What Does a Registered Nurse Do?

January 8, 2023
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
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Nurses, including registered nurses (RNs) are more in demand than ever. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for RNs is expected to grow by 6% over the next 10 years. That’s just one of the reasons why so many people looking to change careers are interested in becoming an RN.

If you are interested in this career path, but still aren’t exactly sure what a registered nurse does or how it’s different from other types of nurses, it’s OK. This guide will help you gain a clear picture of the role and duties of an RN, the career opportunities and pathways available, and the skills and education needed to become one.

Registered Nurse (RN) Explained

A registered nurse is a specific category of nurse who has received a license from the state to deliver and coordinate direct patient care. To receive this license, RNs must earn a degree from an accredited educational program and pass a national licensing examination. RNs work in nearly every facet of health care, from direct clinical settings to home health care to educational roles.

A Day In the Life of an RN

Specific roles of RNs depend on where they work and what their specialty is, but in a very large number of situations, RNs are the primary provider of frontline patient care. This very often requires excellent communication skills, including speaking to patients to gather basic health information, reporting vitals and changes in health status to physicians, and coordinating care with other team members.

Nursing is a very physically demanding job as well. In most settings, RNs can expect to spend most of their day on their feet, moving quickly between patients, and rapidly prioritizing tasks and emergent situations.

Typical RN Duties

Duties that RNs can expect to encounter across specialties and settings include:

  • Communicating with and educating patients and families on their condition, care pathway, and treatments
  • Collecting patient information, taking vital signs and measurements, and updating medical records and charts
  • Monitoring patient health status and evaluating ongoing status and care needs
  • Developing and administering a patient care plan in collaboration with physicians and other providers
  • Coordinating care with other nurses, nursing assistants, and providers, sometimes acting in a supervisory capacity

Depending on the setting, RNs may work independently or as part of a larger team.

Where Do RNs Work?

RNs work in practically any health care setting, as well as many nonclinical roles, including:

  • Hospitals
  • Rehabilitation and long-term care facilities
  • Nursing homes
  • Surgery centers
  • Clinics
  • Doctor’s offices
  • Schools
  • Businesses
  • Telephonic and in-person case management
  • Home health skilled nursing
  • Health care education
  • Health care consulting

In general, RNs often start out in an entry-level position at a hospital, nursing home, or other clinical setting, but there are a wide range of pathways and goals that RNs can pursue.

Specialties and Career Paths for RNs

There is a need for RNs in basically every specialty and niche of the health care field. Nurses can train and receive additional certifications to specialize in any number of areas, including:

  • Critical care and trauma
  • Cardiac care
  • Medical surgical nursing
  • Perioperative nursing, including pre and postsurgical support
  • Orthopedic care
  • Psychiatric care
  • Physical rehabilitation and therapy
  • Elder care
  • End of life care
  • Pediatric nursing
  • Home health care
  • Case management

Nurses often choose their specialty based on their individual skills, strengths, and career goals. Additionally, RNs can choose to move into managerial, supervisory, or administrative roles, where they oversee the work of other RNs or nurses, or ensure operational function at a health care facility. RNs can also seek a role as an educator and teach nursing at the collegiate level for both practical nursing and registered nursing programs.

Becoming an RN

There is no one specific path to becoming an RN. Degrees in nursing are available at the associate, bachelor, and master level that can prepare a prospective nurse with the knowledge and skills needed to be an RN. Nursing students can go to school full or part time. There are also bridge programs for certified nursing assistants (CNAs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) to become RNs.

The one major requirement to becoming an RN is to pass the National Council Licensure Examination — Registered Nurse (NCLEX-RN). This is a national examination that is administered by each state to ensure that anyone holding a nursing degree has the clinical skills and medical knowledge to receive a nursing license. Once an RN receives a nursing license, he or she will still need to receive continuing education yearly to renew their license.

Skills Needed

Becoming an RN is not for everyone. Prospective nurses must have the right mix of skills, compassion, and a true desire to be a patient advocate. RNs regularly require the following skills:

  • Hard work
  • Therapeutic communication skills
  • Attention to detail
  • Organizational skills
  • Knowledge of functional human anatomy
  • Knowledge of medications and treatments
  • Ability to collect and monitor patient vital stats
  • Ability to stay calm under pressure
  • Ability to quickly assess and prioritize patient status

These skills are the fundamentals of being a successful RN, with many more specific skills needed depending on a chosen specialty or niche.

Education Requirements

To become an RN, you must be accepted into and complete a nursing program at an accredited school. Nursing degrees are available at major universities, junior colleges, private schools, trade schools, and online institutions.

Although two-year associate degrees in nursing have long been the basic educational requirement for becoming an RN, bachelor’s degrees are now becoming more standard across the health care industry. Master’s degrees in nursing are usually pursued by nurses seeking to enter into a managerial or administrative capacity or educator role.

How Long Does It Take to Become an RN?

The length of time it takes to become an RN depends on previous experience and education, as well as whether someone is a full- or part-time nursing student. Most nursing programs can take two to four years or longer for full time students.

Additionally, there is usually a waiting period of months or longer after graduation to schedule the NCLEX, take the NCLEX, receive your results, and become licensed. It may also take some time to apply, interview, and receive an offer for your first job as an RN, depending on the level of demand.

Contact Care Options for Kids for Home Health Care

Our home health care nurses work services one-on-one with a client in the comfort of their own home. We are always looking for loving and competent nurses to provide customized care for families — from a few hours a day to around-the-clock supervision.

Applying for a position with Care Options for Kids is quick and simple. Our online application process is straightforward and effortless, and eliminates the need to come into a local office. Our process is virtual and can be completed at your convenience until you are ready to meet with our Director of Nursing. Your application, resumé, license, CPR card, and other credentials can all be uploaded easily online. Call today at (888) 592-5855 or visit us online.