Registered Nurse Job Description (Salary, Duties, Skills, Certification & More)

By Mike Simpson

When it comes to in-demand professionals, registered nurses certainly fall into that category. There were over 3 million registered nurse positions in the United States in 2018. By 2028, that number’s going up by 371,500.

That’s more than a 12 percent increase.

But, even with so many walking around today (and so many more being needed in the coming years), many people don’t exactly know what a registered nurse (RN) does.

Sure, you’ve probably seen nurses on shows like Scrubs, where the nurses run around with clipboards while handling some patient care and giving doctors a motherlode of sass. But that doesn’t really tell you what it’s like to be a registered nurse, does it? Not in the slightest.

So, let’s take a peek behind the curtain and get to the nitty-gritty of all things RN.

What is a Registered Nurse?

Registered nurses are medical professionals that assist physicians with patient care. An RN performs examinations, treats wounds, administers treatments, handles vaccinations, and much more. They can work in clinics, hospitals, assisted living facilities, school nurse offices, and homes.

When a person becomes an RN, they may choose a specialty. Critical care, oncology, pediatrics, neonatology, geriatrics, and addiction are just some of the available options. They advance their knowledge and capabilities in areas that relate to that specialty, making them particularly adept in that arena.

In many ways, an RN is a mid-point between patients and doctors. Thanks to their wealth of knowledge, they can answer patient questions and offer guidance. Plus, they serve as liaisons, functioning as a bridge between patients and other healthcare professionals. They facilitate communication, ensuring patients and their families feel cared for, and doctors are well informed about any concerns or changes in a patient’s condition.

What Are a Registered Nurse’s Duties and Responsibilities?

Registered nurse responsibilities vary from one facility to the next. Every clinic, hospital, assisted living facility, hospice facility, and similar environment is unique. They might have different needs regarding how RNs fit into the workplace, leading to some variance when it comes to the RN’s workload.

However, many of the jobs have things in common. If you look at an average registered nurse job description, here are some duties you are likely to find:

    • Perform exams
    • Monitor patient symptoms
    • Evaluate patient needs
    • Counsel patients and family members
    • Manage procedures
    • Handle special tests and evaluate results
    • Administered medications and vaccinations
    • Start IVs
    • Create and update patient records
    • Manage medical supply inventories

In some cases, a registered nurse’s duties include supervising other medical professionals, such as CNAs. However, this isn’t always part of the registered nurse job description.

What Skills Do Registered Nurses Need?

If you’re going to shoulder all of the registered nurse duties above, then you need the right combination of skills. You’ll need the medical/technical prowess as well as soft skills. Otherwise, you can’t thrive in the role.

Since the technical ability tends to be the most concrete part of the skills equation, let’s review that first. Here are some of the core capabilities every RN needs:

    • Medical terminology
    • Medical records creation and updating
    • Vital sign and symptom monitoring
    • Infectious disease control and prevention
    • Patient assessment and care
    • Medication and test administration
    • Phlebotomy, injections, vaccinations, and IVs
    • Catheterization
    • Wound dressing

But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Without stellar soft skills, you’ll struggle. It ensures you can work well with the rest of the medical team and do right by patients.

Here’s an overview of some of the soft skills you should consider must-haves:

    • Communication
    • Compassion and empathy
    • Time management
    • Organization
    • Critical-thinking and problem-solving
    • Adaptability
    • Attention-to-Detail
    • Patience
    • Decision-making
    • Teamwork
    • Ethical

Physical endurance can also be critical. Many registered nurses spend most of the day on their feet. Plus, physically assisting patients with mobility issues may be necessary. Without a degree of strength and stamina, some of those responsibilities could be nearly impossible to manage.

NOTE: Our nursing resume objective article might be helpful!

What Education, Training, Certification is Required?

As with nearly all medical professions, you do need some level of education before you can be a registered nurse. After all, would you let someone with zero training put an IV in your arm? Didn’t think so.

Overall, there are two primary pathways to becoming a registered nurse. First, there’s the Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) option. The educational program is highly career-focused and takes about 18 to 24 months to complete. This makes it the faster approach, and can be less expensive.

While being able to launch your career quickly is probably incredibly appealing, the ADN route does have a drawback. Some hospitals favor RNs with Bachelor’s degrees, and it’s actually mandatory for some RNs to have one. For example, New York State has a law – dubbed “BSN in 10” – that makes obtaining a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) a requirement within the first ten years of becoming an RN.

With that in mind, snagging a four-year nursing degree can be smart. An RN with a Bachelor’s is typically qualified for more jobs, could command a higher salary, and won’t have to worry about the impact of laws like BSN in 10.

But, whichever route you choose, it’s important to note one thing; even with a degree in hand, your journey isn’t finished. If you want to be an RN, you have to get licensed. How do you do that? By passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).

The NCLEX tests nursing degree holders to make sure they have the right knowledge to work in healthcare settings. It certifies those who pass as being equipped to do their job, so it’s a must-have if you want to work as an RN.

Registered Nurse Salary

If you’re starting to think, “Yeah, being a registered nurse sounds pretty good,” then there’s a good chance that a new question has popped into your mind. And what’s that question? “How much does a registered nurse make?” that’s what.

Even if becoming an RN feels like a calling, you probably still want to know that what you’ll earn can keep a roof over your head. That’s especially true since you’ll have to dedicate time and energy to your education, and that can cost a pretty penny, too.

You’re in luck, as we have that data readily available. The median annual registered nurse salary comes in at $71,730. Not too shabby, right?


Well, before you run off and splurge on a 24k gold stethoscope, take a breath. When you first start off, you might not make that much. For the lowest-earning 10 percent, their yearly salary comes in below $50,800.

However, over time, you’ll probably have the opportunity to increase your earnings. The top 10 percent achieve salaries above $106,530. With time, dedication, and a passion for the field, that could be you one day. And, if that happens, and a 24k, diamond-encrusted stethoscope is really your dream, maybe look into it then.


What You Need to Know for Your RN Job Interview

Yes, it’s true that registered nurses are a hot commodity. But, even if medical facilities are clamoring for RNs, that doesn’t mean you can waltz into an interview unprepared. Even during talent shortages, clinics, hospitals, and similar facilities aren’t going to risk making a bad hire; it’s that simple.

So, how do you showcase yourself as the outstanding candidate you know you are? By scouring your specific registered nurse job description, that’s how!

Inside that overview, you’ll discover some details, mainly, insight into exactly what the hiring manager wants to find. The must-haves list is a great example. That tells you precisely which skills the hiring manager values. It’s right there, in plain old black-and-white. Oh, and that segment about job duties, it tells you what they expect you to be able to do.

With that information in hand, you’re empowered. You know what the hiring manager wants to find, so you can practice nursing interview questions and answers that speak directly to those points. Combine that with critical behavioral interview question skills, like using the STAR Method and the Tailoring Method, and you’re setting yourself up for success.

MIKE'S TIP: When it comes time to interview, generic advice like “Dress for the position,” doesn’t work. Showing up in scrubs isn’t an option, even if that’s a normal dress code when working. If you can learn anything about standard office attire (what those who don’t provide direct patient care follow) in that facility, then mirror that or go one step above, if the workplace is casual. Otherwise, stick with a slightly elevated business casual. You practically can’t go wrong with nice slacks, a button-down shirt, dress shoes, subdued accessories, and a quality blazer.

Putting It All Together

RNs are a critical part of the healthcare industry and will be in demand for the foreseeable future. Whether you’re already a registered nurse or are considering becoming one, take advantage of the information above. You can use it to chart a course and make your professional dreams a reality.

Check out our other “job description articles” if you’re exploring career options:

About The Author

Jeff Gillis

Co-founder and CTO of Jeff is a featured contributor delivering advice on job search, job interviews and career advancement, having published more than 50 pieces of unique content on the site, with his work being featured in top publications such as INC, ZDnet, MSN and more. Learn more about The Interview Guys on our About Us page.