To the layperson, nursing may seem a confusing profession of nursing assistants and nurse practitioners and clinical nurse specialists. The designation we seem to hear most often is “registered nurse.” But what’s the difference? What is a registered nurse?
Our respected Oxford Dictionary defines “registered nurse” as a North American term that applies to those who have “graduated from a college’s nursing program or from a school of nursing” and have gone on to pass a “national licensing exam.” And there you have, in the simplest terms, the definition of a registered nurse.
If nurses were as likely to cross our paths as unicorns, that might suffice. In reality, however, nurses often do the heavy lifting in medical settings and chances are that few Americans will not at some point find themselves under a registered nurse’s direct care.
So it’s certainly worthwhile to dig a little deeper – no offense to Oxford.
First, let’s look at the exam. In the United States, the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) oversees the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses. While the exam is broken into four categories that get rather technical, the entirety of the test has one overlying theme: the client, aka the patient.
“The framework of Client Needs was selected for the examination because it provides a universal structure for defining nursing actions and competencies, and focuses on clients in all settings,” the NCSBN drafters of the exam explain. “The goal of nursing for client care is preventing illness and potential complications; protecting, promoting, restoring, and facilitating comfort; health; and dignity in dying.”
With the requisite schooling already completed, passing the exam is the final step to becoming a registered nurse and being eligible to be hired as such. The responsibilities that fall to a registered nurse may range, with such a nurse treating medical emergencies such as a heart attack or stroke, operating medical equipment or supervising “licensed practical nurses” (LPN) and “certified nurse assistants” (CNA).
Touching upon the LPN and CNA titles points to the various levels of nursing ability. In that regard a registered nurse is a benchmark, indicating a basic, though thorough, healthcare acumen. From this level of skill, a registered nurse may advance by mastering a specialty or becoming a nurse practitioner, yet another benchmark of more complex training. Simply, a registered nurse is a healthcare professional who carries the imprimatur of his peers, a designation of quality care.