You can earn a registered nursing license through different educational paths. Many entry-level nurses get a license to work after completing a two-year associate degree or other technical program. You can start working in a hospital, doctor’s office or long-term care facility right away while you continue your education to earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree to move up in your career. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median income for nurses in 2010 was $64,610, even with an entry-level associate degree.
Entry-level nurses usually spend the most time with patients, unlike more experienced nurses who may supervise a shift or work closely with doctors developing treatment plans for patients. You’ll assess patient needs by taking a history when they come to the office or hospital. Then you'll take vital signs and prepare a chart for the treating doctor or nurse practitioner, who will diagnose the patient. In the hospital, you’ll make rounds and check on patients, providing care as needed that could include giving medication and changing dressings.
In jobs ranging from work in a community clinic to a position on a disaster relief team, as an entry-level nurse you need to have basic technical competencies, such as giving shots and immunizations, providing basic first aid care, CPR, oxygen administration and initial wound care. You should be able to insert a catheter and gastric feeding tube. While you’ll sometimes have help from a CNA, you’ll be the one to clean, bathe and help patients with mobility when no assistant is available.
Entry-level nurses usually conduct discharge procedures from a hospital stay. You’ll explain the doctor’s orders to patients and their families and give them the information they need for follow-up treatment. In addition, you’ll fill out the paperwork for patients’ release and arrange for transport to the door. In an office or assisted living facility, entry level nurses provide case management and education to patients and their families.
As students gravitate to a nursing career because of the rosy job forecast, finding entry-level nursing jobs may become more difficult, according to Forbes. While the BLS predicts a 26-percent increase in nursing positions at least through 2020, nurses with a four-year degree or years of experience are taking the choice jobs in hospitals. When you start out, a more practical career route with plenty of opportunity may be in home care, which should continue to increase hiring as aging baby boomers require more assistance. In a home care environment, you’ll still provide assessment, take vitals and provide direct patient care, but you’ll have more flexibility in the days and schedules you work.
2016 Salary Information for Registered Nurses
Registered nurses earned a median annual salary of $68,450 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, registered nurses earned a 25th percentile salary of $56,190, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $83,770, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 2,955,200 people were employed in the U.S. as registered nurses.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Registered Nurses
- U.S. News and World Report: Best Healthcare Jobs
- Commonwealth of Virginia: Sample Career Paths
- Forbes: Has Nursing Been Overhyped as a Career Choice?
- Nursing Emergency Preparedness Education Coalition: Competencies for Entry-Level RNs
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Registered Nurses
- Career Trend: Registered Nurses
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."