What does a Registered Nurse or RN do?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 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.

RNs typically do the following:

  • Assess patients’ conditions
  • Record patients’ medical histories and symptoms
  • Observe patients and record the observations
  • Administer patients’ medicines and treatments
  • Set up plans for patients’ care or contribute information to existing plans
  • Consult and collaborate with doctors and other healthcare professionals
  • Operate and monitor medical equipment
  • Help perform diagnostic tests and analyze the results
  • Teach patients and their families how to manage illnesses or injuries
  • Explain what to do at home after treatment

Most Registered Nurses work as part of a team with physicians and other healthcare specialists. Some oversee licensed practical nurses, nursing assistants, and home health aides.

Registered Nurses’ duties and titles often depend on where they work and the patients they work with. For example, an oncology nurse may work with cancer patients or a geriatric nurse may work with elderly patients. Some RNs even combine one or more areas of practice. For example, a pediatric oncology nurse works with children and teens who have cancer.

Many possibilities for working with specific patient groups exist. The following list includes just a few examples:

  • Addiction – nurses care for patients who need help to overcome addiction to alcohol, drugs and other substances.
  • Cardiovascular – nurses care for 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 for patients with genetic disorders, such as cystic fibrosis.
  • Neonatology – nurses take care of newborn babies.
  • Nephrology – nurses care for patients who have kidney-related health issues stemming from diabetes, high blood pressure, substance abuse or other causes.
  • Public health – nurses promote public health by educating people on warning signs and symptoms of diseases or managing chronic health conditions. They may also run health screenings, immunization clinics, blood drives or other community outreach programs.
  • Rehabilitation – nurses care for patients with temporary or permanent disabilities.

Some nurses 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.

A clinical nurse specialist (CNS) is a type of advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). CNSs provide direct patient care in one of many nursing specialties, such as psychiatric-mental health or pediatrics. They also offer indirect care by working with other nurses and various other staff to improve the quality of care that patients receive. They often serve in leadership roles and may educate and advise other nursing staff. CNSs may also conduct research and advocate for certain policies.

The bottom line: Being a nurse or RN, like many other careers, can be challenging at times, has a lot of growth potential, and can be very rewarding.