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Nurses
Significant Points
  • Registered nurses (RNs) constitute the largest healthcare occupation, with 2.6 million jobs.
  • About 60 percent of RN jobs are in hospitals.
  • The three typical educational paths to registered nursing are a bachelor's degree, an associate degree, and a diploma from an approved nursing program; advanced practice nurses—clinical nurse specialists, nurse anesthetists, nurse-midwives, and nurse practitioners—need a master’s degree.
  • Overall job opportunities are expected to be excellent, but may vary by employment and geographic setting; some employers report difficulty in attracting and retaining an adequate number of RNs.
Nature of the Work

Registered nurses (RNs), regardless of specialty or work setting, treat patients, educate patients and the public about various medical conditions, and provide advice and emotional support to patients' family members. RNs record patients' medical histories and symptoms, help perform diagnostic tests and analyze results, operate medical machinery, administer treatment and medications, and help with patient follow-up and rehabilitation.

RNs teach patients and their families how to manage their illnesses or injuries, explaining post-treatment home care needs; diet, nutrition, and exercise programs; and self-administration of medication and physical therapy. Some RNs may work to promote general health by educating the public on warning signs and symptoms of disease. RNs also might run general health screening or immunization clinics, blood drives, and public seminars on various conditions.

When caring for patients, RNs establish a care plan or contribute to an existing plan. Plans may include numerous activities, such as administering medication, including careful checking of dosages and avoiding interactions; starting, maintaining, and discontinuing intravenous (IV) lines for fluid, medication, blood, and blood products; administering therapies and treatments; observing the patient and recording those observations; and consulting with physicians and other healthcare clinicians. Some RNs provide direction to licensed practical nurses and nursing aides regarding patient care. . RNs with advanced educational preparation and training may perform diagnostic and therapeutic procedures and may have prescriptive authority.

Specific work responsibilities will vary from one RN to the next. An RN’s duties and title are often determined by their work setting or patient population served. RNs can specialize in one or more areas of patient care. There generally are four ways to specialize. RNs may work a particular setting or type of treatment, such as perioperative nurses, who work in operating rooms and assist surgeons. RNs may specialize in specific health conditions, as do diabetes management nurses, who assist patients to manage diabetes. Other RNs specialize in working with one or more organs or body system types, such as dermatology nurses, who work with patients who have skin disorders. RNs may also specialize with a well-defined population, such as geriatric nurses, who work with the elderly. Some RNs may combine specialties. For example, pediatric oncology nurses deal with children and adolescents who have cancer. The opportunities for specialization in registered nursing are extensive and are often determined on the job.

There are many options for RNs who specialize in a work setting or type of treatment. Ambulatory care nurses provide preventive care and treat patients with a variety of illnesses and injuries in physicians' offices or in clinics. Some ambulatory care nurses are involved in telehealth, providing care and advice through electronic communications media such as videoconferencing, the Internet, or by telephone. Critical care nurses provide care to patients with serious, complex, and acute illnesses or injuries that require very close monitoring and extensive medication protocols and therapies. Critical care nurses often work in critical or intensive care hospital units. Emergency, or trauma, nurses work in hospital or stand-alone emergency departments, providing initial assessments and care for patients with life-threatening conditions. Some emergency nurses may become qualified to serve as transport nurses, who provide medical care to patients who are transported by helicopter or airplane to the nearest medical facility. Holistic nurses provide care such as acupuncture, massage and aroma therapy, and biofeedback, which are meant to treat patients' mental and spiritual health in addition to their physical health. Home healthcare nurses provide at-home nursing care for patients, often as follow-up care after discharge from a hospital or from a rehabilitation, long-term care, or skilled nursing facility. Hospice and palliative care nurses provide care, most often in home or hospice settings, focused on maintaining quality of life for terminally ill patients. Infusion nurses administer medications, fluids, and blood to patients through injections into patients' veins. Long- term care nurses provide healthcare services on a recurring basis to patients with chronic physical or mental disorders, often in long-term care or skilled nursing facilities. Medical-surgical nurses provide health promotion and basic medical care to patients with various medical and surgical diagnoses. Occupational health nurses seek to prevent job-related injuries and illnesses, provide monitoring and emergency care services, and help employers implement health and safety standards. Perianesthesia nurses provide preoperative and postoperative care to patients undergoing anesthesia during surgery or other procedure. Perioperative nurses assist surgeons by selecting and handling instruments, controlling bleeding, and suturing incisions. Some of these nurses also can specialize in plastic and reconstructive surgery. Psychiatric-mental health nurses treat patients with personality and mood disorders. Radiology nurses provide care to patients undergoing diagnostic radiation procedures such as ultrasounds, magnetic resonance imaging, and radiation therapy for oncology diagnoses. Rehabilitation nurses care for patients with temporary and permanent disabilities. Transplant nurses care for both transplant recipients and living donors and monitor signs of organ rejection.

RNs specializing in a particular disease, ailment, or healthcare condition are employed in virtually all work settings, including physicians' offices, outpatient treatment facilities, home healthcare agencies, and hospitals. Addictions nurses care for patients seeking help with alcohol, drug, tobacco, and other addictions. Intellectual and developmental disabilities nurses provide care for patients with physical, mental, or behavioral disabilities; care may include help with feeding, controlling bodily functions, sitting or standing independently, and speaking or other communication. Diabetes management nurses help diabetics to manage their disease by teaching them proper nutrition and showing them how to test blood sugar levels and administer insulin injections. Genetics nurses provide early detection screenings, counseling, and treatment of patients with genetic disorders, including cystic fibrosis and Huntington's disease. HIV/AIDS nurses care for patients diagnosed with HIV and AIDS. Oncology nurses care for patients with various types of cancer and may assist in the administration of radiation and chemotherapies and follow-up monitoring. Wound, ostomy, and continence nurses treat patients with wounds caused by traumatic injury, ulcers, or arterial disease; provide postoperative care for patients with openings that allow for alternative methods of bodily waste elimination; and treat patients with urinary and fecal incontinence.

RNs specializing in treatment of a particular organ or body system usually are employed in hospital specialty or critical care units, specialty clinics, and outpatient care facilities. Cardiovascular nurses treat patients with coronary heart disease and those who have had heart surgery, providing services such as postoperative rehabilitation. Dermatology nurses treat patients with disorders of the skin, such as skin cancer and psoriasis. Gastroenterology nurses treat patients with digestive and intestinal disorders, including ulcers, acid reflux disease, and abdominal bleeding. Some nurses in this field also assist in specialized procedures such as endoscopies, which look inside the gastrointestinal tract using a tube equipped with a light and a camera that can capture images of diseased tissue. Gynecology nurses provide care to women with disorders of the reproductive system, including endometriosis, cancer, and sexually transmitted diseases. Nephrology nurses care for patients with kidney disease caused by diabetes, hypertension, or substance abuse. Neuroscience nurses care for patients with dysfunctions of the nervous system, including brain and spinal cord injuries and seizures. Ophthalmic nurses provide care to patients with disorders of the eyes, including blindness and glaucoma, and to patients undergoing eye surgery. Orthopedic nurses care for patients with muscular and skeletal problems, including arthritis, bone fractures, and muscular dystrophy. Otorhinolaryngology nurses care for patients with ear, nose, and throat disorders, such as cleft palates, allergies, and sinus disorders. Respiratory nurses provide care to patients with respiratory disorders such as asthma, tuberculosis, and cystic fibrosis. Urology nurses care for patients with disorders of the kidneys, urinary tract, and male reproductive organs, including infections, kidney and bladder stones, and cancers.

RNs who specialize by population provide preventive and acute care in all healthcare settings to the segment of the population in which they specialize, including newborns (neonatology), children and adolescents (pediatrics), adults, and the elderly (gerontology or geriatrics). RNs also may provide basic healthcare to patients outside of healthcare settings in such venues as including correctional facilities, schools, summer camps, and the military. Some RNs travel around the United States and throughout the world providing care to patients in areas with shortages of healthcare workers.

Most RNs work as staff nurses as members of a team providing critical healthcare. However, some RNs choose to become advanced practice nurses, who work independently or in collaboration with physicians, and may focus on the provision of primary care services. Clinical nurse specialists provide direct patient care and expert consultations in one of many nursing specialties, such as psychiatric-mental health. Nurse anesthetists provide anesthesia and related care before and after surgical, therapeutic, diagnostic and obstetrical procedures. They also provide pain management and emergency services, such as airway management. Nurse-midwives provide primary care to women, including gynecological exams, family planning advice, prenatal care, assistance in labor and delivery, and neonatal care. Nurse practitioners serve as primary and specialty care providers, providing a blend of nursing and healthcare services to patients and families. The most common specialty areas for nurse practitioners are family practice, adult practice, women's health, pediatrics, acute care, and geriatrics. However, there are a variety of other specialties that nurse practitioners can choose, including neonatology and mental health. Advanced practice nurses can prescribe medications in all States and in the District of Columbia.

Some nurses have jobs that require little or no direct patient care, but still require an active RN license. Forensics nurses participate in the scientific investigation and treatment of abuse victims, violence, criminal activity, and traumatic accident. Infection control nurses identify, track, and control infectious outbreaks in healthcare facilities and develop programs for outbreak prevention and response to biological terrorism. Nurse educators plan, develop, implement, and evaluate educational programs and curricula for the professional development of student nurses and RNs. Nurse informaticists manage and communicate nursing data and information to improve decision making by consumers, patients, nurses, and other healthcare providers. RNs also may work as healthcare consultants, public policy advisors, pharmaceutical and medical supply researchers and salespersons, and medical writers and editors.

Work environment. Most RNs work in well-lit, comfortable healthcare facilities. Home health and public health nurses travel to patients' homes, schools, community centers, and other sites. RNs may spend considerable time walking, bending, stretching, and standing. Patients in hospitals and nursing care facilities require 24-hour care; consequently, nurses in these institutions may work nights, weekends, and holidays. RNs also may be on call—available to work on short notice. Nurses who work in offices, schools, and other settings that do not provide 24-hour care are more likely to work regular business hours. About 20 percent of RNs worked part time in 2008.

RNs may be in close contact with individuals who have infectious diseases and with toxic, harmful, or potentially hazardous compounds, solutions, and medications. RNs must observe rigid, standardized guidelines to guard against disease and other dangers, such as those posed by radiation, accidental needle sticks, chemicals used to sterilize instruments, and anesthetics. In addition, they are vulnerable to back injury when moving patients.

Nurse, GS-0610-04

Nature, range, and complexity of work

As a nurse trainee performs limited duties in medical and surgical wards.

  • Receives orientation and guidance on nursing policies, regulations, techniques and procedures and general functions of the unit to which assigned.
  • Provides limited nursing care for patients.
  • Administers drugs prescribed for patients.
  • Obtains blood specimens.
  • Measures temperature, pulse, respiration, height, weight and blood pressure and tests vision and hearing.
  • Nurse, GS-0610-05

    Nature, range, and complexity of work

    As a nurse trainee performs duties in medical and surgical wards.

  • Receives orientation and guidance on nursing policies, and regulations, and general functions of the unit to which assigned.
  • Plans and provides nursing care for individual patients.
  • Performs venipuncture for the purpose of obtaining blood specimens.
  • Records case histories; measures temperature, pulse, respiration, height, weight and blood pressure; tests vision and hearing.
  • Nurse, GS-0610-07

    Nature, range, and complexity of work

    Provides comprehensive nursing care to patients in general medical and surgical wards, where conditions and treatment are normally of a non critical nature.

  • Observes patient's conditions, assesses nursing needs, and provides required nursing care.
  • Administers prescribed oral medications, hypodermic injections and intravenous feeding.
  • Observes and records temperature, pulse, blood pressure, respiration data and effects of medication.
  • Prepares patients for tests, examinations and treatment.
  • Prepares and reviews records, laboratory sheets, etc.
  • Directs the work of aides, assistants, LPN's and trainee nurses.
  • Clinical Nurse, GS-0610-09

    Nature, range, and complexity of work

    Performs professional nursing duties in the care of general medical-surgical patients.

  • Provides comprehensive nursing care to patients based on the physicians' medical care plan and the physical, mental and emotional needs of the patient.
  • Administers oxygen, IV fluid, blood transfusions and prescribed oral, subcutaneous and intramuscular medications.
  • Manages nasal-pharyngeal and gastric suction as well as a variety of other drainage tubes.
  • Makes nursing care assignments to various skill levels of professional and nonprofessional personnel.
  • Prepares patients for surgical and/or diagnostic procedures.
  • Closely observes post-operative and seriously ill patients as well as those under therapy for adverse conditions and reactions.
  • Sets up, operates and monitors specialized equipment such as cardiac monitors, respirators, defibrillators, etc.
  • Occupational Health Nurse, GS-0610-09

    Nature, range, and complexity of work

    Performs the health care, counseling, educational and training aspects of employee health programs.

  • Administers emergency care for illnesses of occupational and nonoccupational origin and injuries that occur at the place of work.
  • Performs limited portions of physical examinations, e.g., blood pressure, EKG, vision, hearing, etc.
  • Administers medications and treatments authorized by physicians.
  • Counsels employees on varied health subjects including nutrition, dental and safety regimen, care of minor injuries and illnesses, family and health problems, home care of communicable diseases, infant and pre-natal care.
  • Advises employees to obtain medical care and makes referral to private physicians, dentists, clinics or community resources, with the advice depending on the apparent nature and origin of the employee's problem and upon the employee's economic status.
  • Follows up by telephone or interview on serious or acute conditions, compensable injuries, chronic illnesses, pregnancy, etc. by contacting employee, private physicians or dentists, clinics, hospitals and supervisors.
  • Psychiatric Nurse, GS-0610-09

    Nature, range, and complexity of work

    Performs the full range of nursing care required to motivate and redirect the behavior of psychiatric patients.

  • May rotate on all shifts through all wards.
  • Works closely with other members of the total treatment team in the formulation of the total care plan for patients.
  • Provides comprehensive nursing care for any type of psychiatric patient.
  • Observes patients closely, evaluating and recording any significant behavior and reaction patterns for psychiatrist's or team's use in reevaluation of treatment plan.
  • Participates in group therapy sessions with patients.
  • Maintains appropriate records.
  • Administers prescribed medication.
  • Operation Room Nurse, GS-0610-09

    Nature, range, and complexity of work

    Provides nursing service for operations ranging from those involving less complex surgical procedures, for example, appendectomies, to those involving complex and extensive surgical procedures, for example, orthopedic or thoracic operations.

  • Confers with surgeons concerning instruments, sutures, prosthesis, and special equipment.
  • Provides care to patients to meet their physical and psychological needs. This includes helping to transport, lift, move and position the patient.
  • Assists in the care and handling of supplies and equipment including operating tables, lights, electrocautery, suction machines, special instruments, etc.
  • Assures accurate care and handling of specimens.
  • Assumes responsibility for aseptic technique maintenance during procedure, accuracy of sponge counts and adequacy of supplies.
  • Community Health Nurse, GS-0610-09

    Nature, range, and complexity of work

    Provides nursing care to the people in an assigned area in accordance with established policies and procedures. Service includes adult and child health care, chronic and communicable disease control, health teaching, referrals and follow-up.

  • Performs home visits, holds individual and group conferences and teaches through demonstration.
  • Counsels and refers individuals to the full range of health services available.
  • Provides comprehensive nursing services to individuals, families and communities in the areas of health promotion and illness prevention while safeguarding their integrity and recognizing their right to make their own decisions.
  • Nurse Practitioner, GS-0610-11

    Nature, range, and complexity of work

    Provides primary health care and generalized community health nursing services in clinics, homes and schools on an Indian reservation with emphasis on a family-centered preventive approach. Services provided in clinics include:

  • Assessment, diagnosis and treatment of minor illnesses.
  • Management of chronic health problems.
  • Primary care for trauma cases, including suturing.
  • Emergency care.
  • Follow-up management of normal prenatal, post-partial and family planning patients.
  • Skilled counseling guidance and health instruction to patients and families.
  • Performs and interprets laboratory tests.
  • Manages the clinic.
  • Home visits involve case-findings, referral for treatment and follow-up.
  • Teaches and demonstrates the application of good health practices to individuals and families.
  • Recognizes physical and mental deviation from normal; initiates arrangements for treatment and follow-up care.
  • Plans and conducts the school health program.
  • Conducts surveys and studies to determine and appraise community health services.
  • Maintains current clinical and nursing records.
  • Nurse Specialist, GS-0610-11

    Nature, range, and complexity of work

    Provides specialized nursing care to patients in a ward of a hospital with injuries, illnesses or attitudes that require adaptation of established nursing procedures.

  • Serves as role model and teacher for experienced and fully trained nurses in providing care to patients assigned because of their special needs, for example, ulcer patients who are not responding to usual treatment.
  • Provides skilled and comprehensive nursing care to patients who have undergone new heart, vascular or other surgical procedures or who are receiving drugs infrequently used with human subjects.
  • Assesses nursing needs to provide safe and efficient nursing care.
  • Performs patient teaching with patients requiring special approaches, for example, diabetics whose changing conditions require new diets and different medications.
  • Nurse Midwife, GS-0610-11

    Nature, range, and complexity of work

    Provides care in essentially normal cases for a group of mothers and babies throughout the maternity cycle within the framework of a medically directed health service.

  • Manages the care of normal antepartum women including teaching, counseling and support.
  • Takes health history, and performs and records the obstetrical physical evaluation.
  • Evaluates and reviews findings with the physician and expectant mother.
  • Manages labor, including teaching and support.
  • Performs the following procedures: starts intravenous infusions; administers analgesia according to standing orders; performs local anesthesia; manages and controls normal spontaneous deliveries but does not perform forcep deliveries; records the labor and delivery; and signs and completes birth certificate.
  • Performs and records physical evaluation of newborns.
  • Manages care of normal newborn including nutrition, elimination and activity.
  • Nurse Anesthetist, GS-0610-11

    Nature, range, and complexity of work

    Performs as a nurse anesthetist for a broad range of types of operations.

  • Reviews clinical chart and recommends specific type of general anesthesia.
  • Interviews patients to discuss type of anesthesia to be used and to reassure patient.
  • Administers general anesthetics by inhalation, endotracheal intubation, intravenously or topically; induces anesthesia to proper state of narcosis; and manages throughout prolonged surgery.
  • Determines need for and administers parenteral fluids, including plasma and blood, setting up solutions and maintaining proper flow.
  • Administers stimulants as directed by surgeon.
  • Assists in post-anesthesia care.
  • Nurse Practitioner, GS-0610-12

    Nature, range, and complexity of work

  • Provides leadership in comprehensive nursing, preventative, and therapeutic health care service to patients and family members, in a community based primary care facility as the primary health resource at the facility.
  • Secures a health and developmental history from the patient or parent; records findings and makes critical evaluation.
  • Performs or requests special screening and developmental tests and laboratory tests and interprets the results.
  • Discriminates between normal and abnormal findings to recognize early stages of serious physical, emotional or mental problems.
  • Makes decisions concerning medical care needs of patients with physicians as well as decisions regarding nursing care needs.
  • Identifies and manages specific illnesses.
  • Gives direct psychological nursing care in the presence of illness or disability in order to maintain life, provide comfort, reduce distress and enhance coping ability.
  • Identifies components of the nursing regimen that may be delegated to allied nursing personnel.
  • Provides surveillance of adherence to medical and nursing regimens to stabilize chronically ill persons; adjusts regimens within established protocols recognizing when to refer the patient to the physician or other health team members.
  • Works collaboratively with the physician in management of selected complex medical problems.
  • Plans with other professional, and agencies involved in providing services to families, and where appropriate, coordinates the health care given.
  • Provides full range of emergency services or crises intervention in the absence of the physician, including life saving emergency procedures in order to stabilize a patient sufficiently to transport to a hospital facility.
  • Evaluates the nursing and medical aspects of care plans periodically, recognizing the need for reassessment by a physician or other health professionals.
  • Provides health care and preventive services to healthy individuals, including guidance in nutrition, common illnesses, accidents, child growth and development, and child rearing.
  • Evaluates total health care needs of patients and develops plans to meet these needs.
  • Teaches patients and family members ways to maintain or improve their health status.
  • Makes home visits when indicated to implement a care plan based on family needs.
  • Participates with consulting physician in planning, instituting, evaluating and revising program plan; assists in determining conditions, resources, and policies essential to delivery of health care services.
  • Develops protocol for the facility.
  • Participates in and conducts studies relevant to health care and nursing needs of patients.
  • Serves in a teaching capacity in the development of other health care workers.
  • Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

    The three typical educational paths to registered nursing are a bachelor's degree, an associate degree, and a diploma from an approved nursing program. Nurses most commonly enter the occupation by completing an associate degree or bachelor's degree program. Individuals then must complete a national licensing examination in order to obtain a nursing license. Advanced practice nurses—clinical nurse specialists, nurse anesthetists, nurse-midwives, and nurse practitioners—need a master’s degree.

    Education and training. There are three typical educational paths to registered nursing—a bachelor's of science degree in nursing (BSN), an associate degree in nursing (ADN), and a diploma. BSN programs, offered by colleges and universities, take about 4 years to complete. ADN programs, offered by community and junior colleges, take about 2 to 3 years to complete. Diploma programs, administered in hospitals, last about 3 years. Generally, licensed graduates of any of the three types of educational programs qualify for entry-level positions as a staff nurse. There are hundreds of registered nursing programs that result in an ADN or BSN; however, there are relatively few diploma programs.

    Individuals considering a career in nursing should carefully weigh the advantages and disadvantages of enrolling in each type of education program. Advancement opportunities may be more limited for ADN and diploma holders compared to RNs who obtain a BSN or higher. Individuals who complete a bachelor's degree receive more training in areas such as communication, leadership, and critical thinking, all of which are becoming more important as nursing practice becomes more complex. Additionally, bachelor's degree programs offer more clinical experience in nonhospital settings. A bachelor's or higher degree is often necessary for administrative positions, research, consulting, and teaching

    Many RNs with an ADN or diploma later enter bachelor's degree programs to prepare for a broader scope of nursing practice. Often, they can find an entry-level position and then take advantage of tuition reimbursement benefits to work toward a BSN by completing an RN-to-BSN program. Accelerated master's degree in nursing (MSN) programs also are available. They typically take 3-4 years to complete full time and result in the award of both the BSN and MSN.

    There are education programs available for people interested in switching to a career in nursing as well. Individuals who already hold a bachelor’s degree in another field may enroll in an accelerated BSN program. Accelerated BSN programs last 12 to 18 months and provide the fastest route to a BSN for individuals who already hold a degree. MSN programs also are available for individuals who hold a bachelor's or higher degree in another field; master’s degree programs usually last 2 years.

    All nursing education programs include classroom instruction and supervised clinical experience in hospitals and other healthcare facilities. Students take courses in anatomy, physiology, microbiology, chemistry, nutrition, psychology and other behavioral sciences, and nursing. Coursework also includes the liberal arts for ADN and BSN students.

    Supervised clinical experience is provided in hospital departments such as pediatrics, psychiatry, maternity, and surgery. A number of programs include clinical experience in nursing care facilities, public health departments, home health agencies, and ambulatory clinics.

    Licensure and certification. In all States, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories, students must graduate from an approved nursing program and pass a national licensing examination, known as the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX-RN, in order to obtain a nursing license. Other eligibility requirements for licensure vary by State. Contact your State’s board of nursing for details.

    Other qualifications. Nurses should be caring, sympathetic, responsible, and detail oriented. They must be able to direct or supervise others, correctly assess patients' conditions, and determine when consultation is required. They need emotional stability to cope with human suffering, emergencies, and other stresses.

    RNs should enjoy learning because continuing education credits are required by some States and/or employers at regular intervals. Career-long learning is a distinct reality for RNs.

    Some nurses may become credentialed in specialties such as ambulatory care, gerontology, informatics, pediatrics, and many others. Credentialing for RNs is available from the American Nursing Credentialing Center, the National League for Nursing, and many others. Although credentialing is usually voluntary, it demonstrates adherence to a higher standard and some employers may require it.

    Advancement. Most RNs begin as staff nurses in hospitals and, with experience and good performance, often move to other settings or are promoted to positions with more responsibility. In management, nurses can advance from assistant unit manager or head nurse to more senior-level administrative roles of assistant director, director, vice president, or chief of nursing. Increasingly, management-level nursing positions require a graduate or an advanced degree in nursing or health services administration. Administrative positions require leadership, communication and negotiation skills, and good judgment.

    Some RNs choose to become advanced practice nurses, who work independently or in collaboration with physicians, and may focus on providing primary care services. There are four types of advanced practice nurses: clinical nurse specialists, nurse anesthetists, nurse-midwives, and nurse practitioners. Clinical nurse specialists provide direct patient care and expert consultations in one of many nursing specialties, such as psychiatric-mental health. Nurse anesthetists provide anesthesia and related care before and after surgical, therapeutic, diagnostic, and obstetrical procedures. They also provide pain management and emergency services, such as airway management. Nurse-midwives provide primary care to women, including gynecological exams, family planning advice, prenatal care, assistance in labor and delivery, and neonatal care. Nurse practitioners serve as primary and specialty care providers, providing a blend of nursing and healthcare services to patients and families.

    All four types of advanced practice nurses require at least a master's degree. In addition, all States specifically define requirements for registered nurses in advanced practice roles. Advanced practice nurses may prescribe medicine, but the authority to prescribe varies by State. Contact your State’s board of nursing for specific regulations regarding advanced practice nurses.

    Some nurses move into the business side of healthcare. Their nursing expertise and experience on a healthcare team equip them to manage ambulatory, acute, home-based, and chronic care businesses. Employers—including hospitals, insurance companies, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and managed care organizations, among others—need RNs for health planning and development, marketing, consulting, policy development, and quality assurance. Other nurses work as college and university faculty or conduct research.

    Job Outlook

    Overall job opportunities for registered nurses are expected to be excellent, but may vary by employment and geographic setting. Some employers report difficulty in attracting and retaining an adequate number of RNs. Employment of RNs is expected to grow much faster than the average and, because the occupation is very large, 581,500 new jobs will result, among the largest number of new jobs for any occupation. Additionally, hundreds of thousands of job openings will result from the need to replace experienced nurses who leave the occupation.

    Employment change. Employment of registered nurses is expected to grow by 22 percent from 2008 to 2018, much faster than the average for all occupations. Growth will be driven by technological advances in patient care, which permit a greater number of health problems to be treated, and by an increasing emphasis on preventive care. In addition, the number of older people, who are much more likely than younger people to need nursing care, is projected to grow rapidly.

    However, employment of RNs will not grow at the same rate in every industry. The projected growth rates for RNs in the industries with the highest employment of these workers are:

    Industry Percent
    Offices of physicians 48
    Home health care services 33
    Nursing care facilities 25
    Employment services 24
    Hospitals, public and private 17

    Employment is expected to grow more slowly in hospitals—healthcare's largest industry—than in most other healthcare industries. While the intensity of nursing care is likely to increase, requiring more nurses per patient, the number of inpatients (those who remain in the hospital for more than 24 hours) is not likely to grow by much. Patients are being discharged earlier, and more procedures are being done on an outpatient basis, both inside and outside hospitals. Rapid growth is expected in hospital outpatient facilities, such as those providing same-day surgery, rehabilitation, and chemotherapy.

    More and more sophisticated procedures, once performed only in hospitals, are being performed in physicians' offices and in outpatient care centers, such as freestanding ambulatory surgical and emergency centers. Accordingly, employment is expected to grow fast in these places as healthcare in general expands.

    Employment in nursing care facilities is expected to grow because of increases in the number of older persons, many of whom require long-term care. Many elderly patients want to be treated at home or in residential care facilities, which will drive demand for RNs in those settings. The financial pressure on hospitals to discharge patients as soon as possible should produce more admissions to nursing and residential care facilities and referrals to home healthcare. Job growth also is expected in units that provide specialized long-term rehabilitation for stroke and head injury patients, as well as units that treat Alzheimer's victims.

    Employment in home healthcare is expected to increase in response to the growing number of older persons with functional disabilities, consumer preference for care in the home, and technological advances that make it possible to bring increasingly complex treatments into the home. The type of care demanded will require nurses who are able to perform complex procedures.

    Job prospects. Overall job opportunities are expected to be excellent for registered nurses. Employers in some parts of the country and in certain employment settings report difficulty in attracting and retaining an adequate number of RNs, primarily because of an aging RN workforce and a lack of younger workers to fill positions. Qualified applicants to nursing schools are being turned away because of a shortage of nursing faculty. The need for nursing faculty will only increase as many instructors near retirement. Despite the slower employment growth in hospitals, job opportunities should still be excellent because of the relatively high turnover of hospital nurses. To attract and retain qualified nurses, hospitals may offer signing bonuses, family-friendly work schedules, or subsidized training. Although faster employment growth is projected in physicians' offices and outpatient care centers, RNs may face greater competition for these positions because they generally offer regular working hours and more comfortable working environments. Generally, RNs with at least a bachelor's degree will have better job prospects than those without a bachelor's. In addition, all four advanced practice specialties—clinical nurse specialists, nurse practitioners, nurse-midwives, and nurse anesthetists—will be in high demand, particularly in medically underserved areas such as inner cities and rural areas. Relative to physicians, these RNs increasingly serve as lower-cost primary care providers.

    Earnings

    Median annual wages of registered nurses were $62,450 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $51,640 and $76,570. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $43,410, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $92,240. Median annual wages in the industries employing the largest numbers of registered nurses in May 2008 were:

    Employment services $68,160
    General medical and surgical hospitals 63,880
    Offices of physicians 59,210
    Home health care services 58,740
    Nursing care facilities 57,060

    Many employers offer flexible work schedules, child care, educational benefits, and bonuses. About 21 percent of registered nurses are union members or covered by union contract.

    Sources of Additional Information

    For information on a career as a registered nurse and nursing education, contact:

    • National League for Nursing, 61 Broadway, 33rd Floor, New York, NY 10006. Internet: http://www.nln.org

    For information on baccalaureate and graduate nursing education, nursing career options, and financial aid, contact:

    • American Association of Colleges of Nursing, 1 Dupont Circle NW., Suite 530, Washington, DC 20036. Internet: http://www.aacn.nche.edu

    For additional information on registered nurses, including credentialing, contact:

    • American Nurses Association, 8515 Georgia Ave., Suite 400, Silver Spring, MD 20910. Internet: http://nursingworld.org

    For information on the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) and a list of individual State boards of nursing, contact:

    • National Council of State Boards of Nursing, 111 E. Wacker Dr., Suite 2900, Chicago, IL 60601. Internet: http://www.ncsbn.org

    For a list of accredited clinical nurse specialist programs, contact:

    • National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists, 2090 Linglestown Rd., Suite 107, Harrisburg, PA 17110. Internet: http://www.nacns.org

    For information on nurse anesthetists, including a list of accredited programs, contact:

    • American Association of Nurse Anesthetists, 222 S. Prospect Ave., Park Ridge, IL 60068. Internet: http://www.aana.com/

    For information on nurse-midwives, including a list of accredited programs, contact:

    • American College of Nurse-Midwives, 8403 Colesville Rd., Suite 1550, Silver Spring, MD 20910. Internet: http://www.midwife.org

    For information on nurse practitioners, including a list of accredited programs, contact:

    • American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, P.O. Box 12846, Austin, TX 78711. Internet: http://www.aanp.org

    For additional information on registered nurses in all fields and specialties, contact:

    • American Society of Registered Nurses, 1001 Bridgeway, Suite 233, Sausalito, CA 94965. Internet: http://www.asrn.org

    Information on obtaining Nursing positions with the Federal Government is available from the Office of Personnel Management through USAJOBS, the Federal Government's official employment information system. This resource for locating and applying for job opportunities can be accessed through the Internet at http://www.usajobs.gov or through an interactive voice response telephone system at (703) 724–1850 or  (703) 724–1850  or TDD (978) 461–8404 and   (978) 461–8404. These numbers are not toll free, and charges may result. For advice on how to find and apply for Federal jobs, download the Insider's Guide to the Federal Hiring Process” online here.

    Sources:

    • Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition; and
    • Office of Personnel Management, Position Classification Standards.

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