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Registered Nurses | What Do They Do?

Registered nurses typically do the following:

  • Record patients' medical histories and symptoms
  • Give patients medicines and treatments
  • Set up plans for patientsí 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



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.

Advanced practice registered nurses may provide primary and specialty care, and, in most states, they may prescribe medicines. All states specifically define requirements for registered nurses in these four advanced practice roles:

  • Clinical nurse specialists provide direct patient care and expert consultations in one of many nursing specialties, such as psychiatric-mental health.
  • Nurse anesthetists provide anesthesia and related care before and after surgical, therapeutic, diagnostic, and obstetrical procedures. They also provide pain management and emergency services.
  • Nurse-midwives provide care to women, including gynecological exams, family planning advice, prenatal care, assistance in labor and delivery, and care of newborns. 
  • Nurse practitioners serve as primary and specialty care providers, providing a blend of nursing and primary care services to patients and families.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition


for State specific information, visit  JOB OUTLOOK BY STATE



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