Nursing Careers in Illinois: Becoming an RN

Being a professional nurse in Illinois can mean premier medical centers, innovations… and jobs.

The Illinois RN scope of practice is wide, encompassing the following, among other duties: carrying out comprehensive nursing assessments, developing care plans, providing care directly or through delegation, administering medication and delegating medication administration, providing patient education, and participating in policy development that supports patient safety.

There’s always need for professional nurses. More than half the 41,194 respondents in a recent survey by Illinois’ nursing workforce center were over 55 — and the percentage had gone up from two years earlier.

Becoming an Illinois RN

RNs complete professional nursing educational programs (RN Programs in Illinois) and then pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). Illinois programs are subject to approval by the Division of Professional Regulation. They include content in a wide variety of content areas, from anatomy to diet therapy to interpersonal relationships. Students receive theoretical and clinical instruction in nursing practice across settings and age groups – in other words, programs prepare generalists and prepare them well. NCLEX pass rates are important for continued approval. Out-of-state schools that place students in Illinois for clinical rotations are also subject to state approval.

State rule allows programs to be as short as two years. While some RNs do practice with associate’s degrees or hospital-granted diplomas, the bachelor’s degree is becoming more common. Many employers ask it.

Ambitious nurses sometimes make employment connections before graduation. They may, for example, work as nursing assistants while obtaining their nursing degrees; premier institutions like Rush University Medical Center welcome them.

It takes time to develop expertise. A number of medical centers now offer residencies for new graduates; it often takes a full year to reach professional status. Unit-specific orientations may take a couple months. Many positions, of course, go to those with experience.

RN Job Settings

According to an RN nursing workforce survey conducted by the Illinois Center for Nursing in 2016, hospital/ acute care is the main work setting for 54% of the state’s registered nurses. Ambulatory care represents 8%. Nursing home, extended care, and assisted living together account for 7%.

67% of Illinois RNs describe themselves as staff nurses. The next most common position is nursing manager or administrator, followed by patient care coordinator.

Job ads for patient care coordinator note the following among the duties:

  • Act as liaison between different departments to ensure that the right bed is assigned and that care is appropriate
  • Collaborate with other professionals across the care continuum (i.e. acute care, sub-acute care or skilled nursing)
  • Support patients in meeting goals
  • Develop discharge/ transition plans in collaboration with social workers
  • Participate in risk assessment and other payer-related issues
  • Carry out telephonic outreach

Care coordination duties vary from position to position. Case management is a related position.

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RN Specialties

When grouped together, the various acute care specialties (from neonatal to trauma) accounted for between 20% and 25% of RN specialties. Specialties counted as ‘family’ (including women’s health, pediatrics, and gerontology) comprised about 16%. Those grouped together as medical comprised about 11%.

Of concern: Some specialties, including school health and community health, were reported less frequently by younger RNs. These nurses will of course need to be replaced eventually.

Critical care and telehealth were among the specialties where there were proportionately more younger nurses.

Ambulatory Care RNs

Ambulatory care facilities and doctor’s offices are also using nurses in innovative ways. Modern Healthcare profiled a group practice that was using a team approach and scheduling patients to see RNs when appropriate ( The rationale is this: Sometimes patients with chronic conditions need to see an actual healthcare practitioner, but others times an RN can provide the level of follow-up needed. Additionally, an RN may be available when a doctor isn’t.

The nurse profiled also counts among her work looking through electronic healthcare records, identifying Medicare patients who haven’t had their wellness visits, and giving some encouragement for them to schedule.

Premier Illinois Medical Institutions

Illinois boasts a number of well ranked hospitals. Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago made the U.S. News and World Report hospital honor roll. This status granted to facilities that do very well in multiple areas. Northwestern came out at #13 overall. It is nationally ranked in 11 adult specialties. The specialties where it is highest ranked include cardiology and heart surgery, neurology and neurosurgery, gerontology, and orthopedics — it made the top ten in each of these.

Magnet status reflects hospital quality from a nursing perspective After all, nurses play a huge role in hospital care. Illinois has the most magnet hospitals in the nation ( A late 2017 search reveals 43, among them the following:

  • Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital
  • Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago
  • Loyola University Medical Center
  • NorthShore University HealthSystem – Skokie Hospital
  • Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital
  • Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center

Some organizations boast multiple magnet hospitals.

RN Career Ladder Advancement

Advancement doesn’t necessarily mean going into management or administration. Rush University Medical Center, for example, notes there are advancement opportunities while remaining bedside.

From time to time, health organizations and local newspapers profile nurses and the paths they have taken to become the leaders they have become. In November 2017, the Herald News profiled an obstetrics nurse and the path she had taken to become patient educator, perinatal bereavement counselor, and manager of the birthing suites at her hospital (

For many, becoming an advanced care practitioner is the ultimate goal area. This is an area where Illinois nurses have seen some gains recently in terms of being able to practice to the extent of their training. Nurse practitioners are health care providers, but nurses don’t have to reach this level all at once. Often they do so after a decade or so in the field.

Long-Term Outlook and Average RN Salary in Illinois

The Illinois registered nursing profession has been projected to see 10.5% occupational growth across the 2014 to 2024 decade.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that Illinois registered nurses earned an average of $34.08 an hour in 2016.

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