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Whether you end up in a hospital, long-term care facility, or clinic, registered nurses are the heart and soul of many healthcare institutions. And that's usually because they perform much of the hands-on care that patients receive, whether it's providing treatments, administering medication, performing diagnostic tests, or ensuring that each patient is comfortable and able to rest.

RN degree programs teach students how to compassionately care for patients who are often hurting and afraid, and provide an introduction to the fundamentals of advanced nursing care and the science behind it.

What Do Online Registered Nurse (RN) Degree Programs Entail?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), all nurses must graduate from an approved nursing program and pass the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX-RN, before applying for licensure.

Depending on the state of residence, the path toward licensure as a registered nurse can vary. For example, some states require that registered nurses complete a diploma program, which can take two to three years to complete. Other states require that registered nurses have at least an associate's degree in nursing, which can also take 2-3 years to earn.

Additional Degree Levels

Some nurses also choose to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree as well, in order to gain valuable experience and increase their job prospects. According to the BLS, some schools also offer master's degrees in nursing, or combined bachelor's and master's programs, as well as other variations of the degree.

Introductory Nursing Courses

No matter which educational path is chosen, all RN programs offer a basic introduction to the science behind nursing, such as courses in anatomy & physiology, psychology, biology, microbiology, and sociology. Some of the science-related courses will require experiential education and physical presence at a lab. In addition, all registered nurses must complete supervised hands-on clinical experience in order to become licensed within their state. After nursing students complete basic prerequisites for their program, they typically take courses similar to the following:

  • Issues in Legal and Ethical Healthcare
  • Nursing Research
  • Evidence-Based Practice
  • Business Principles
  • Information Systems
  • Understanding Information Technology in Nursing

Career Outlook for Students in Registered Nurse (RN) Degree Programs

Due to an expected increase in the overall demand of healthcare services in the coming years, the BLS projects that employment for registered nurses will increase 19 percent nationally from 2012 to 2022.

The job outlook also remains high for licensed practical or licensed vocational nurses, the professionals who provide basic care to patients under the supervision of a doctor or registered nurse. Employment for LPNs and LVNs will increase 25 percent nationally from 2012 to 2022 according to BLS projections.

Nursing Assistants

Another healthcare career expecting a healthy rate of growth is that of nursing assistants and orderlies. The BLS reports that nursing assistants and orderlies provide patients with hands-on personal care such as bathing, dressing and toileting. BLS numbers project that employment for nursing assistants and orderlies is expected to increase 21 percent nationally, as an aging population transitions to long-term care facilities and nursing homes.

"Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses," U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/licensed-practical-and-licensed-vocational-nurses.htm#tab-1
"Nursing Assistants and Orderlies," U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nursing-assistants.htm#tab-1
"Registered Nurses," U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm#tab-1

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