What Does A Registered Nurse Do?

registered nurse duties

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the rate of employment for registered nurses is expected to grow by 16% through 2026. With such positive expectations, more and more people consider pursuing a career in nursing. 

But what does a registered nurse do? 

Typically, a registered nurse treats or supervises patients, provides advice and emotional support, as well as educates both patients and their caregivers about medical conditions. 

Nurse practitioners are specialized registered nurses who also have other responsibilities, such as prescribing treatment or interpreting lab and imagistic test results. 

The main responsibility of a registered nurse is to monitor a patient’s health by observing and assessing symptoms, records, and reactions to treatment and care. 

Registered nurses must also interact with the patient’s family, providing information, guidance, and instruction regarding the aftercare measures. 

Obviously, the exact duties depend on where you work and the needs of each particular patient. 

In broad lines, though, you can expect to perform the following tasks: 

  • Work in close relation with physicians and nurse practitioners, implementing their orders, administering medication, and performing treatments, procedures, and special tests in accordance with the local, state, and federal regulations.
  • Evaluate diagnostic tests to assess the conditions of a patient. 
  • Assess and evaluate the needs of a patient for care and their response to it.
  • Provide emergency and primary care for injuries and illnesses. 
  • Administer medications as ordered. 
  • Collaborate with the nursing team and other healthcare professionals to create a plan of care for all patients. 
  • Direct and guide ancillary personnel while maintaining the standards of professional nursing. 

Because the most common places where registered nurses work are hospitals, clinics, and ambulatory and critical care, let’s see what you are expected to do in each of these sectors.

What Does A Registered Nurse Do In A Hospital?

When thinking of nursing, most people think of nurses working in a hospital setting. Indeed, according to the BLS, 61% of registered nurses work in private, state, or local hospitals. 

On an average shift, you can expect to: 

  • Get reports from the off-going shift about new admissions, discharges, and patient information. 
  • Count of medications and patient assessment, including vitals and medical evaluation. 
  • Handle any emergencies that may arise. 
  • Provide patient care in accordance with the nurse code of practice and as instructed by a physician.

Most registered nurses working in a hospital environment are expected to work long shifts, including night and weekend shifts as well as holidays. 

wine glasses for registered nurses

What Does A Registered Nurse Do In A Clinic?

A clinic environment is typically more slow-paced compared to a hospital. Nurses in these settings usually deal with patients with non-life-threatening injuries or illnesses, so you can expect to work more predictable shifts during regular business hours.

Your responsibilities may include: 

  • Getting medical equipment ready before the doctors arrive. 
  • Turning on computers, logging on to the systems, and getting charts ready for the day. 
  • Take patient vitals, including height, weight, and blood pressure. 
  • Get details of a patient’s injury or illness and pass it along to the doctor. 
  • Handle follow-up tests and setting up meetings with specialists. 
  • Giving up educational material. 

Since the working environment in a clinic is less stressful than that of a hospital, you can also expect to have weekends and bank holidays off. 

What Does A Registered Nurse Do In Ambulatory Care?

If you’re not yet accustomed to the various kinds of healthcare facilities, know that ambulatory care refers to nurses taking care of patients outside hospitals and clinics, in places such as same-day surgery centers, home hospices, or rehabilitation centers. 

Just like hospital nurses, nurses working in ambulatory centers can be specialist or generalist registered nurses, and they can have a variety of duties. 

In broad lines, you can expect to: 

  • Getting medical equipment ready before the doctors arrive. 
  • Work in close relation with doctors, implementing their orders, administering medication, and performing treatments, procedures, and special tests in accordance with the local, state, and federal regulations.
  • Take patient vitals, including height, weight, and blood pressure. 
  • Assess patient medical evaluation. 
  • Educate and counsel patients and caregivers. 
  • Ensure that proper medication is ordered and manage durable medical equipment orders. 
  • Make sure the patient is safe and comfortable at home. 

As nurses working in a clinic, registered nurses working in ambulatory facilities can expect predictable shifts during normal working hours, but you may have to work weekend and holiday shifts. Some facilities may also require you to work night shifts.

What Does A Registered Nurse Do In Critical Care?

Critical or intensive care involves working with patients with life-threatening conditions who are in need of constant care. It is perhaps the most stressful sector, but as an ICU registered nurse, you can really make a difference in your patient’s life. 

Besides all general responsibilities, you will also have to: 

  • Care for dying patients. 
  • Insert life-saving IVs or make life-saving injections. 
  • Care for people with brain injuries. 
  • Treat patients who have experienced trauma, strokes, or severe accidents.
  • Educate family members about the patient’s treatment.

Sometimes, critical care nurses may also visit patients at home and offer palliative care to patients in terminal stages.

Where Else Can A Registered Nurse Work?

While most registered nurses work in one of the settings above, you have many other options. If you aim for something different, you can choose to become a: 

  • Camp nurse: Performs a variety of duties while enjoying picturesque environments. Most camp nurses work in kids summer camps, and responsibilities include wound care, administering medication to sick children, pulling out splinters, and providing general care and comfort to the kids.
  • School nurse: Most educational facilities have nurses, although this is an often overlooked option. Your responsibilities often include treating wounds, taking vitals, and providing basic care to pupils or students. Sometimes, you might also have to provide feminine health or sexual education. 
  • Correctional facility nurse: If you have the interest of working with potentially dangerous individuals, you could opt for becoming a correctional facility nurse. Your responsibilities will be to provide medical care and counseling to incarcerated patients who may deal with anything from wounds to diabetes, seizure disorders, and HIV. 
  • Home nurse: A home nurse is a medical professional working out of the patient’s home. Duties include caring for elderly or disabled individuals, assisting with basic living and handling of bodily functions, as well as administering medical care. 
  • Transport nurse: Transport nurses provide emergency care aboard of emergency vehicles to patients who are on their way to a healthcare facility. You may be working on an ambulance or helicopter, and will usually deal with patients with life-threatening conditions. If you want to become a transport nurse, know that it’s essential to have the ability to think critically and remain calm under pressure. 
  • Missionary nurse: A missionary nurse position could be ideal if you’d like to travel the world while providing medical care to people from marginalized communities. Most missionary clinics are operated by the church, so you’ll be able to share your faith while learning about other cultures. 
  • Faith community nurse: Working in close relation with local churches and religious communities, the role of a faith community nurse is to provide medical care in accordance with the religious practices of a particular faith. Most community nurses also provide education on health, spiritual, and physical wellness topics, and are experienced in holistic care. 
  • Forensic nurse: Working in close relation with the courts of law, forensic nurses are trained to collect medical evidence from the victims and provide support and comfort to alive victims or family members. Your duties will often include taking blood and tissue samples, assisting during necropsies, and even attending court audiences. 
  • Military nurse: As a military nurse, you’ll work in war zones and care for patients within the armed forces. You will have the opportunity to provide care while serving the country, and at the same time, you can also experience other places and cultures. In addition to medical training, most military nurses also have to attend military training courses and are expected to respect both nursing and military deontology. 
  • Nursing writer: If you’re more inclined towards educating than providing patient care and are also an experienced registered nurse, you can become a nursing writer. You’ll stay in close contact with your main field of activity, but your responsibility will be to write, edit, and proofread technical material for educational textbooks, leaflets, research projects, and more. Some writing nurses also work as script consultants for movies or TV shows featuring nurses.

As you can see, there are quite a few career opportunities for registered nurses. Your specific duties and responsibilities will vary based on what career path you choose, so it’s easy to find a workplace that meets your expectations.

So, what do you think? What kind of registered nurse would you like to be? 

Tell us in a comment below; we’d love to hear from you. And if you know someone else who tackles the idea of becoming a nurse, share this article with them too.

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