Health Care Careers - Registered nurse (r.n.)

There are many opportunities for those interested in a career as a registered nurse (R.N.). The many jobs available in the field continue to grow every year; in fact, nursing is one of the fastest growing occupations today. R.N.s not only treat patients who are sick, but they work to help people maintain good health as well as prevent and cope with illness and disease. While most R.N.s work directly with individual patients in different settings, they can also help entire communities improve health by acting as health care advocates for groups of people and families who are not receiving necessary medical care.

The basic duties of a R.N. are to:

  • examine and record a patient's symptoms
  • observe a patient's progress or a patient's reaction to treatment
  • give medication to a patient
  • assist doctors in the examination and treatment of a patient
  • help with the patient's recovery

R.N.s usually work in hospitals. Most often, they are assigned to a specific area of the hospital, such as the pediatrics (children's) ward or the emergency room. However, R.N.s have many workplace options; they can work in a private doctor's office, as a home health nurse (caring for people in their homes), in a nursing home, with the government, in schools, in offices, or with health maintenance organizations (HMOs).


Midwives have existed for thousands of years giving women support and care through the birthing process. Even though midwives, or wisewomen as they were often called, have practiced for centuries, their profession was not officially recognized until recently. Midwifery as a formal profession began in 1921 when nurses who worked with the Frontier Nursing Service and Maternity Center Association saw that poor communities in New York City and Appalachia greatly needed their services because they couldn't afford to give birth in hospitals. Certified nurse-midwives (C.N.M.s) were officially recognized by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in 1971. Now, many hospitals employ C.N.M.s, who have been educated through graduate programs specializing in the birthing process, prenatal care, and aftercare for new mothers.

C.N.M.s offer women a safe, and often less costly, alternative to giving birth in a traditional hospital setting. They are committed to meeting the individual needs of their patients and giving women freedom to make choices during the birth, such as who will be present during the delivery and in what position the women want to give birth. While they are licensed to give drugs to their patients and provide patients with any technological assistance, C.N.M.s use technology only when it's absolutely necessary. Their mission is to give women a natural and normal birthing experience in a calm, caring atmosphere and to prevent any complications before, during, and after the birth.

The American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM) regulates the standards for C.N.M.s. All the schools that offer programs in nurse midwifery must be accredited by ACNM. All C.N.M.s must pass a national examination given by ACNM Certification Council.

C.N.M.s can work in many different settings. Some have their own practices, and some work with private doctors, hospitals, and birth centers. No matter where they work, C.N.M.s always work with a doctor, who remains available in case of a problem or emergency with the birth.

Some physicians are happy to cooperate with C.N.M.s and offer their assistance to them. However, other physicians may refuse to work with them because they don't agree with C.N.M.s' mission or are afraid of losing business to C.N.M.s. While C.N.M.s are licensed health care practitioners and covered by most insurance policies, they are relatively new as a formal profession compared with other health-related careers. At times, certain standards that the medical system has incorporated, such as a requirement to use certain technology during labor, make it difficult for C.N.M.s to do their jobs. Despite these obstacles, C.N.M.s are in high demand, and most women who use them choose to work with them again.

Working as a nurse can be very rewarding; however, like most jobs, there is stress involved. Many R.N.s spend most of the day on their feet. They also must deal with people's suffering on a daily basis. The amount of stress an R.N. experiences can depend on the setting in which the R.N. works. For example, an R.N. in the emergency room of a hospital may have more stress than an R.N. in a private doctor's office, as emergency room patients need immediate care. In addition, any R.N. in a hospital may have to work odd hours, as patients need to be cared for twenty-four hours a day. Most R.N.s at one point or another will work night shifts, as well as weekends and holidays.

Training to Be a Registered Nurse

In order to become an R.N., a person has three choices. These include earning an associate's degree (A.D.N.) through a junior or community college, which takes approximately two years; getting a diploma through programs offered in hospitals, which usually takes two to three years; and, finally, getting a bachelor of science degree in nursing (B.S.N.) at a university, which takes four to five years to complete.

While these three options are still acceptable, many state governments are now considering changing the requirements for an R.N.'s education. The new standards would require all R.N.s to have a B.S.N. It's beneficial now for all R.N.s to have a B.S.N. because it gives them greater opportunities in the field. Many R.N.s with a diploma or an associate's degree enroll in a bachelor's program, often having their employers pay for their schooling. All nursing education involves classroom work as well as practical experience in a hospital or other health care facility. After the schooling is completed, a person must take an examination to become a registered nurse.

Some R.N.s go on to do graduate work, which enables them to enter into specialized nursing fields, such as nurse practitioner (a nurse who is trained and licensed to act in place of a physician), certified nurse-midwife, or certified registered nurse anesthetist (who is responsible for anesthetizing a patient during an operation).

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