What is a Registered Nurse? | Job Description and Duties

Registered nurses provide essential medical care, emotional support, and education to people in various settings.

As a result, they’re essential for helping patients improve their health and prevent diseases/illnesses.

These healthcare specialists work with CNAs, physicians, nurse practitioners, and other medical professionals.

What Do Registered Nurses Do?

Registered nurses in clinical settings have numerous daily duties to ensure adequate patient care.

For instance, they record patients’ symptoms, assess ailments, administer medications, and assist with treatments.

They also aid patients in rehabilitation programs and work with medical professionals to ensure they receive adequate care.

Finally, registered nurses educate patients and families about their injuries/illnesses and provide answers to their questions.

Registered Nurse Responsibilities:

  • Assess the patient’s medical condition (observe and interpret symptoms)
  • Evaluate patients throughout the rehabilitation process
  • Administer medications and treatments
  • Educate patients about their injuries, illness, and ailments
  • Collaborate with nurses and doctors/physicians to develop patient care plans
  • Update medical records and documentation
  • Supervise LPNs, CNAs, and nursing assistants
  • Assist patients in the ICU, ED, critical care, trauma unit, and other sensitive environments
  • Feed, bathe, and clean patients unable to care for themselves
  • Remove Stitches

Nurses in non-bedside healthcare disciplines like legal consulting, education, or research have different work obligations.

According to BLS.gov, approximately 61% of registered nurses work in hospital settings.gov.

In addition, registered nurses make up 30% of hospital employment.

Based on these statistics, nearly 40% of registered nurses work in disciplines outside of hospital employment.


Registered nurses possess an ADN or BSN degree in nursing.

However, many healthcare facilities prefer nurses with a bachelor’s degree for specialized roles and duties.

An ADN or associate degree in nursing is a two-year program students take to obtain licensure to work as an RN.

Alternatively, the BSN or Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree is a four-year program that provides further education and training.

Aspiring registered nurses must possess a diploma or GED to participate in a nursing program.

They must also pass the nursing school prerequisite courses to enter the program and begin their educational journey.

Depending on the school, aspiring students must maintain a certain GPA average to qualify for a nursing program.

Some schools accept students with a 3.5 GPA average, while others require a 3.8 due to high demand and limited seating.

During the program, students spend two to four years learning the ins and outs of nursing.

At the end of the program, students must take and pass the NCLEX-RN examination to obtain licensure and work as RNs.

Types of Nursing Degrees

  • Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
  • Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) 
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)

Each advancement in degree offers registered nurses more career opportunities.

It also provides nurses with higher pay, better benefits, and more career freedom.

Many nurses begin their careers with an ADN degree.

However, those serious about advancing in their career usually complete their BSN.

It offers more diversity in terms of career choices and benefits.

A higher degree is particularly beneficial in careers like legal counseling, medical research, leadership, and education.

Those who have acquired their MSN may choose a career in nursing administration.

They may also work as clinical nurse leaders or nurse practitioners.

Moreover, those who earn their DNP may work as clinical care experts or educators.

The DNP degree offers the highest level of independence and career choices among all nursing professionals.

Advanced Practice Registered Nurses

Some registered nurses return to school to obtain further education after earning their BSN degree.

It allows them to specialize in a particular area of healthcare and provides a broader scope of practice.

RNs who obtain an MSN or DNP degree are advanced practice registered nurses or APRNs.

APRNs work in one of four specializations.

It includes certified registered nurse anesthetists, clinical nurse specialists, nurse practitioners, and certifiednurse midwives.

APRNs work at the highest level within the nursing profession at this level.

For instance, APRNs become educators, primary care providers, mental health experts, and other high-level professionals.

In addition, APRNs, like nurse practitioners, diagnose conditions, prescribe medications, and open independent clinics.\

APRNs regularly earn six figures due to their exceptional training, expertise, and knowledge.

CNAs and LPNs

Before becoming registered nurses, some individuals may start careers as CNAs or LPNs.

These professions allow aspiring registered nurses to determine whether healthcare is the right career decision.

It also allows nursing students to earn money and obtain hands-on experience while attending school.

Students can complete the CNA program in a few months and obtain certification to work in healthcare.

It’s the fastest route for aspiring nurses seeking healthcare employment.

With that said, CNAs have the least autonomy and limited career opportunities.

Alternatively, students can complete the LPN program in 12 months.

This program allows students to provide higher levels of patient care and start work relatively quickly.

The LPN program offers more autonomy than the CNA program but has numerous career limitations.

As a result, some CNAs and LPNs pursue further education to become registered nurses.

Understanding Nurse Career Opportunities

Over one hundred career alternatives are available to aspiring and existing registered nurses.

It includes professions in research, education, legal consulting, family care, mental health, and others.

As a result, this profession offers occupations to accommodate a broad range of interests, talents, and disciplines.

Registered nurses have an extensive amount of career choices.

However, they also have exceptional job stability and earn excellent incomes compared to other professions.

As the economy ages and existing nurses retire, the healthcare industry will require newly trained nurses to manage the growing demand.

As a result, more opportunities will arise, improving healthcare workers’ options, career stability, and competitive pay.

Hospital Nurse

Hospital nurses are one of the most common and well-known positions in the nursing field.

These nurses work at a hospital providing bedside care in a team-oriented environment.

They are responsible for assessing and managing patients’ conditions and assisting with their recovery.

They also gather information for the physician to assess the patient’s condition and recommend a recovery course.

Registered nurses in hospital settings often specialize in one area of medical care.

Common Nursing Departments in Hospitals

  • Anesthesiology
  • Critical care
  • Cardiology
  • Emergency room nursing
  • Geriatrics
  • Oncology
  • Pediatrics,
  • NICU
  • Surgery and transplantation

The following section covers a small number of careers for registered nurses. It provides some depth on the variety of career opportunities available. That said, registered nursing is highly diverse.

They can also pursue careers in research, education, legal consulting, mental health, entrepreneurship, and other facets.

Home Nurse

Home nurses provide medical care to patients in their home environment.

In addition to medical care, home nurses provide patients with a deep sense of companionship and emotional support.

As a result, they’re not just treating the patient’s illness/injury.

They also give patients positive feedback, education, and helpful psychological reinforcement.

Head Nurse (Supervisor)

Head nurses oversee the nursing staff’s performance, training, and abilities.

It provides hospital staff with the proper information/actions necessary to achieve optimal performance.

For instance, head nurses provide work assignments, set training programs, and create schedules.

They also assess nurses’ performances and capabilities and observe/record nurses treating their patients.

Head nurses are responsible for keeping up-to-date records, monitoring the condition of medical equipment, and ordering new medical supplies.

Office Nurse

Office nurses assist doctors at privately owned doctors’ offices, hospitals, or care facilities.

These nurses are responsible for collecting information regarding a patient’s ailments.

They also help physicians with preparation and office duties.

Office nurses may give medication, administer injections, provide anesthesia, care for wounds and incisions, assist in operations, and keep medical records.

Those with more experience may work for a lawyer or insurance company and provide medical knowledge regarding insurance claims or lawsuits from participants claiming to be injured.

The duties of office nurses vary greatly depending on their education/expertise and healthcare domain. 

Occupational Nurse

Companies or firms may hire occupational nurses to provide medical care to employees and customers.

They provide patients with proper medical knowledge and educate them about their ailments.

They also give workers private consultation and support and provide emergency care to injured/sick people.

In emergencies, occupational nurses assess injuries, give medical aid, and act as a liaison between the ambulance crew and physicians.

Finally, occupational nurses may record and keep accident reports to ensure a safe and healthy work environment.

Public Health Nurse

A public health nurse works for various health institutions to educate and guide the public.

It includes privately-owned or government-owned companies, clinics, healthcare centers, school districts, or agencies.

Public health nurses may administer health exams and immunizations, offer blood tests and participate in similar tests/examinations.

They generally work in an environment that educates the public about injuries and illnesses.

As a result, they’re essential to keeping the public safe, injury-free, and in good health.

Where Do Registered Nurses Work?

Registered nurses work in various settings within the private and public healthcare sectors.

Most registered nurses (approximately 61%) work in hospital environments.

However, nearly 40% of nurses work in other occupations, from offices to research centers and educational institutes.

The following list covers numerous departments, companies, and institutional settings you can find registered nurses.

Places Registered Nurses Work

  • The armed forces (i.e., the military and navy)
  • Colleges
  • Community centers
  • Doctor offices
  • Emergency rooms
  • Geriatric care centers
  • Health care facilities
  • Hospices
  • Hospitals
  • Intensive care units
  • Laboratories
  • Nursing homes
  • Nurse practitioner offices
  • Psychiatric care facilities
  • Research centers
  • School districts
  • Universities
  • Walk-in clinics

Depending on the work setting, a registered nurse’s duties and obligations will vary dramatically.

For instance, registered nurses in hospital settings typically provide bedside care and work with physicians to ensure optimal patient safety and support.

Alternatively, legal nurse consultants work with lawyers providing medical expertise, data, and support in legal-medical cases.

Schedule and Hours

A registered nurse’s schedule and work hours vary depending on their domain/discipline and healthcare employer.

Registered nurses working in hospital settings typically work three twelve-hour shifts per week.

However, they may occasionally work five eight-hour shifts or four ten-hour shifts weekly in specific settings.

These hours do not include voluntary or required overtime, which some healthcare facilities need to fulfill patient demands.

Healthcare departments with nursing shortages may require nurses to work as many as 60 hours per week.

Finally, hospital registered nurses work morning, noon, and night shifts because healthcare facilities require 24/7 support.

They also work weekends and holidays to ensure patients receive adequate care.

Outside of hospital environments, registered nurses have more normalized schedules.

For instance, nurses working for schools or research facilities may work Monday through Friday from 8 am to 5 pm.

It allows them to have a more stable work-life balance because they aren’t needed to provide 24/7 patient care.

In addition, registered nurses working for schools may receive summer breaks because school is closed during that period.

The Benefits Of Becoming A Registered Nurse

Those with a strong desire to help others may find that becoming a registered nurse is a great career choice.

Registered nurses provide medical support and emotional care to patients with illnesses and injuries.

They help patients recover, educate them about their condition, and answer any questions.

They also update medical records, administer medications, analyze patient conditions and help medical professionals provide high-level care.

In some locations and under the right circumstances, registered nurses make more than 100,000 annually!

In addition, they have many opportunities to work in various disciplines and specialize in a specific healthcare domain.

Some RNs become flight nurses, critical care nurses, legal consultants, researchers, and mental health experts.

Other nurses work in forensics, ambulatory care, education, and travel nursing.

The nursing industry is in high demand and continually growing.

As a result, there will be plenty of opportunities for nurses to make excellent incomes and choose careers that match their personalities.

New nurses may find work quickly by relocating to areas with a nursing shortage or requiring additional staffing.

The more experience, education, and training registered nurses gain, the more opportunities they have to pick an ideal work location and occupation.

Overall, nursing can be a highly demanding job.

However, it offers many advantages, including excellent pay, benefits, and the pleasure of helping others lead better lives.