What Do Nurses Do? RN Duties and Responsibilities

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Nurses are essential in healthcare, specializing in patient care, medication administration, and patient advocacy. Their work is completed in hospitals, clinics, and other settings. Explore the different nursing specialties and career paths, including opportunities like an ABSN program, to learn more about what do nurses do.

nurse looking at tablet

Nursing is central to modern healthcare, with nurses playing diverse and critical roles in patient care. Understanding the scope of a nurse’s responsibilities is key for those considering a career in this field.

Nursing is an ever-changing and influential field within healthcare, spanning general care to specialized positions. Nurses have the most face-to-face time with patients, providing care and coordinating between the different patient care team members.

The wide range of nursing roles and specializations is essential to patient-centered care and meaningful work. Earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree through Pacific Lutheran University’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program, 16 miles north of Seattle in Lynnwood, will equip students to become practicing RNs, ready to pursue the nursing role most appealing to them.

In this post, we will explore nurses' responsibilities and share some of the nursing profession's career prospects.

What is Nursing?

Nursing encompasses a broad range of responsibilities aimed at promoting and maintaining health. At its core, nursing involves caring for individuals, families, and communities to achieve optimal well-being. Nurses are often at the frontline of healthcare, providing essential services such as health assessments, care planning, medication administration, and patient education.

Their role extends beyond healthcare tasks and involves emotional support, advocacy, and collaboration with interdisciplinary teams. Nurses use evidence-based practice in their work, ensuring patients are cared for by the methods most likely to produce positive outcomes.

What Does a Registered Nurse Do?

What does an RN do? Registered nurses are some of the most essential patient care team members entrusted with duties that evolve throughout their careers depending on their practice areas. As part of their profession, they combine specific knowledge with compassionate care to promote patient outcomes and wellness in a holistic, evidence-informed manner. Here, we will explore some of their primary duties and responsibilities.

nursing student holding a syringe

Primary Duties of a Nurse

What do nurses do? Nurses continuously monitor and evaluate patients. They must be intelligent, adaptive, and have critical thinking skills. Nurses often coordinate with specialists to ensure their patients are on the road to recovery.

A nurse's primary duties take many forms. They conduct comprehensive health assessments to identify and communicate patient needs with other professionals. They administer prescribed medications and treatments, ensuring accuracy and patient safety in all they do.

Nurses also educate patients and families about health conditions, treatment options, medication management, and preventive care measures. They also serve as patient advocates by ensuring patient preferences and rights are respected and upheld. Lastly, nurses work collaboratively with physicians, specialists, therapists, and other healthcare professionals to coordinate communication in patient care and ensure everyone is on the same page.

person sitting on bench with legs crossed reading a book

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Additional Nursing Responsibilities

In addition to fundamental duties, RNs often perform routine tasks to support patient care and promote positive health outcomes. This can include regularly assessing and recording vital signs such as blood pressure, pulse rate, temperature, and respiratory rate.

They manage and dress wounds to facilitate healing and prevent infection, respond promptly and effectively to healthcare emergencies, and provide emotional support and counseling to patients and families during illness, recovery, or end-of-life care.

Nursing Specialty Practice Areas

Nursing offers specialty practice areas with distinct roles and responsibilities tailored to specific patient populations and healthcare needs. Each practice area comes with its criteria and requirements to enter, which may include attaining a certain degree level or certifications. Some specialty practice areas (and their primary responsibilities) include:

  • Critical Care Nursing: Managing and monitoring critically ill patients in intensive care units (ICUs) or emergency departments.
  • Pediatric Nursing: Providing care to infants, children, and adolescents, addressing their unique physical, emotional, and developmental needs.
  • Oncology Nursing: Supporting patients and families in cancer diagnoses, treatments, and survivorship.
  • Psychiatric Nursing: Providing mental health assessment, treatment, and support to patients with psychiatric disorders.
  • Labor and Delivery Nursing: Assisting women during childbirth, providing prenatal and postpartum care, and supporting newborn health.

Explore more nursing specialties and see which appeal most to you.

nurse sitting with elderly patient

Where do Nurses Work?

Options for working environments for nurses are not limited to hospitals. Nurses work in many healthcare settings, reflecting their roles and specialties within nursing.

Hospitals employ the most nurses, offering opportunities across various departments and units. Nurses can work in medical-surgical, intensive care, emergency departments, labor and delivery units, and operating rooms. Nurses in clinics and outpatient centers provide primary and specialty care outside the hospital. They may work in primary care clinics, specialty clinics, or urgent care centers.

Nurses who work in long-term care facilities support elderly and chronically ill patients with activities of daily living, including medication management and ongoing health needs. Home health nurses care for patients in their homes, assisting with medications and wounds and monitoring health conditions. These are just some settings where nurses might practice, but nurses touch the operations of practically every medical-related setting.

Nursing Salary and Career Outlook

PLU nursing students working with lab equipment

Compensation for registered nurses varies by location, experience, and specialty. However, job growth for RNs is projected to be 6% by 2032, which is faster than the average for all occupations.

This is due to multiple compounding factors, including an aging population requiring an increased need for healthcare services and the need to fill a currently existing nursing shortage. With so much demand for this profession, gaining the education necessary to become a nurse can be a valuable investment in your future.

Ready to Start Working Toward a Career in Nursing?

Starting a career in nursing typically requires a solid educational foundation and clinical experience. Many aspiring nurses pursue a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program. While PLU offers a BSN program at its main campus in Tacoma, it also offers students an ABSN program in Lynnwood to help them accelerate their career goals.

Pacific Lutheran University’s ABSN program prepares students for working in the nursing profession through a comprehensive curriculum, including hands-on clinical experiences and knowledgeable faculty guidance. The program's accelerated format allows motivated students to earn their BSN faster and transition into the profession sooner.

If you’re passionate about making a difference in healthcare and are ready to pursue a fulfilling career as a registered nurse, consider exploring PLU’s ABSN program. Contact an admission counselor today to take the first step in your nursing journey.