Staff Nurse vs. RN: What's the Difference?
Updated December 5, 2023
If you enjoy helping people, consider choosing a career as a registered nurse or staff nurse. While there are many different types of nursing in the healthcare field, you can find a nursing role that is a perfect fit for your interests, budget and career goals. You can also decide to complete further education and training later in your career to work in new nursing areas. In this article, we explain what a staff nurse is, what a registered nurse is, and five differences between these two roles.
What is a staff nurse?
A staff nurse is a nonsupervisory nurse who provides routine healthcare to patients in a healthcare facility. This means that staff nurses typically report to higher-ranking nurses or healthcare professionals, such as nurse practitioners, advanced practice registered nurses, directors of nursing or doctors. The title of staff nurse typically refers to nurses who work in hospitals, but staff nurses can also work in nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities or psychiatric care facilities.
A staff nurse is a type of registered nurse, which means they have graduated from an accredited nursing program and passed the NCLEX-RN exam to earn a nursing license. Staff nurses perform duties such as greeting patients, assessing their health conditions and measuring vital signs like temperature, pulse rate, breathing rate, blood pressure and blood sugar levels. They help doctors with diagnostic testing, administer medications, prepare patients for discharge from the healthcare facility and provide aftercare or at-home care instructions for patients.
Staff nurses can work in specific areas of hospitals such as intensive care, emergency departments, childbirth and NICU units, medical-surgical units and pediatrics departments. They are also referred to as bedside nurses because they perform direct patient care and have a lot of contact and communication with patients. A staff nurse role can be an entry point to different jobs in nursing or a fulfilling hands-on career itself.
Read more: 16 Positions in Nursing Homes To Consider
What is an RN?
An RN is a registered nurse who has a diploma, associate degree in nursing (ADN) or bachelor's of science in nursing (BSN) from an accredited nursing program. They have completed training and licensure required by their state and country to fulfill Nursing Act competency requirements and properly practice healthcare. RNs provide general healthcare services, measuring patient vitals, recording patient history, monitoring medical equipment and assisting doctors. They can also be in charge of health screenings and blood drives, and may act as nurses in health clinics at schools.
RNs can become many different types of nurses, including a staff nurse. They can earn certification in special healthcare areas such as pediatrics, emergency, neonatal and psychiatric care. They can also pursue more advanced positions in management and administration, where they may supervise lower-ranking nurses and other healthcare team members.
For example, they can earn a master's degree and become a certified registered nurse practitioner (CRNP) with a specialization in a certain area such as childbirth. Or, they can pursue a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree and become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) where they could operate their own medical practice.
Read more: How to Become a School Nurse
Differences between a staff nurse vs. an RN
Hospitals and other healthcare facilities rank nurses on their level of education, training, licensure, certifications, specializations and years of experience. Different kinds of nurses often work together in healthcare environments. While a staff nurse is a type of RN, here are some differences between the two positions:
Education and training
The minimum requirement to become a staff nurse is earning a two-year associate degree in nursing. This qualifies you to take the NCLEX-RN and earn your registered nursing certification. RNs who want to become a different kind of a nurse than staff nurse often pursue additional education, like a four-year bachelor's degree and two-year master's degree in nursing (MSN), to gain supervisory skills for advanced nursing positions. They typically spend more time and money in school and training programs than staff nurses.
While both RNs and staff nurses need to earn at least a two-year associate degree in nursing, here are some other types of nursing positions that have fewer requirements:
Certified nursing assistant (CNA): Those in this role are not actually nurses, but they complete nursing training programs, assist nurses and can pursue careers in nursing. CNAs bathe patients, help them dress, eat and complete other daily activities, transfer them from their bed to wheelchairs if necessary and help them move around, exercise and complete recreational activities. They talk with them, listen to them and provide emotional support, and they administer basic first aid when necessary.
Licenced practical nurse (LPN): Also called licensed vocational nurse (LVN), LPNs can measure patient vitals, inserting catheters, starting IV drips and changing bandages. In order to become a LPN you need to complete a practical nursing diploma program and pass the NCLEX-PN exam.
Since RNs can work in surgical environments and as travel nurses while staff nurses typically work in hospitals or long-term healthcare facilities, their job duties can differ. Staff nurses are often responsible for bedside healthcare, such as monitoring patient recovery, helping them through rehabilitation programs and maintaining their personal hygiene.
Staff nurses may have more direct contact with patients than RNs and provide emotional support, especially to patients with mental disabilities. In contrast, RNs in management positions have more supervisory duties and are usually responsible for training junior nurses, scheduling staff work shifts, maintaining medical equipment, ordering supplies and providing human resources services.
Read more: How To Become a Travel Nurse
Salaries for most types of nurses depend on geographic location, the size of the hospital or healthcare facility, their specializations and certifications, their education levels and their years of experience. An RNs national average salary is $78,494 per year, and since staff nurses are registered nurses, their salary may be the same. Having RN certifications as a nurse can enable you to earn a higher salary and expand your job prospects. An RN who pursues a position as a nurse practitioner can earn an average salary of $113,936 per year.
Read more: 15 Average Salaries for Registered Nurses
For staff nurses, their work environment involves a lot of direct contact with patients in hospitals or long-term care settings. Since they often help patients complete daily activities and talk with them, staff nurses usually build personal and long-term friendships with their patients. RNs who work in a staff or bedside nursing position may have the same work environment. However, RNs who advance to management positions have more administrative duties and may spend more time in an office and supervising team members. They may also communicate more directly with physicians and other nurses.
Both RNs and staff nurses need similar skill sets to complete nursing programs and exams, such as a knowledge of human biology, anatomy and health. Staff nurses usually need patience, as sometimes they work with patients who are elderly or have mental illnesses and have many needs. They also practice interpersonal skills such as friendliness to ensure patients are comfortable and emotionally supported. RNs in leadership positions need strong organizational skills to manage staff members and maintain staff and patient records. They also use communication skills to guide patients and inform doctors about patients' conditions.
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