Learn About Being a Nurse

By Indeed Editorial Team

December 10, 2019

What does a nurse do?

Nurses are highly trained health care professionals who provide care, support, treatment and advocacy for patients. They play a vital role in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and the community. Nurses can work with many different patients, from newborn babies to the elderly. They treat sick people and work with healthy individuals to assist with education and promotion of healthy lifestyles. Depending on the specialty of the nurse and the organization they work for, there is a wide range of responsibilities they may have and duties they could perform, including:

  • Monitoring and observing patient health and vital signs 

  • Performing diagnostic tests

  • Operating medical devices

  • Dispensing medications and treatments as necessary

  • Taking medical histories from patients

  • Providing advice and education about health and well-being and how to manage illnesses

  • Creating plans for patient care in collaboration with the medical team

  • Assisting doctors in performing medical procedures

Average salary

Nurses are employed in a broad range of settings, and salaries vary according to qualifications, experience and size of the employer. For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the salary link.

  • Common salary in the U.S.: $28.90 per hour

  • Some salaries range from $11.75 to $66.80 per hour.

Nurse requirements

Nurses require extensive education and training to provide excellent levels of care to their patients. The following are requirements to obtain a nursing role:

Education

There are different levels of qualifications that exist in a nursing career. The most frequently chosen path is as a registered nurse (RN). To become an RN, you must earn at least an associate’s degree. You may find in your state that most employers prefer their nurses to hold bachelor’s degrees. Community colleges, vocational schools and specialized nursing schools offer associate degrees. Associate degrees for nurses include the Associate Degree in nursing (ADN), the Associate of Science in nursing (ASN) and the Associate of Applied Science in nursing (AASN). These degrees require two and sometimes three years of full-time study. Classes will include human anatomy and physiology, foundation sciences, pharmacology, medical law and ethics, computer technology, clinical nursing skills and health assessment.

Bachelor’s degrees in nursing are four years long and involve longer and more in-depth study of health promotion, evidence-based clinical practice and training that is specific to patient groups such as the elderly or neonates or conditions such as cancer or cardiovascular care.

In addition to the role of RN, nursing careers include licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and licensed vocational nurses (LVNs). These titles are for entry-level nurses who work with the supervision of an RN. These two roles are similar, and the titles are location-dependent, with different states designating the position either LPN or LVN. To become an LPN or LVN, you will need to gain your high school diploma or GED equivalent before enrolling in an accredited nursing education program. 

The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) accredits the LPN and LVN programs that you can find in community colleges or vocational schools. Most courses are year-long, although some colleges offer seven-month courses or part-time programs lasting two years. Classes cover primary nursing care, nutrition, biology, anatomy, physiology and geriatric, pediatric and surgical nursing. Some LPNs and LVNs choose to earn an associate degree instead to make them a competitive employment candidate.

Training

Nurses receive extensive training through the completion of practical or clinical hours in their education program. Additionally, any new job that you begin as a nurse typically includes an extensive program of training, especially for entry-level nurses. An orientation program will help you to transition into your new role and to ensure that you are fully able to provide excellent care for the patients in your charge. 

Your employer will familiarize you with the type of patient you are likely to care for in your employment and the range of injuries and illnesses that are the most common. You will shadow a more experienced nurse during the first few weeks of your work. Apart from the practical training with patients, your training will likely also encompass classes on health and safety, infection control, hospital policies and administrative procedures. 

Certification

Licenses are required by law to practice as a nurse. Some state requirements may vary, but to become licensed, nurses have to pass an exam:

National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN)

This exam for RNs is accredited by The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) is the most essential to the role as it is a legal requisite. The exam is 90% multiple-choice questions. For the other questions, you will need to look at charts, graphs and audio-clips. The questions are shown one at a time on the computer monitor. You are allowed up to six hours to complete the test, which covers infection control, health promotion, physiological integrity and psychosocial integrity.

National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN)

Similarly to the NCLEX-RN, this exam is accredited by the ANCC and offered to LPN or LVN-level nurses.

Further optional certifications act as clear indicators to employers that you are a healthcare professional who wants to progress in your career. They allow you to demonstrate you have the level of education and technical skills needed for the role. Because the role of a nurse is so varied, there are a large number of certifications available, including:

Medical-Surgical Nursing Certification

With this certification accredited by the ANCC, you can use the designation RN-BC, or board certified. The test allows 3.5 hours to answer 175 questions and the ANCC provides free training materials. This certification is for nurses who assist during surgeries and work on surgical wards.

HIV/AIDS Certified Registered Nurse Certification

This certification is offered by the Association of Nurses in Aids Care (ANAC). This exam has 250 multiple-choice, objective questions and an allowed four hours to answer. The outline for the exam includes epidemiology and prevention, clinical manifestations, ethics, psychosocial issues and institutional issues. ANAC provides study resources.

Oncology Certified Nurse

Offered by the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation (ONCC), to earn this certification you must have a minimum of 2,000 hours of adult oncology nursing hours in the four years proceeding the examination and ten hours of continuing nursing education in oncology. The exam is three hours’ duration with 165 multiple-choice questions. 

Skills

To progress in a nursing career, you will need a range of skills that include:

  • Compassion: Nurses care for people in pain or suffering. They must have empathy for patients and wish to alleviate as much of their discomfort as possible. Nurses need to treat with compassion and provide emotional reassurance to patients and their families.

  • Communication: Effective listening and speaking are a large part of a nurse’s role. They must be able to attentively listen to what patients are saying and be able to communicate with them, their families and the other members of the medical team. 

  • Attention to detail: You must pay attention to detail because your actions can have severe effects on patients’ health. Nurses must read and follow instructions from physicians carefully. They must also be able to take accurate patient notes.

Nurse work environment

Nurses can find employment in a wide range of settings, from large, multi-department hospitals to small and medium-sized clinics or schools. They could work in the home of their patient or travel to many different patients’ homes each day. Working hours can be full or part time and the scheduling of the working hours depends on the employer. Some community nurses working with healthy individuals may work standard hours. Those working in hospitals cover rotating shifts. 

Nurses spend the majority of their working hours interacting with patients and their families. They may consult with patients in a hospital ward, a clinic, a community building, their own home or in the surgical theater. They have administrative tasks to carry out to maintain patient records. In a hospital or clinic, there will usually be an office to do this, or you may complete notes in your own or the client’s home.

The role of a nurse could include the following aspects:

  • Extended periods of standing and walking while caring for patients

  • Lifting medical equipment and supplies

  • Repeated bending and stretching

How to become a nurse

Following these steps will help you to become a nurse:

1. Gain the desired level of education. 

Review the job listings for nurses in your state so that you understand the level of education that you can be expected to have. If you want to begin as an RN, then you will need at least an associate’s degree, and if you are looking for an entry-level LPN position, then you will need your high school diploma and an accredited nursing program.

2. Qualify for your state license.

This step is a legal necessity and you must have completed licensure to begin work.

3. Gain additional certifications.

Some employers state that specific certifications are necessary, and certifications can help you to be a competitive job candidate.  

4. Create your resume.

Include your highest level of education, certifications, work history and the soft skills that will make you an excellent nurse. A good resume could be the key to finding a position as a nurse.

5. Apply for jobs.

Search your local job listings to find nursing positions you are qualified for. You may need several years of experience or to have worked with specific sectors of patients for some employers. Adapt your resume and cover letter for each application for employment that you make.

Nurse job description example

The Children’s Hospital is seeking a registered nurse to provide treatment programs to our patients. The RN will be a vital member of our team, who acts as a liaison between our medical department, insurance agencies, patients and their families. You will be charged with the daily care of patients, diagnosis of potential health problems, implementing treatment plans and other job roles as necessary. You must be able to work with minimal supervision. 

Qualifications:

  • Current state licensure

  • Current Certification in Pediatric Nursing

  • At least three years’ experience in a similar role

Related careers

  • Home health nurse

  • Health administrator

  • Nurse practitioner

  • ER nurse

  • Physician assistant

  • Neonatal nurse

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