What Registered Nurses Do*
Registered nurses (RNs) provide and coordinate patient care, educate patients and the public about various health conditions, and provide advice and emotional support to patients and their family members.
Registered nurses typically do the following:
- Record patients' medical histories and symptoms
- Give patients medicines and treatments
- Set up plans for patients’ care or contribute to existing plans
- Observe patients and record the observations
- Consult with doctors and other healthcare professionals
- Operate and monitor medical equipment
- Help perform diagnostic tests and analyze results
- Teach patients and their families how to manage their illnesses or injuries
- Explain what to do at home after treatment
Some registered nurses oversee licensed practical nurses, nursing aides, and home care aides. For more information, see the profiles on licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses; nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants; and home health and personal care aides.
Registered nurses sometimes work to promote general health by educating the public on warning signs and symptoms of disease. They might also run general health screenings or immunization clinics, blood drives, or other outreach programs.
Most registered nurses work as part of a team with physicians and other healthcare specialists.
Some nurses have jobs in which they do not work directly with patients, but they must still have an active registered nurse license. For example, they may work as nurse educators, healthcare consultants, public policy advisors, researchers, hospital administrators, salespeople for pharmaceutical and medical supply companies, or as medical writers and editors.
Registered nurses' duties and titles often depend on where they work and the patients they work with. They can focus on the following specialties:
- A specific health condition, such as a diabetes management nurse who helps patients with diabetes or an oncology nurse who helps cancer patients
- A specific part of the body, such as a dermatology nurse working with patients who have skin problems
- A specific group of people, such as a geriatric nurse who works with the elderly or a pediatric nurse who works with children and teens
- A specific workplace, such as an emergency or trauma nurse who works in a hospital or stand-alone emergency department or a school nurse working in an elementary, middle, or high school rather than in a hospital or doctor's office.
Some registered nurses combine one or more of these specialties. For example, a pediatric oncology nurse works with children and teens who have cancer.
Many possibilities for specializing exist. The following list includes just a few other examples of ways that some registered nurses specialize:
- Addiction nurses care for patients who need help to overcome addictions to alcohol, drugs, tobacco, and other substances.
- Cardiovascular nurses treat patients with heart disease and people who have had heart surgery.
- Critical care nurses work in intensive care units in hospitals, providing care to patients with serious, complex, and acute illnesses and injuries that need very close monitoring and treatment.
- Genetics nurses provide screening, counseling, and treatment of patients with genetic disorders, such as cystic fibrosis and Huntington's disease.
- Neonatology nurses take care of newborn babies.
- Nephrology nurses treat patients who have kidney-related health issues that are attributable to diabetes, high blood pressure, substance abuse, or other causes.
- Rehabilitation nurses care for patients with temporary or permanent disabilities.
The median annual wage of registered nurses was $64,690 in May 2010. The median wage is the wage at which half of the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $44,190 and the top 10 percent earned more than $95,130.
As shown in the tabulation below, median annual wages for registered nurses in private general medical and surgical hospitals were $66,650 in May 2010, highest among those industries employing much of the occupation.
|General medical and surgical hospitals; private||$66,650|
|Offices of physicians||62,880|
|General medical and surgical hospitals; local||62,690|
|Home health care services||60,690|
|Nursing care facilities||58,180|
Many employers offer flexible work schedules, child care, educational benefits, and bonuses. About 19 percent of registered nurses are union members or covered by a union contract.
Because patients in hospitals and nursing care facilities need round-the-clock care, nurses in these settings usually work in rotating shifts, covering all 24 hours. They may work nights, weekends, and holidays. They may also be on call, which means they are on duty and must be available to work on short notice.
Nurses who work in offices, schools, and other places that do not provide 24-hour care are more likely to work regular business hours.
In 2010, about 20 percent of registered nurses worked part time.
*According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics
The purpose of the ADN program is to prepare graduates to pass “the NCLEX-RN and function as registered nurses in diverse health care settings” (NLN Educational Competencies p.5). The graduates of the ADN program contribute to the work force, health, and well-being of the community by providing safe, competent care in a professional manner (NLN Educational Competencies p.3).