Career Guide | What Do Nurses Do?

nurse at work

Interested in becoming a nurse but wondering what a nurse does in their day to day job? Nurses are the backbone of the healthcare industry, working on the front lines of patient care.

Explore this Guide:

Some nurses work in hospitals, clinics, or private practices. The nursing profession is one of the largest professions in the United States with over 3.8 million registered nurses working in the US. The job outlook for anyone looking to enter a nursing career is also 12%, which is higher than average. There are well over 100 different nursing specialties for your to choose from and nurses can expect to make a median annual salary of $71,730 a year!

Common Registered Nurse Duties

Nurses have a very important job. They are the hands and heart of our healthcare facilities. Registered nurses have a lot of duties, but mainly, they treat patients and communicate between patients and doctors.

  • administer medication
  • administer treatments
  • conduct testing
  • supervise newer nurses
  • observing patients
  • recording symptoms
  • communicate important information to doctors
  • teach patients how to treat themselves upon leaving
  • educate patients about health
  • perform health screenings
  • manage blood drives

Skills Nurses Need

Communication: Nurses need ample communication skills so that they can communicate effectively with their coworkers and their patients. They need to be clear so that treatment is done correctly and symptoms are recorded accurately. But they also need to be kind in the way they communicate with patience about their symptoms and needs.

Problem Solving: Nurses face many different problems throughout a typical workday. They need to be adaptable, flexible, and resourceful so that they can find solutions to problems and make important decisions and choices regarding patient care.

Compassion: Nurses will treat all kinds of patients. Some of them will be kind, others will be less so, some will be there for regular checkups, and other patients will have a serious ailment. When dealing with patients who are worried, scared, or in pain, nurses need the ability to be kind, compassionate, and patient.

Detail Oriented: Nurses are often the ones to ask the patient important questions to log down their symptoms and help make a final diagnosis. They need to be detail oriented in order to accurately record all the information needed to provide the best care.

Ethics: Nurses deal with the personal medical business of their patients. Because of the highly personal nature of their work, nurses need to have a strong foundation and understanding of ethics.

Teamwork: Nurses work as part of a giant medical team. They need to be able to work together with other medical staff in order to properly care for all their patients.

Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs)

Nursing assistants are the first tier in the nursing career. They work on the front-most lines when caring for patients. CNAs are often responsible for helping their patients perform daily activities that might be difficult for them, like bathing, dressing, eating, using the bathroom, and walking. CNAs often work as caregivers in nursing homes and other healthcare facilities.

CNAs have the most direct contact with patients and patient care, performing every task necessary to get those under their care the help they need.

  • bath patients
  • dress patients
  • help patients eat their food
  • help patients use the bathroom
  • help patients get around
  • measure and record a patient’s vitals
  • transfer patients between beds and wheelchairs

Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs)

Not all nurses are the same. There are also different kinds of nurses and nursing specialties that all have their own roles and duties to perform.

For example, a Licensed Practical Nurse, or LPN, works under the supervision of Registered Nurses, or RNs, and doctors. They are responsible for providing basic medical care to patients. But LPNs might be limited on what they are allowed to do depending on the state they live in.

Some states don’t allow LPNs to administer medication or insert intravenous drips (IVs) while others do allow this, and other states require LPNs be supervised whenever they perform this task. In general, LPNs take care of basic patient care, including:

  • monitor, record, and report a patients wellbeing
  • change bandages
  • insert catheters
  • help patients eat, dress, and bath when necessary
  • collect samples for testing
  • perform routine lab tests
  • insert IV drips (depending on state restrictions)

Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs)

Licensed Vocational Nurses, or LVNs, are similar to LPNs. They also work under the supervision of Registered Nurses and Doctors, and they primarily manage basic patient care. In fact, LVNs and LPNs are the same job, but different states use different names.

Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVN) vs Licensed Practical Nurses (LPN)

Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVN) and Licensed Practical Nurses (LPN) are actually the same job. They only difference between a Licensed Vocational Nurses and a Licensed Practical Nurses is the name. Some states refer to this nursing position as a Licensed Vocational Nurses while other states refer to this same position as a Licensed Practical Nurse.

California and Texas used to have their own nursing exams, separate from the nursing exams the other states required. This is why their nurses were then given a slightly different title (Licensed Vocational Nurse) from nurses in other parts of the country (Licensed Practical Nurse), because they had to pass a different nursing exam to practice in their state.

Registered Nurses (RNs)

Registered nurses work a tier above LVNs/LPNs. They are in charge of not only providing patient care, but also coordinating it. Registered Nurses are also responsible for overseeing all of the nurses and hospital workers that work under them and making sure patient care runs smoothly.

Registered Nurses might supervise LPNs/LVNs, Nursing Assistants (CAN), and other medical staff. Registered Nurses can also specialize the patient groups they care for. They might work specifically as pediatric nurses, critical care nurses, neonatal nurses, rehabilitation, public health, health education, and many others.

Registered Nurses have a lot of duties like,

  • assess patient health
  • monitor, record, and report on patient condition
  • record observations about patient condition
  • administer medication
  • administer treatments
  • create and teach care and treatment plans
  • work with doctors directly to treat patients
  • operate medical equipment and instruments
  • supervise other nurses
Registered Nursing Specialties

Oncology Nurses work with cancer patients.

Geriatric Nurses work with elderly patients.

Pediatric Nurses work with children and teens.

Addiction Nurses work with patients who are trying to overcome their addictions.

Cardiovascular Nurses work with patients that have heart conditions.

Critical Care Nurses work with patients in intensive care.

Genetics Nurses work with patients that have genetic disorders.

Neonatal Nurses work with newborns.

Nephrology Nurses work with patients that have kidney problems.

Public Health Nurses work in public health, educating the public and performing public health services like screenings, blood drives, and vaccines.

Rehabilitation Nurses work with patients that have permanent, long-term, or chronic illnesses or disabilities.

Nurse Educators are registered nurses that work to educate other nurses and keep them up to date on current medical practices and knowledge.

Hospital Administrators can be registered nurses that don’t work directly with patients. Instead they work to manage and lead public health systems.

Healthcare Consultants can be registered nurses that don’t work directly with patients. Instead they observe, examine, and analyze healthcare organizations in order to offer guidance on how healthcare facilities can improve.

Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs)

Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) cover a very wide net of nursing career specialties. APRNs also do a lot of the same tasks that registered nurses do. The difference between an APRN and an RN is that APRNs have even more training.

  • order lab tests
  • evaluate test results
  • refer patients to specialists
  • diagnose patients
  • create treatment plans for patients
  • conduct medical research
  • educate medical staff
APRN Specialties

Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNS) work with a specific population of patients to provide a specific form of care and treatment. They might specialize in geriatric critical care, pediatrics, public health, and many other specialties.

Nurse Practitioners (NP) also work in a specialized area of nursing like acute care, adult gerontology, emergency care, family health, and neonatal.

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) administer anesthesia and monitor patients undergoing surgeries and other procedures.

Certified Nurse Midwives (CNMs) care for women, perform gynecological exams, prenatal care, deliver babies, and handle any emergency situations that arise before, during, or after childbirth.

What Education Do Nurses Need?

Bachelor’s Degree

In order to become a registered nurse you’ll have to get a Bachelor of Science in Nursing Degree (BSN). These degrees usually take 4 years and will teach students of nursing subjects like anatomy, physiology, microbiology, psychology, and other medical and social sciences.

Registered nurses can also get an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) or an Associate of Science in Nursing Degree (ASN). These associate programs are shorter, taking only 2 to 3 years to finish.

Master’s Degree

In order to be a clinical nurse specialist (CNS) you’ll have to continue your education to receive a Master’s Degree in Nursing. If you want to conduct research as a CNS then you’ll need to have a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) or a PhD. Other registered nurses who work in specialized fields will also need a master’s degree in an accredited master’s program.

What Certifications and Licenses Do Nurses Need?

Once nurses receive their education they will need to become licensed and certified in order to practice. Nurses can get their registered nurse license with the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA) by taking the National Certification Examination (NCE). Then, nurses can renew their license with the Continued Professional Certification (CPC) Program.

If you specialize in a specific field as a registered nurse than you might need certificates specific to that field. For example, midwife nurses must become certified with the American Midwifery Certification Board to become a Certified Nurse-Midwife (CNM). Some other specialized certifications for nurses include the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB), the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB), cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification, basic life support (BLS) certification, and advanced cardiac life support (ACLS) certification.


US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Registered Nurses.”

US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses.”


written by Kimber Severance, Check City Copywriter

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