A Day in the Life of a Nurse

March 22, 2023
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
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As highly trained and licensed health professionals, nurses are the primary care providers in a wide range of health care situations. The sheer variety of care settings nurses work in and the variety of patient needs they have to meet means that nurses have to expect the unexpected daily.

During a typical day in the life of a nurse, nurses will usually work as part of a team that includes physicians, technicians, administrators, and other providers who work together to diagnose and treat patients. Nurses are almost always on the front lines of this healthcare process, and play a key role in communicating with and advocating for patients.

This easy-to-understand guide will give you a clear picture of some of the most common duties nurses often perform during shifts. It will also cover some common working environments for nurses, including home health care, and how they affect daily tasks.

What duties and responsibilities do nurses have every day?

A day in the life of nurses can vary depending on the time of day they work, their specialty, where they work, and what type of patients they are helping. Across these different factors, there is still a long list of duties and responsibilities that most nurses may need to perform during a given shift. These include:

  • Greeting patients and assisting with intake
  • Recording basic measurements, vital signs, and medical history
  • Discussing and charting symptoms
  • Assisting physicians with or administering examinations and diagnostic testing
  • Creating and administering care plans based on physician diagnosis
  • Communicating with and educating patients and families about their condition, symptoms, and treatment options
  • Administering medication and other forms of treatment
  • Providing wound care and changing patient dressings
  • Collaborating and consulting with other providers, including specialists, surgeons, physical therapists, and pharmacists
  • Helping patients with basic hygiene and nutritional needs and other activities of daily living
  • Moving and transporting patients to other areas
  • Cleaning and sanitizing treatment rooms and equipment
  • Providing emotional support and therapeutic communication to patients and families
  • Assisting with patient discharge and communicating care instructions
  • Ensuring all care is accurately and thoroughly recorded and charted
  • Communicating patient information and updates to other staff, including nurses belonging to the next shift

No two days are truly alike for any nurse. To successfully accomplish these and other tasks, nurses need to be adaptable, hard-working, compassionate, and have excellent communication skills.

How Settings of Care Impact a Nurse’s Day

One of the most significant factors that can affect what a typical day looks like for a nurse is where they work and what unit they work in. For example, a day in the life of a hospital nurse may be very different from a typical day for a home health care nurse.


A hospital might be the first place many think of when picturing where a nurse works. Hospitals have different units that provide round-the-clock patient care based on their needs, including emergency rooms, intensive care, orthopedic care, and pediatric care. Nurses will generally be assigned to a particular unit and work shifts that are often 12 hours long. During a shift, a nurse will usually be assigned a certain number of patients and will make rounds to ensure all care needs are met. At the end of shifts, nurses will report to the next nurse coming on board.

Clinics, Doctor’s Offices, and Surgery Centers

With the exception of urgent care facilities, most clinics tend to be open during the day for more normal operating hours. Nurses will generally be scheduled on a single day shift or have slightly staggered shifts for coverage. Patients coming into these facilities usually have scheduled appointments unless it is a walk-in or urgent care clinic.

Nursing duties will often consist of patient intake, recording vitals, discussing symptoms, reporting symptoms to the physician, administering shots, and drawing blood samples. Nurses in surgery centers will generally prepare patients for procedures, assist surgeons during surgery, and stabilize and assist patients during the postoperative phase.

Nursing Homes and Assisted Living Facilities

Depending on the level of assistance that patients need, nurses in nursing homes or assisted living facilities may be on call when patients need care or may make regular rounds for patients with more complex needs. Nurses in these environments will tend to work more independently and may or may not regularly interact with other providers, such as doctors.

Other Institutions and Settings

Nurses can work in a vast range of settings, including schools, correctional facilities, and offices. In many instances, a nurse may be the sole operator of a clinic, dealing with cases on an as-needed basis and only referring patients to doctors and hospitals when there is a severe or emergency situation.

Another common role for nurses is telephonic nursing, such as case management. In this role, nurses will work with patients, such as injured workers, over the phone to ensure they are following a specific care plan and attending appointments, as well as helping address any new issues that may arise.

Home Health Care

Patients receive direct care from nurses in the home for a wide range of reasons, including elder care for conditions such as dementia, pediatric care for children with basic or medically complex care such as rare diseases and congenital conditions, and assisting patients who are permanently or temporarily disabled. Schedules are often flexible. Nurses may work in a patient’s home for a few hours a couple of times a week, or they may need to provide constant 24/7 care in shifts.

Home health nurses and private duty nurses work independently, often consulting with physicians or nurse managers by phone only in emergencies or specific situations. Duties can range from providing nutritional support to assisting with nutrition, administering medication and tube feedings, managing tracheostomy and/or ventilator care, monitoring apnea, pulse oximetry and suctioning, to helping with at-home therapy exercises, and accompanying patients to appointments if needed.

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