subject.
Licensure is required for registered nurses to practice anywhere in the country. Specific licensing requirements may vary by state, but all potential registered nurses must graduate from an accredited registered nursing program and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) before licensure can be considered. Students can check with their state board of nursing for more information.
Registered Nursing Course Descriptions
Nursing programs each have their own method of teaching the principles and skills of nursing, but most programs have some similar registered nursing courses in their core curriculum. Here are a few subjects that students at registered nursing schools can expect to study:
- Nursing Fundamentals: Introduction to the basic skills of the nursing profession and the roles of registered nurses in various settings.
- Nursing Pharmacology: Study of drug classifications, drug interactions and the effects of different medicines on patients with various conditions.
- Pathophysiology: Explanations of common alterations in body systems and appropriate methods of risk management and disease reduction.
- Mental Health Nursing: Information about mental health disorders and appropriate care strategies for individuals with specific conditions.
- Anatomy and Physiology: Study of the systems, structures, cells, tissues and organs of the human body.
Registered Nursing Specialties
Students with an interest in a particular field of nursing may be able to specialize the courses they take during their training to fit an individual segment of the medical profession. Specialties that could be available include the following:
- Addiction nursing
- Cardiovascular nursing
- Nephrology nursing
- Genetics nursing
- Neonatal nursing
- Rehabilitation nursing
Related Career Options
Graduates from registered nursing programs may wish to use their education and experience as a springboard to other healthcare careers. Here are a few careers that use similar knowledge and skills:
- Nurse Administrator: Manage other nurses and create policies and protocols that encourage a high standard of health care delivery. Typically calls for a master's degree.
- Health Educator: Work to increase public awareness and understanding of common health issues and wellness practices. Typically requires a master's degree.
- Diagnostic Medical Sonographer: Use special sonic imaging equipment to diagnose and monitor various internal medical conditions.
These and other related careers may require additional education, training, certification or licensure.
Links to Sources and Associations
Visit the following websites to find out more about registered nursing:
American Nurses Association, http://nursingworld.org/
American Society of Registered Nurses, http://www.asrn.org/
Registered Nurses Professional Association, http://www.rnpa.net/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Registered Nurses, 2012, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Healthcare/Registered-nurses.htm
"Entry into Practice: Diploma Programs for Registered Nursing," allnurses.com, September 7, 2009, http://allnurses.com/nursing-educators-faculty/entry-into-practice-422071.html