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What is like to be a nurse?

Nurses take care of sick and injured people. They also help people stay well. They watch for the signs of being sick. Nurses then help doctors examine and treat patients. They give people medicine. Nurses tell people how to take care of themselves and their families.

Hospital nurses or staff nurses are the largest group of nurses. Staff nurses provide bedside care. Hospital nurses usually work in one area such as surgery or the ER. Some of them rotate among jobs.

Office nurses help doctors in private clinics and offices. They also help with medical tests, give medicines, and dress wounds. Some also do routine lab and office work. Home health nurses go to people's homes to help them. Public health nurses work in government agencies, clinics, schools, and other public settings. They teach people about health and help prevent disease. They also show people what's good to eat and tell people how to take care of their kids.

Most nurses work in clean, well-lighted facilities. Home and public health nurses go to patients' homes and other sites. Nurses spend a lot of time walking and standing. They need emotional strength to cope with stress. Nurses should also be caring and sensitive.

Nursing has its hazards. Nurses care for people with diseases they can catch too. These include diseases such as hepatitis and AIDS. Nurses must guard against these and other dangers such as radiation, chemicals, and drugs.

Because patients need 24-hour care, nurses may work nights, weekends, and holidays. Office, industrial, and public health nurses are more likely to work regular hours.

How do you get ready to be a nurse?

Nurses must graduate from a nursing program. Associate degree in nursing (ADN) programs take 2 to 3 years in a community or junior college. There are a small number of Diploma programs that take about 3 years in a hospital. Bachelor of Science degree in nursing (BSN) programs take 4 years in a college. People who want to be nurses should weigh the pros and cons of enrolling in a BSN program. Some career paths are open only to nurses with bachelor's degrees.

Nursing education includes class work and clinical training. Classes include anatomy, chemistry, nutrition, psychology, and nursing theory. Nurses do most of their clinical work in hospitals. A growing number of programs include clinical practice in nursing homes, public health offices, and home health agencies.

Nurses must then pass a test to get a nursing license. Nurses must regularly renew their license. Some States make nurses take classes before they get a renewal.

Doing a good job may lead to a promotion. The first step is to head nurse. From there, they can advance to director of nursing and even vice president. Some nurses move into the business side of health care. Some get jobs in big health care firms doing planning, marketing, and quality assurance.

How much does this job pay?

The middle half of all registered nurses earned between $40,140 and $57,490 in 2002. The lowest-paid 10 percent earned less than $33,970. The highest-paid 10 percent made more than $69,670. Many employers offer flexible work schedules, childcare, education benefits, and bonuses.

How many jobs are there?

Registered nurses make up the largest health care occupation. They held about 2.3 million jobs in 2002. About 3 out of 5 jobs were in hospitals. About 1 out of 5 worked part time.

What about the future?

BLS expects jobs for registered nurses to grow faster than the average for all occupations through 2012. Because the occupation is very large, many new jobs will become available. There will always be a need for traditional hospital nurses, but many new nurses will work in home health, long-term, and walk-in care.

Medical advances in patient care will mean more jobs for nurses. New ways of helping people let nurses treat more problems. The number of older people, who need more health care, will grow very rapidly. They will need nurses to treat them when they get sick.

Very good job opportunities are expected for registered nurses. Some States report a shortage of nurses because fewer people are going to nursing school and because many older nurses are leaving the occupation.

Are there other jobs like this?

  • Emergency medical technicians and paramedics
  • Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses
  • Occupational therapists
  • Physical therapists
  • Physician assistants
  • Respiratory therapists
    Where can you find more information?

More information about registered nurses can be found in the Careers Database.

Source: Occupational Outlook Handbook -- U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics

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