What is a Nurse?

Do you love to help others and want to have a career that would allow you to make a real difference in the lives of others? You may want to consider becoming a nurse. There are three education paths that you can take to achieve this goal.

What is Nursing?

Nursing is defined by the American Nurses Association as “the protection, promotion and optimization of health and abilities, prevention of illness and injury, alleviation of suffering through the diagnosis and treatment of human response, and advocacy in the care of individuals, families, communities, and populations.”

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that registered nurses held about 2.7 million jobs in 2012, making up the largest workforce within the healthcare industry.

What Do Nurses Do?

Registered Nurses or RNs are involved in almost all the aspects of a patient’s care. Not only do they provide and coordinate the care of a patient, nurses are also responsible for educating them about their health, and provide advice and emotional support to the patient’s family.

A registered nurse’s tasks typically include recording patients’ medical histories and symptoms; administering medicine and treatments; observing patients and recording their observations; operating and monitoring medical equipment; and, consulting with doctors and other healthcare professionals regarding the patients in their care. They can be given more duties depending on the type and level of their nursing role. Nurses can also obtain additional certifications, or get Master’s degrees in order to specialize in a medical specialty, such as pediatric nursing, critical care nursing, cardiac nursing, rehabilitation nursing, or oncology nursing, to name a few.

In addition, there are registered nurses who oversee licensed practical nurses, nursing assistants and home health aides.

There are nurses whose jobs do not require them to work with patients directly, such as nurse educators, healthcare consultants, researchers or hospital administrators. However, they will still need to have an active registered nurse license in order to work.

Where Can Nurses Find Work?

Registered nurses can work in various settings. In fact, wherever doctors work, nurses can work, too. Nurses can find work in hospitals, physician’s offices, school clinics, nursing homes and home health care services. There are also job opportunities for nurses in correctional facilities, cruise ships, pharmaceutical companies, and even in the military.

Work Environment and Schedule

The very nature of a registered nurse’s job puts them at risk for illnesses and injuries. They come into close contact with patients who have infectious diseases, as well as with harmful and hazardous drugs and substances. Nurses spend most of the day walking, standing, bending or stretching. They are often tasked with lifting and moving patients from stretchers or wheelchairs to hospital beds and vice versa, making them vulnerable to back injuries.

Caring for patients is a round-the-clock job, so most registered nurses work in shifts. Those who are employed by institutions that provide 24/7 care are expected to work nights, weekends and holidays, or have on-call days off. However, those who work in school campuses, or other places that do not provide round-the-clock care work regular business hours.

Becoming a Nurse

There are three educational approaches you can choose from if you want to become a nurse: a diploma in nursing program, an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN), or a bachelor’s of science degree in nursing (BSN).

Diploma programs in nursing are the least common of all available nursing programs. These types of programs take three years or more and consist of classroom and clinical instruction. Most registered nurses with diplomas usually pursue undergraduate degrees in nursing eventually.

Associate’s degree programs in nursing are widely available and are designed to be completed within two years. Instruction takes place in classroom and clinical settings in order to provide students with the technical applications of nursing. Many registered nurses who hold ADNs opt to go back to school to earn bachelor’s degrees.

Bachelor’s degree programs in nursing are comprehensive four-year programs. Those who complete BSN degrees may have increased career advancement opportunities than those who hold diplomas or associate’s degrees. Aside from their classroom instruction, students are also given supervised clinical experience in healthcare settings.

Registered Nurse Licensure

All states require registered nurses to obtain licensure upon completion of their state-approved nursing program. They must pass the National Council Licensure Examination or NCLEX-RN. There are varying licensure requirements by state.