Registered nurses constitute the largest healthcare occupation. In 2006, RNs held about 2.5 million jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics ( About 59 percent of RNs work in hospitals. The rest are employed in a variety of settings, including community health, ambulatory care, long-term care, schools and businesses.

According to the BLS, about 587,000 new jobs will be created for registered nurses between 2006 and 2016. But employment opportunities will vary both by job setting and geographical region.

Four Ways To Specialize

    RNs often specialize in a particular area of patient care. They usually do this in one of four ways. They may choose:
  • A specific work setting like the operating room.
  • A specific health condition like diabetes.
  • A body system or organ like the kidneys or skin.
  • A well-defined population like children or the elderly.


Some RNs combine specialties. For example, a pediatric oncology nurse deals with children and adolescents who have cancer.

Education Opens Doors
Most RNs enter the field with two-year associate degrees, but employers increasingly prefer nurses with four-year degrees. For nurses with master's and doctoral degrees, the future looks especially bright.

According to the AMA (, only about 2 percent of medical students plan to work in primary care. This means that by 2020, the nation will experience a severe shortage of primary care doctors. Advanced practice nurses, such as nurse practitioners, will be needed to provide low-cost primary care.

RNs with advanced degrees are also needed to fill nursing faculty positions. A survey done by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing ( in August 2009 found a national vacancy rate of over 6 percent. The average age of nursing faculty is now about 55, and a wave of retirements is expected in the years ahead.