What is a Registered Nurse

If you're looking for a job that will provide a lot of opportunities, you've come to the right place. Registered nurses are needed everywhere to provide patient care and educate patients about various health conditions.

All registered nurses need to be licensed, but there are three different ways you can go about it. One is earning a bachelor's degree in nursing. Another is to obtain an associate's degree in nursing. Or receive a diploma from a nursing program.

What Does a Registered Nurse Do

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.

Learn more about what a Registered Nurse does

How To Become a Registered Nurse

Registered nurses usually take one of three education paths: a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing (BSN), an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN), or a diploma from an approved nursing program. Registered nurses also must be licensed.


In all nursing education programs, students take courses in anatomy, physiology, microbiology, chemistry, nutrition, psychology, and other social and behavioral sciences, as well as in liberal arts. BSN programs typically take 4 years to complete; ADN and diploma programs usually take 2 to 3 years to complete. All programs include supervised clinical experience.

Bachelor’s degree programs usually include additional education in the physical and social sciences, communication, leadership, and critical thinking. These programs also offer more clinical experience in nonhospital settings. A bachelor’s degree or higher is often necessary for administrative positions, research, consulting, and teaching.

Generally, licensed graduates of any of the three types of education programs (bachelor’s, associate’s, or diploma) qualify for entry-level positions as a staff nurse. However, employers—particularly those in hospitals—may require a bachelor’s degree.

Many registered nurses with an ADN or diploma choose to go back to school to earn a bachelor’s degree through an RN-to-BSN program. There are also master’s degree programs in nursing, combined bachelor’s and master’s programs, and accelerated programs for those who wish to enter the nursing profession and already hold a bachelor’s degree in another field. Some employers offer tuition reimbursement.

Clinical nurse specialists (CNSs) must earn a master’s degree in nursing and typically already have 1 or more years of work experience as an RN or in a related field. CNSs who conduct research typically need a doctoral degree.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

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 (NCLEX-RN).

Other requirements for licensing vary by state. Each state’s board of nursing can give details. For more information on the NCLEX-RN and a list of state boards of nursing, visit the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.

Nurses may become certified through professional associations in specific areas, such as ambulatory care, gerontology, and pediatrics, among others. Although certification is usually voluntary, it demonstrates adherence to a higher standard, and some employers require it.

CNSs must satisfy additional state licensing requirements, such as earning specialty certifications. Contact state boards of nursing for specific requirements.

Important Qualities

Critical-thinking skills. Registered nurses must be able to assess changes in the health status of patients, including determining when to take corrective action and when to make referrals.

Communication skills. Registered nurses must be able to communicate effectively with patients in order to understand their concerns and assess their health conditions. Nurses need to explain instructions, such as how to take medication, clearly. They must be able to work in teams with other health professionals and communicate the patients’ needs.

Compassion. Registered nurses should be caring and empathetic 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 resilience and the ability to manage their emotions 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 appropriate care.

Physical stamina. Nurses should be comfortable performing physical tasks, such as moving patients. They may be on their feet for most of their shift.


Most registered nurses begin as staff nurses in hospitals or community health settings. With experience, good performance, and continuous education, they can move to other settings or be promoted to positions with more responsibility.

In management, nurses can advance from assistant clinical nurse manager, charge nurse, or head nurse to more senior-level administrative roles, such as assistant director or director of nursing, vice president of nursing, or chief nursing officer. Increasingly, management-level nursing positions are requiring a graduate degree in nursing or health services administration. Administrative positions require leadership, communication skills, negotiation skills, and good judgment.

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 registered nurses for jobs in health planning and development, marketing, consulting, policy development, and quality assurance.

Some RNs choose to become nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, or nurse practitioners, which, along with clinical nurse specialists, are types of advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). APRNs may provide primary and specialty care, and in many states they may prescribe medications.

Other nurses work as postsecondary teachers in colleges and universities.

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Average Salary for a Registered Nurse

Registered Nurses in America make an average salary of $63,827 per year or $31 per hour. The top 10 percent makes over $88,000 per year, while the bottom 10 percent under $46,000 per year.
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Registered Nurse Resumes

Designing and figuring out what to include on your resume can be tough, not to mention time-consuming. That's why we put together a guide that is designed to help you craft the perfect resume for becoming a Registered Nurse. If you're needing extra inspiration, take a look through our selection of templates that are specific to your job.

Learn How To Write a Registered Nurse Resume

At Zippia, we went through countless Registered Nurse resumes and compiled some information about how to optimize them. Here are some suggestions based on what we found, divided by the individual sections of the resume itself.

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Registered Nurse Demographics

Registered Nurse Gender Statistics


81.9 %


13.6 %


4.5 %

Registered Nurse Ethnicity Statistics


69.2 %

Black or African American

12.6 %

Hispanic or Latino

8.0 %

Registered Nurse Foreign Languages Spoken Statistics


58.5 %


8.0 %


4.8 %
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Registered Nurse Education

Registered Nurse Majors

85.1 %

Registered Nurse Degrees


45.6 %


43.5 %


4.7 %

Top Colleges for Registered Nurses

1. Duke University

Durham, NC • Private

In-State Tuition

2. University of Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, PA • Private

In-State Tuition

3. Yale University

New Haven, CT • Private

In-State Tuition

4. University of Michigan - Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor, MI • Private

In-State Tuition

5. Georgetown University

Washington, DC • Private

In-State Tuition

6. University of California - Los Angeles

Los Angeles, CA • Private

In-State Tuition

7. University of Virginia

Charlottesville, VA • Private

In-State Tuition

8. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill, NC • Private

In-State Tuition

9. Columbia University in the City of New York

New York, NY • Private

In-State Tuition

10. Chamberlain College of Nursing - Arlington

Arlington, VA • Private

In-State Tuition
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Online Courses For Registered Nurse That You May Like

Vohra Wound Care Certification for Facility-Based Nurses
edX (Global)

The Vohra Wound Care Certification program was developed by Vohra Wound Physicians. Vohra is the largest group of wound physicians in the United States, with more than 20 years of clinical experience providing wound care services to more than 3000 skilled nursing facilities in 30 states, with thousands of patients treated every month. We believe every patient, family, nurse, and caregiver can be empowered through education. Hundreds of thousands of people have already benefited from this course...

Vohra Wound Care Certification for Facility-Based Nurses
edX (Global)

Vohra’s expert physicians developed this advanced wound care program to help you deliver excellent healthcare: Understand the latest, most innovative wound care techniques and treatment options Identify the different types of wounds and recommended treatment plan for non-healing wounds Review the primary wound dressing options and wound care products Treat wound patients confidently, leading to improved medical outcomes Benefit from an enhanced knowledge share from Vohra´s healthcare...

Introduction to Integrative Nursing

This course is designed for nurses who are drawn to practice in a different way - nurses who value whole-person care and know that the essence of nursing practice is truly caring and healing. You will learn about the principles and practices of Integrative Nursing and how you can be a healing presence to all you serve. Then, you will do an integrative assessment and apply the principles of Integrative Nursing to improve symptom management and overall patient outcomes. Finally, you will explore w...

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Top Skills For a Registered Nurse

The skills section on your resume can be almost as important as the experience section, so you want it to be an accurate portrayal of what you can do. Luckily, we've found all of the skills you'll need so even if you don't have these skills yet, you know what you need to work on. Out of all the resumes we looked through, 20.9% of registered nurses listed rn on their resume, but soft skills such as communication skills and compassion are important as well.

12 Registered Nurse RESUME EXAMPLES

Best States For a Registered Nurse

Some places are better than others when it comes to starting a career as a registered nurse. The best states for people in this position are California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Alaska. Registered nurses make the most in California with an average salary of $96,083. Whereas in Hawaii and Oregon, they would average $83,589 and $81,743, respectively. While registered nurses would only make an average of $80,657 in Alaska, you would still make more there than in the rest of the country. We determined these as the best states based on job availability and pay. By finding the median salary, cost of living, and using the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Location Quotient, we narrowed down our list of states to these four.

1. Alaska

Total Registered Nurse Jobs:
Highest 10% Earn:
Location Quotient:
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

2. New Mexico

Total Registered Nurse Jobs:
Highest 10% Earn:
Location Quotient:
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

3. Nevada

Total Registered Nurse Jobs:
Highest 10% Earn:
Location Quotient:
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here
Full List Of Best States For Registered Nurses

How Do Registered Nurse Rate Their Jobs?

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Poor work life balance January 2020


Zippia Official LogoPoor work life balance January 2020

What do you like the most about working as Registered Nurse?

The feeling I get when helping people. Show More

What do you NOT like?

Nursing isn’t what it was 12yrs ago when I started. It is all about “family centered care” and not what is actually best for the patient. Not only am I a nurse and caring for the patient, but I’m the house keeper, waitress, and coffee go getter. There is no more respect for nurses and their patients. Show More

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DirectorJune 2019


Zippia Official LogoDirectorJune 2019

What do you like the most about working as Registered Nurse?

Patient Care Show More

What do you NOT like?

Business people micromanaging and wanting more from clinical staff without providing proper pay or incentives. Show More

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Registered professional nurseMarch 2019


Zippia Official LogoRegistered professional nurseMarch 2019

What do you like the most about working as Registered Nurse?

The People I meet, the problems I help solve Show More

What do you NOT like?

Significant time restraints with each person/problem I am faced with. Long hours. Show More

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Top Registered Nurse Employers

We've made finding a great employer to work for easy by doing the hard work for you. We looked into employers that employ registered nurses and discovered their number of registered nurse opportunities and average salary. Through our research, we concluded that Maxim Healthcare Services was the best, especially with an average salary of $68,233. DaVita follows up with an average salary of $69,558, and then comes St. Joseph Hospital with an average of $54,244. In addition, we know most people would rather work from home. So instead of having to change careers, we identified the best employers for remote work as a registered nurse. The employers include Anthem, DaVita, and Molina Healthcare

Registered Nurse Videos

Registered Nurse FAQs

Can you become an RN in two years?

Yes, you can become a registered nurse (RN) in two years. An RN can start with a vocational degree (one to two years) or an associate's degree (two years) in nursing after passing the exam.

Once the educational requirements are met, an applicant must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) to become licensed by the State.

The NCLEX-RN is divided into four main areas of focus; providing a safe and effective care environment, health promotion and maintenance, psychosocial integrity, and physiological integrity. Most applicants spend one to two months preparing for the exam.

In 2018, roughly 43% of registered nurses were required to have a bachelor's degree, 31% were required to have a vocational associate's degree, and 20% were required to have an associate's degree. Most RNs who have an associate's degree go on to get their Bachelor's of Science in Nursing (BSN).

The two-year nursing programs can be of two types; associate's degree in nursing ADN or an associate of science in nursing (ASN). There is also the option to complete a licensed practical nursing (LPN) or licensed vocational nursing (LVN) program, which can take as little as one year.

The main difference between them is that an LPN / LVN is not technically a degree in nursing, the applicant must pass the NCLEX-PN exam in order to obtain a license to practice nursing, and some states may require further credentials.

The ADN or the Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) is a two to a three-year program and is considered the entry-level for nursing. The difference in mean annual salary for those with an ADN or ASN (Mean Salary: $75,330) is substantially higher compared to someone with an LPN/LVN (Mean Salary: $48,820).

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How hard is it to be a registered nurse?

It is quite hard to become a registered nurse. In terms of education and training, the minimum requirement to become a registered nurse (RN) is an associate's degree and a passing grade on the NCLEX-RN exam. The coursework and exam requirements, however, require a lot of studying and class time.

On average, it takes between two to four years for most people to become a registered nurse (RN), but most RNs have a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) or higher. A BSN compared to a two-year degree is more likely to open the door to career advancements and higher salaries.

Nursing school itself is no walk in the park. It requires taking advanced biology and anatomy courses, as well as courses in nursing administration and computers. It requires a lot of studying, with a lot of information that must be retained in a short amount of time.

The NCLEX is considered to be difficult but has a decent pass rate (87%) for first-time takers. Nursing applicants typically spend about one to two months preparing for the exam.

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How long does it take to become a certified nurse?

It takes between two to four years to become a certified nurse. The amount of time needed depends on the specific nursing program. While an Associate's Degree in Nursing (two-year program) is technically the fastest way to become a registered nurse, employers tend to favor applicants with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).

The best part of going to nursing school is there are no prerequisites. If you are a graduate in another field, many nursing programs offer accelerated BSN programs in as little as 16-months.

Differences in nursing programs completion times:
  • Licensed vocational nurse LVN: One to two-year program

  • Licensed practical nurse (LPN): One to two-year program

  • Associated Degree (ADN): Two-year program

  • Bachelors of Science in Nursing - Four-year program

  • Masters of Science in Nursing - Five-year program

  • Doctorate in Science in Nursing - Eight to ten-year program

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Is there a difference between a nurse and a registered nurse?

No, there is no difference between a nurse and a registered nurse. A nurse is an umbrella term used for any type of nurse, from RN to caretaker.

A registered nurse (RN) has met their state's education and training requirements, a background check to verify that they do not have a criminal background, and have passed their national board examination (NCLEX-RN).

There is also LVN (licensed vocational nurse) or LPN (licensed practical nurse). The main difference between these groups is that an EN assesses and develops care plans while LPN and LVN observes and follows instructions.

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What kind of nurses get paid the most?

Anesthetist Registered Nurses (ARN) get paid the most of any nurse. An ARN earns a mean annual salary of $181,040 ($88.26 per hour).

ARNs are paid the highest because they are highly skilled in preparing and administering anesthesia to patients in collaboration with surgeons, anesthesiologists, dentists, and similar health professionals.

Becoming an ARN is an extremely difficult process that requires many years of school and work experience. It takes 11-years to become an ARN. An ARN needs a Bachelor of Science in not only Nursing and a Masters of Science in Nursing, but also a Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Program and additional 2.6-years of critical care experience.

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