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Field description

Nurses work to promote health, prevent disease and help patients cope with illness. They are advocates and health educators for patients, families and communities. When providing direct patient care, they observe, assess and record patient symptoms, reactions and progress.

Nurses collaborate with physicians in performing treatments and examinations, administering medications, and providing direct patient care in convalescence and rehabilitation. They work in an environment that is constantly changing to provide the best possible care for patients. Nurses are continuously learning about the latest technology as well as considering the evidence that their nursing practice is based upon.

Mayo Clinic School of Health Sciences provides exceptional clinical training experiences through many affiliated nursing education programs.

Job types

The field of nursing offers several levels of practice, each with different educational requirements. There are many excellent nursing programs throughout the United States.

Programs are offered for:

  • Licensed practical nurse
  • Registered nurse — associate degree
  • Registered nurse — bachelor's degree
  • Advanced clinical practice registered nurse — master's and doctoral degrees
  • Registered nurses with advanced training in education, research, administration, transcultural nursing, nursing leadership and information technology — master's and doctoral degrees

Licensed practical nurse

Under the supervision of registered nurses and physicians, licensed practical nurses (L.P.N.s) may care for patients of all ages. Using learned technical skills, licensed practical nurses assist patients in meeting their physical and psychosocial needs. They also administer medications and perform treatments.

Many employment opportunities are available to L.P.N.s in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and home care. Graduates are awarded a diploma or certificate in practical nursing and are eligible to apply to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN).

Registered nurse: Associate degree

The associate degree nursing program is designed to prepare graduates who administer safe, patient-centered nursing care in hospitals, home settings, nursing homes, clinics and other health care facilities. Graduates are awarded an Associate of Science degree in nursing and are eligible to apply to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN).

Registered nurse: Bachelor's degree with a major in nursing

The bachelor's degree in nursing is designed to provide opportunities for students to develop a sound theoretical and clinical foundation for the practice of professional (registered) nursing. Graduates are prepared for a variety of roles in hospitals, nursing homes and community health settings.

Nurses with bachelor's degrees can practice in their community with responsibility for health promotion, disease prevention, and caring for individuals, families and communities. An understanding of people and how they adapt to the environment is essential to the provision of these health care services. Graduates are awarded a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing and are eligible to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN).

Advanced clinical practice registered nurse and other advanced training: Master's degree and doctoral degree (Ph.D., D.N.P.)

Graduate study in nursing is designed to expand students' base of theoretical knowledge in nursing. Through scholarly inquiry, nurses in the master's program are prepared to manage and facilitate complex health care in many settings. The master's-prepared nurse may assume roles such as clinical nurse specialist, nurse educator, nurse practitioner, nurse-midwife, nurse anesthetist or nurse administrator.

Doctoral programs prepare nurse scholars who generate, expand and disseminate nursing knowledge. They assume roles in practice, research and education as advanced clinicians, administrators, educators, researchers or policymakers.

Nursing is a profession in which your education, knowledge, skills and experiences provide career flexibility and variety and can offer continued advancement and growth.

Career opportunities

Nursing is the largest health care occupation and one of the top occupations projected to have the largest numbers of new jobs through 2022, according to the Department of Labor. Opportunities should be excellent for nurses with advanced education and training.

Some states report current and projected shortages of nurses, primarily due to an aging workforce and recent declines in nursing school enrollments.

Faster than average growth also will be driven by technological advances in patient care, which permit nurses to treat more medical problems, and an increasing emphasis on preventive care. In addition, the number of older people, who are much more likely than younger people to need nursing care, is projected to grow rapidly.

As nursing positions expand beyond the traditional hospital nursing roles, nurses have increased options and flexibility. In today's integrated health care networks, nurses may rotate among employment settings.

Facilities or areas in which nurses typically are employed include:

  • Hospitals
  • Clinics or offices
  • Nursing homes
  • Home health
  • Public health
  • Occupational health or industrial nurse
  • Leadership positions
  • Teaching positions at hospitals, colleges and universities

Overviews of each area:

  • Hospitals. Nurses working in hospitals comprise the largest group of nurses. Most are staff nurses, who provide bedside nursing care and carry out medical regimens. They also may supervise licensed practical nurses and nursing aides. Hospital nurses usually are assigned to one area, such as medical, surgery, obstetrics, pediatrics, emergency room, intensive care or treatment of cancer patients. Some may rotate among departments.

    Employment in hospitals is expected to grow more slowly than in other health care sectors. While the intensity of nursing care is likely to increase, requiring a higher nurse-to-patient ratio, the number of inpatients — those who remain in the hospital for more than 24 hours — is not likely to increase. Patients are being discharged earlier, and more procedures are being done on an outpatient basis.

  • Clinics or offices. Clinic or office nurses care for outpatients in physicians' offices, clinics, surgery centers and emergency medical centers. They prepare patients for and assist with examinations, administer injections and medications, dress wounds and incisions, assist with minor surgery, and maintain records. Some also perform routine laboratory and office work.

    An increasing proportion of sophisticated procedures, which once were performed only in hospitals, are being performed in physicians' offices and clinics, including ambulatory surgery centers and emergency medical centers. Accordingly, employment is expected to grow faster than average in these health care settings, especially in facilities providing same-day surgery, rehabilitation and chemotherapy.

  • Nursing homes. Nursing home nurses manage nursing care for residents with conditions ranging from a bone fracture to Alzheimer's disease. Although they often spend much of their time on administrative and supervisory tasks, RNs also assess residents' health conditions, develop treatment plans, supervise licensed practical nurses and nursing aides, and perform difficult procedures such as starting intravenous fluids. They also work in specialty care departments, such as long-term rehabilitation units for patients with strokes and head injuries.

    Employment in nursing homes is expected to grow faster than average due to increases in the number of elderly, many of whom require long-term care. In addition, the financial pressure on hospitals to discharge patients as soon as possible may result in more nursing home admissions. Growth in units that provide specialized long-term rehabilitation for stroke and head injury patients, or that treat people with Alzheimer's disease, also will increase employment of nurses.

  • Home health. Home health nurses provide periodic services to patients in their homes. After assessing patients' home environments, home health nurses care for and instruct patients and their families. Home health nurses care for a broad range of patients, such as those recovering from illnesses and accidents, cancer, and childbirth. They must be able to work independently and may supervise home health aides.

    Employment in home health care is expected to grow rapidly. This is in response to the growing number of older people with functional disabilities, consumer preference for care in the home, and technological advances that make it possible to bring increasingly complex treatments into the home. The type of care demanded will require nurses who are able to perform complex procedures.

  • Public health. Public health nurses work in government and private agencies and clinics, schools, retirement communities, and other community settings. They focus on populations, working with individuals, groups and families to improve the overall health of communities. They also work as partners with communities to plan and implement programs.

    Public health nurses instruct individuals, families and other groups about health issues, disease prevention, nutrition and child care. They arrange for immunizations, blood pressure testing and other health screening. These nurses also work with community leaders, teachers, parents and physicians in community health education.

  • Occupational health or industrial nurses. Occupational health or industrial nurses provide nursing care at work sites to employees, customers and others with minor injuries and illnesses. They provide emergency care, prepare accident reports and arrange for further care if necessary. They also offer health counseling, assist with health examinations and inoculations, and assess work environments to identify potential health or safety problems.
  • Leadership positions. Nurse managers, nurse supervisors or nurse administrators direct nursing activities. They plan work schedules and assign duties to nurses and aides, provide or arrange for training, and visit patients to observe nurses and ensure proper delivery of care. They also may see that records are maintained and equipment and supplies are ordered.
  • Teaching positions at hospitals, colleges and universities. Nursing education positions in hospitals are necessary to provide orientation and staff development as well as confirm nursing competency. Nurse educators at universities and colleges are in high demand and are vital in educating new nurses.

Earnings potential

Median earnings of registered nurses were $33.13 an hour in 2013. According to a survey of hospitals across the United States, the national median salary of hospital-based registered nurses in 2013 was $33.94 an hour. The median L.P.N. earnings were $20.63 an hour in 2013. These represent base pay only, as earnings such as shift differentials provide additional compensation.

The median annual earnings for a clinical nurse specialist were $80,071.

Many employers offer flexible work schedules, child care, educational benefits and bonuses.

Professional organizations

March 08, 2017