Many times, when someone interacts with nursing care, it is in their primary care provider’s office when the nurse takes their vitals, sets up their next appointment, or answers their questions. However, for patients who need surgery, have chronic conditions, or find themselves in an emergency room after an accident, bedside nurses are essential.
Many nurses see bedside nursing as a step toward an advanced degree, leadership position, or non-bedside nursing job. Yet, Aniese Nunn, RN, has been at the bedside for over 50 years. She started as a licensed practical nurse (LPN), returned to school to become a registered nurse (RN), and even returned to nursing after retirement.
Find out about Nunn’s journey, what bedside nurses do, and why you might want to become one.
Q&A With a Bedside Nurse
Aniese-Moore Nunn joined Lee County Hospital (now East Alabama Health) in 1971 after graduating from Opelika Technical School as a Licensed Practical Nurse. She began working as a Medical Surgical Unit Staff Nurse and during this time, she attended Southern Union College and received her Registered Nurse degree in 1989. After graduating from RN school, she continued working on the Medical Surgical Unit as a Staff Nurse. She retired in December 2020, then returned back to work part-time at the end of January 2021. In total, Aniese has worked 51 years on the Medical Surgical Unit as a Staff Nurse.
What made you want to start your career as an LPN?
I wanted to care for sick people, and there was a local LPN school in Opelika, my home town, so I attended it.
Why did you choose medical-surgical nursing?
I chose medical-surgical nursing because there was a lot to learn about many types of illnesses.
What made you decide to go back to school and get your RN license?
I discovered that I could give more care to my patients than I could as an LPN.
How have the nursing shortage and COVID-19 pandemic affected your role at the bedside?
The nursing shortage caused me to work harder and overtime. I did not work with COVID patients because of my age. I floated to the other floors in [the] hospital and took care of the non-COVID patients.
What other floors did you work on during the pandemic? How did your routine and responsibilities differ from what you’d experienced as a medical-surgical nurse?
I worked on the orthopedic floor and surgical floor. My routine and responsibilities differed in how these types of patients were taken care of. I learned how to take care of patients with fractures on the ortho floor. And on the surgical floor, I learned how to take care of fresh post-op patients.
What made you decide to come back to nursing part time after you retired?
After working for over 50 years as a nurse, I needed to make a gradual adjustment to retirement.
What about East Alabama Health made you want to stay with them for your entire career?
This is the local hospital. It’s in the city where I have resided my entire life.
Why did you choose to stay at the bedside for all these years?
I made this decision because to me, it is rewarding. Just to see patients get better and go home is a joyful feeling. I like hands-on patient care. The human contact with patients is just such a loving feeling.
Plus, the appreciation you get from them is so nice. When they’re leaving, they just cannot thank you enough, and that’s because you have truly cared for them like family.
What are some of the most impactful changes you’ve witnessed in the nursing profession since your career began?
Digital technology … has made nursing more efficient and accurate. Also, nurses are educating their patients more, making them more knowledgeable about their illness.
Having worked during the pandemic and a nursing shortage, and for more than 50 years, can you offer advice to a nurse struggling with whether or not they should change career paths?
My advice to them would be for them to make sure that they understand how rewarding it is to be a nurse. I like watching patients improve and be able to go home. Also, I like getting to know patients.
Having worked here so many years, I have taken care of multiple members of the same family.
What Does a Bedside Nurse Do?
The role of a bedside nurse varies depending on the nurse’s specialty and license. Surgical nurses care for patients before, during, and immediately after surgery. Medical-surgical nurses care for adults with diverse medical conditions or preparing for and recovering from surgery.
LPNs work under the supervision of RNs or physicians to provide basic care and comfort to patients. State regulations decide how much LPNs must be supervised and whether they can start intravenous lines or give certain medications.
RNs have more autonomy to create and adjust care plans, triage and examine patients, perform diagnostic tests, and give medication and treatments. Even with their increased autonomy, RNs do many of the same duties as LPNs:
“I discovered that I could give more care to my patients than I could as an LPN.” – Aniese Nunn, RN
- Record patients’ medical histories and symptoms
- Communicate with other healthcare providers about changes in their patients
- Monitor patients’ health and vital signs
- Educate patients on their conditions and treatments
- Advocate for their patients
- Provide emotional support for patients and families
- Give medications as prescribed by a provider
Why Become a Bedside Nurse
Many nurses may leave the bedside because of unsafe nurse-to-patient ratios and a nursing shortage worsened by the pandemic. Sixty percent of bedside nurses reported nurse burnout in 2022, according to the COVID-19 Two-Year Impact Assessment Survey.
While it may be difficult to find reasons to stay, Nunns says she enjoys directly caring for patients, getting to know them, seeing them improve, and being appreciated for her care of patients.
Other reasons nurses stay could be because they:
- Feel called to nursing
- Work in a supportive work environment
- Like working as part of a team
- Enjoy mentoring other nurses
- Feel a sense of commitment
“My advice to them would be for them to make sure that they understand how rewarding it is to be a nurse. I like watching patients improve and be able to go home. Also, I like getting to know patients. Having worked here so many years, I have taken care of multiple members of the same family.” – Aniese Nunn, RN
How to Become a Bedside Nurse
Most LPNs and RNs start their careers as bedside nurses. If you’re a new graduate or nursing student in your last year, you can start applying for entry-level jobs or nurse residency programs up to six months before you graduate.
You have a few different nursing degree options for starting your bedside career. If you want to become an RN, you can either get your two-year associate degree in nursing (ADN) or earn your four-year bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree. A BSN may provide you with opportunities for higher pay, more responsibilities, and more career advancement.
If you want a faster way to enter nursing, you can start your career as an LPN in 40-50 credits or about a year of full-time study. Then, you can get your RN license with an LPN-to-RN or LPN-to-BSN program.
LPNs and RNs must take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) to earn their nursing license. LPNs take the NCLEX-PN, which focuses on coordinating care under the supervision of RNs. RNs take the NCLEX-RN, which tests their skill in supervising and managing care.
After you pass the NCLEX, get your license, and gain a few years of work experience, you can become certified in your specialty.
Enroll in a one-year LPN program or become an RN with a two-year ADN or four-year BSN program.
Bedside nursing is the entry-level nursing position that most nurses start their career with. RNs and LPNs can apply for positions after they pass the NCLEX. Some employers may offer you a job before you pass the NCLEX with the expectation that you will pass by a certain date.
You must pass the NCLEX-RN to get your RN license. If you start your bedside nursing career as an LPN, you must take the NCLEX-PN.
Becoming certified in your nursing specialty shows your increased commitment to and knowledge of your specialty; many employers prefer to hire certified nurses.
How Much Do Bedside Nurses Make?
Your salary as a bedside nurse depends on your specialty, license, education, and experience. Both LPNs and RNs can find higher-than-average salaries in geriatric care. Other high-paying specialties for RNs include neonatal, oncology, and pediatric care.
RNs make an average of $30,900 more per year than LPNs. RNs make an annual average salary of $82,750, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data from May 2021. LPNs make an average of $51,850 a year.
RNs who hold a BSN or master’s in nursing may make even more. According to the 2020 National Nursing Workforce Survey, BSN-prepared RNs earn a median salary of $4,000 more than ADN-prepared nurses. RNs with an MSN make a median of $90,000 annually.
More experienced nurses earn higher average hourly pay for both RNs and LPNs. RNs with over 20 years of experience earn an average of almost $9 more an hour than new graduate RNs with less than a year of experience, according to Payscale data from April 2023. Experienced LPNs can make a little over $4 more an hour than new graduate LPNs.