Registered nurses (RNs) are a critical link between physicians and patients.  Regardless of specialty or work setting they coordinate and provide care for patients, give advice and offer emotional support to patients and their families, and educate both patients and the general public about a wide variety of health conditions.

The healthcare industry is one of the few career fields that, despite continued national economic concerns hires at a rapid pace.  According to All Healthcare the top in-demand healthcare occupation is registered nurse.  As healthcare advances and people living longer, the demand for registered nurses will continue to rise.  For those on the path toward becoming a registered nurse, abundant job prospects and ample opportunities await.

Career Overview

The majority of RNs work directly with patients as staff nurses in hospitals, nursing care facilities, or work for home health care services.  Others work as nurse educators, healthcare consultants, public policy advisors, researchers, hospital administrators, salespeople for pharmaceutical and medical supply companies, and medical writers.  Career advancement for RNs includes nursing management and administrative positions.

Depending on the facility, the work schedule for registered nurses can be quite challenging.  Caring for patients in hospitals and nursing care facilities is an around the clock job, seven days a week, 365 days a year.  RNs who work in these settings typically work an 8, 10 or 12 hour shift including every other weekend, and rotating holidays.  Rosita Padilla, an Acute Care Trauma Services Nurse says, “Be sure that becoming a Registered Nurse is absolutely the career choice for you, because it does require a lot of time and energy not only to learn all that is required, but to actually do the work as well.”

For those working in doctor’s offices a regular Monday through Friday, 8am-5pm schedule with weekends and holidays off can be expected.

Registered nurses spend a considerable amount of time walking and standing. In addition the job of an RN requires the ability to cope well with stress and pressure, be compassionate, have excellent communication and critical thinking skills, exhibit patience and emotional stability, and be very detail oriented.

The daily duties of a registered nurse typically include the following:

  • Record the medical history and symptoms of patients
  • Perform diagnostic tests and analyze results
  • Administer treatment and medication
  • Operate and monitor medical equipment
  • Help with patient follow-up and rehabilitation

Additionally, RNs teach patients and their families how to manage their illness or injury.  They explain post-treatment home care needs such as diet, nutrition, and exercise programs and self-administration of medication and physical therapy.

Education, Training and Certification

Lori Wilson, a registered nurse for 13 years and a Critical Care Clinical Coordinator, suggests getting as much exposure to the healthcare field prior to starting nursing school.  Her advice to those interested in pursuing this career is to seek out a position in a laboratory, pharmacy, or even a hospital.  “There are lots of jobs that you can do in a hospital without a degree.  Many of our Patient Care Techs have minimal experience and go on to nursing school or other healthcare field programs based on their experience.”

Once you have decided that you would like to pursue a career as a registered nurse, there are three educational routes that you can take.  Obtain a bachelor of science degree in nursing (BSN), an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN), or earn a diploma from an approved nursing program.  Earning a BSN will typically take four years and an ADN or diploma from an approved program will take between two and three years to complete.

Once you solidify your decision to pursue a degree in nursing, regardless of the path, courses will include anatomy, physiology, microbiology, chemistry, nutrition, psychology and other social and behavioral sciences.  “Don’t just do the bare minimum to get good grades and pass the class.  Go above and beyond the subject at hand to better prepare yourself for the hands-on clinical experience,” recommends Padilla.

Each of the programs includes a supervised clinical experience in a hospital or other worksite.  The clinical provides a very unique learning experience where the instructor supervises the students as they apply the knowledge that they have learned to a real life, hands-on situation.  “Learning as much as you can and gaining experiences as you earn your degree will help you decide what kind of nurse you want to be and where you will want to work.  But do not fret if you still don’t know where to work after graduation.  Nursing is flexible and you can change jobs working in different areas until you find your forte,” says Wilson.

Of the three paths, a bachelor’s degree in nursing will better prepare you to move up the ranks to administrative, research, consulting and teaching positions.  A BSN program typically includes greater training in physical and social sciences, communication, leadership, and critical thinking.  In addition the clinical rotations will often include experience in a non-hospital setting such as long-term care facilities and walk-in clinics.

You can also complete a BSN as you work after earning your ADN or diploma by completing a RN-to-BSN program.  This allows you to take advantage of tuition reimbursement benefits offered by employers.

According to the Florida Board of Nursing, there are 121 approved nursing programs in 202 locations in Florida.  The cost to complete a two-year program to obtain an ADN or diploma ranges from approximately $9,000 to $26,000 depending on resident status (in-state or out-of-state).  A four-year program to earn a BSN from a public school averages $26,000 and from a private institution can cost $100,000 or more.  Tuition will include books, lab costs and administrative fees.  The majority of nursing program websites provide financial aid information for prospective students.

Once you have completed a nursing program, you must then apply for licensure with the Florida Board of Nursing ($175 application and licensing fee) and register ($200 fee) for the National Licensing Exam for Registered Nursing (NCLEX-RN).  Once these two steps have been completed, you will be granted Authorization to Test (ATT).

As stated on the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) website, the NCLEX-RN exam “measures the competencies needed to perform safely and effectively as a newly licensed, entry-level nurse.” Given in computer adaptive format, the next exam question depends upon the answer given to the previous question. So essentially if you answer a question correctly the following question will move to a higher skill level.  Wrong answers on the other hand will mean going back to a lower level question.  To get a better feel for the exam and the type of questions asked you can check out Study Guide Zone.

After passing the NCLEX-RN exam and receiving your license, it must be renewed every two years.  Renewal requires completion of 24 hours of continuing education courses and paying an $80 renewal fee.

Salary Information

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), RNs earned an average of $64,690 annually in 2010.  More recent salary data found on Salary.com has RNs earning $67,694 annually.  The median annual salaries for select major cities in Florida, according to Salary.com, fall right around the national average.

Fort Lauderdale $65,663
Tampa $63,632
Orlando $62,211
Tallahassee $61,872
Miami $66,408

The Difference between RNs and Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs)

Although RNs and LPNs have similar duties there are some differences to consider when making your decision about which career to pursue.  One of the primary differences is education with RNs undergoing a considerable amount more educational training than LPNs.  An RN typically graduates from a four-year nursing program while an LPN is a graduate of a one-year practical nursing program.  Both degrees focus on studying nursing arts and sciences with backgrounds in humanities and other areas of science.  However, because RNs spend more time earning their degree they become more knowledgeable in physiology and pharmacology, clinical practice, management of resources, utilization of research and working with a team.

Once in the career field, an LPN is supervised by an RN or a physician, thereby having a dependent role. The LPN provides direct care to patients such as monitoring the pulse, temperature and blood pressure of patients, cleaning and bandaging of wounds, changing of dressings, preparation and administration of medications and injections, insertion of catheters, and collection of samples from patients for laboratory examinations. LPNs also perform assessments on patients and document the results and delegate tasks to nursing assistants. However, LPNs are not allowed to administer restricted drugs and intravenous narcotics.

RNs have a broader scope of responsibility as compared to that of LPNs. They can also perform the tasks mentioned above.  However, in addition RNs are expected to develop and execute nursing care plans, delegate tasks to LPNs and nursing assistants as well as assist physicians during examinations and treatments.  While the focus of the LPN is on the patient, the RN includes in her care the family and significant others of the patient while including the psychological, cultural, community and other aspects of patient care.  Since the RN has a deeper and broader knowledge, it is her responsibility to handle the more complex things that are not within the scope of responsibility of the LPN.

Finally, RNs earn a higher salary based upon their schooling and experience.  On average, the BLS reports that RNs earn $31 per hour and LPNs earn $19 per hour.

Essentially, when deciding whether to pursue a career as an RN or LPN you will need to consider how much time you want to invest, how much responsibility you want and what earnings you will be happy with.  Regardless of which option you choose, the nursing field can be a rewarding one.

Career Outlook

The Occupational Information Network (O*Net) reports that the career field for Registered Nurses has a bright outlook and will grow faster than average through 2020.  Employment for nurses is expected to grow 26% between 2010 and 2020.  According to the Florida Nurses Association (FNA), the demand for nursing services has never been greater.  Recent developments in healthcare including new financing mechanisms, movement away from traditional hospital-centered care, and a new emphasis on a healthy lifestyle have dramatically increased demand for registered nurses.  Additionally, technological advancements that provide wider and better treatment options for a number of health problems, and a growing elderly population all contribute to this anticipated growth.

Wilson shared that “being a nurse is a very rewarding, albeit exhausting profession.  I will never regret my decision to become one. There are so many avenues that one can take in this profession and so many opportunities to advance.” In general, excellent job opportunities are expected for registered nurses.  A high turnover rate for RNs working in hospitals has resulted in employers offering signing bonuses, family-friendly work schedules, and/or training reimbursements.  Due to the regular work hours in a physician’s office, there is typically greater competition for these positions.

Ready to move towards a career as a Registered Nurse?  Review our list of nursing programs in Florida.  To find a school near you, enter the name of your city in the search box at the top of the page.