Job Outlook for Registered Nurses (RN)

By University Alliance
Registered Nurse (RN) job description and salary

The nursing profession, like healthcare in general, is in a state of change. The profession of nursing is becoming increasingly complex as patient care is moving out of hospitals and into outpatient and primary care settings. For years, the role of nurses has been evolving from a bedside caregiver to a specialized member of an interdisciplinary medical team.

RN Job Outlook

According to national data published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for nurses is expected to increase 26% by 2020, which is much faster than the average occupation. The BLS further states that registered nurses with at least a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) are expected to have the best job opportunities. Prospective students are encouraged to conduct independent research to determine actual job growth rates, which vary according to location, education and experience.

Many employers have instituted hiring policies which require all RNs to have BSN degrees. Others will employ RNs without a BSN, but require new RNs to complete their BSN degree within a certain amount of time.

RN Duties and Responsibilities

RNs perform a wide variety of job duties during their shifts, caring for and educating patients about their conditions, as well as establishing trust and building rapport with patients and their families. Same daily RN duties might include:

  • Working with a variety of patients, from pediatric to geriatric, or specializing in one of numerous possible areas such as neo-natal intensive care, cardiac care, neurologic care or dermatology
  • Observing and recording patient behavior
  • Consulting with physicians and other healthcare professionals
  • Establishing treatment plans, operating medical equipment
  • Supervising licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and certified nurse assistants (CNAs)
  • Performing diagnostic tests
  • Treating medical emergencies, such as heart attacks, strokes, car accidents and burns as well as recovering post-operative patients
  • Administering medications and treatments

Check out the new Nursing Specialization Career Guide

Work Environment

Most of the nation’s 2.7 million nurses work in medical and surgical hospital environments. The rest are typically employed in physicians’ offices, home health care services and nursing care facilities, along with government agencies, support services and educational services.

Nurses usually work in familiar healthcare facilities, but some work in patients’ homes, schools, community centers or office environments. Travel nurses go where RNs are in short supply, either around the U.S. or in foreign countries.

Many RNs spend a great deal of time standing and walking, along with bending and lifting. Back stress is a professional hazard because RNs often lift and move patients and equipment. Nurses are also in close contact with patients who have infectious diseases and must follow strict guidelines and protocols to protect their own health.

In hospitals and surgery centers, nursing schedules consist of rotating shifts to cover 24-hour patient care. The duration and number of shifts per week will vary according to the employer’s needs. Obviously, many hospital nurses work nights, weekends and holidays and may also be on call. 

RNs employed in alternative settings such as physicians’ offices, schools and community health centers typically work regular business hours. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, about 20% of nurses worked part-time in 2010.

RN Salary Range

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) conducted a national survey and reported RN salaries in May 2011. According to BLS data, registered nurses earned average salaries of $69,110. Reported salaries ranged from $44,970 for those in the lowest 10% to over $96,630 for RNs in the highest 90% of earners.

Because salary potential may vary depending on location, education and experience, prospective students are encouraged to conduct independent research to determine actual earning potential.

Career Outlook

A variety of exciting nursing positions and specialties are available in today’s dynamic healthcare industry. RN to BSN online programs prepare nurses to take on these expanded roles, where acute and coordinated care, advanced theory, critical thinking, and leadership skills are utilized each day. Among the career possibilities for highly skilled nurses are:

  • Chief Nursing Officer: Chief nursing officers (CNO) are responsible for facilitating the design and delivery of patient care, advancing the quality of relationships between staff and colleagues, and maintaining networks of care providers.
  • Nurse Anesthetist: Nurse Anesthetists are RNs who have obtained advanced education and training and are certified to administer anesthesia to patients during surgery, either independently or under the direction of an anesthesiologist. They evaluate patients during pre- and post-op examinations and plan the safest method of anesthesia for each patient.
  • Critical Care Nurse: Critical care nurses work with acutely ill patients in intensive care units, cardiac units, and neonatal and pediatric intensive care units, where complex diagnoses, high-intensity treatments and continual supervision are required.
  • Clinical Nurse Manager: Clinical nurse managers supervise nurses in a particular unit or area. They oversee budgets, patient records and employee performance and collaborate with other healthcare professionals to coordinate the delivery of quality patient care.
  • Labor and Delivery Nurse: Labor and delivery (LD) nurses care for women who are delivering babies. They monitor the mother and baby before and during the birth, and care for the newborn immediately after. LD nurses assist with delivery and treating any complications that arise, and provide support and education for new mothers and their families.
  • Patient Educator: Patient educators work with patients and their families, helping them make informed decisions about their health and treatment. They also focus on preventative care by teaching patients positive health behaviors and skills needed to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Today’s RNs are relied upon for their critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and are expected to possess a much broader base of knowledge, including humanities, social sciences, and data analysis. RNs are in demand across the country, but increasingly, employers are seeking those with the advanced skills and clinical knowledge that is obtained through BSN programs. 


Category: Nursing