Registered Nurse (RN)

​Registered nurses (RNs) work to promote health, prevent disease, and to help patients cope with illness. They are advocates and health educators for patients, families, and communities. In Iowa the RN functions both independently and collaboratively when working with clients and other health care professionals.

Where do RNs work?

The RN practices in a variety of settings including

  • acute care settings
    • hospitals
    • surgical centers
    • ambulance and helicopter transport services
  • long term care facilities (rehabilitation, hospice, nursing homes)
  • community care
    • physician's offices
    • patient's homes
    • outpatient care centers
    • school systems (K-12, College clinics)
    • corporate health centers
    • insurance companies
    • managed care companies
    • pharmaceutical companies
    • military
    • government agencies
    • correctional facilities
    • community mental health
  • educational institutions (Nursing schools, Universities, research centers)
  • chronic care (kidney dialysis units)

While the settings in which RNs practice are varied, their role in those settings may also be diverse depending on their educational background, skills and interests. The roles of the registered nurse may include:

  • bedside client care provider
  • manager
  • teacher in a formal school of nursing
  • Advanced Nurse Practitioner.
  • health educator

What do RNs do?

New graduates often find that their initial job is giving direct patient care in one of the types of facilities noted above. When providing direct patient care, RNs:

  • observe, assess, and record symptoms, reactions, and progress in patients
  • assist physicians during surgeries, treatments, and examinations
  • administer medications by mouth, injection or intravenous line
  • assist in convalescence and rehabilitation.
  • develop and manage nursing care plans
  • instruct patients and their families in proper care
  • help individuals and groups take steps to improve or maintain their health.

While state laws govern the tasks that RNs may perform, it is usually the work setting that determines the daily job duties. The ability to do critical thinking and to solve complex problems while caring for clients is vital for the registered nurse.

Good communication skills are also essential as the Registered Nurse consistently communicates in verbal or written form with clients and their families, with other health care team members, in the keeping of accurate records, and in formal and informal teaching settings.

RNs are professionally responsible for their actions and must function within the legal guidelines of the Board of Nursing of the state in which they practice, as well as within the ethical guidelines of the nursing profession. Learn more about the "Nurse Practice Act for Registered Nurses/Licensed Practical Nurses" in Iowa.

To learn more about the scope of what Registered Nurses do and where they work, visit the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Registered Nurses.

The U.S. Department of Labor's O*NET OnLine website provides comprehensive information on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

Job Outlook and Salaries for RN's

Currently the job outlook for RN's is very good, though nurses in some areas of the country may not always get their first choice of areas in which to work. Further information on wages and employment is available at the O*Net OnLine site.

Training Programs for Registered Nurses

In Iowa, two types of training programs prepare a student for the RN role:

  • Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) - a two-year program offered at many community colleges that prepares students for the RN role at a basic level. This is generally a two to three year course of study.
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) - a four-year program offered at colleges and universities, which prepares the new grad for the RN role but which also emphasize course work in liberal arts, sciences, nursing theory, community health and management techniques.
  • View nursing education Programs approved by the Iowa Board of Nursing

Advanced Specialties

RNs who want to practice in any of the following advanced specialty areas will require a master's degree:

  • Nurse educator
  • Nurse practitioner
  • Nurse anesthetist
  • Nurse midwife
  • Clinical nurse specialist

A doctorate may be required for some educators, practitioners and researchers.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-2013 Edition Registered Nurses was used as a source for some of the information on this page.