Responsibilities and Duties of a Registered Nurse

Female nurse talking and smiling with a mother and her daughter.

Although the nursing shortage has been a noteworthy topic for years, it still isn’t resolved. More registered nurses are needed, and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of registered nurses is projected to increase 16 percent by 2024. There are plenty of opportunities for career changers and nurses seeking advancement.

The responsibilities and duties of a registered nurse include the following tasks, according to the American Nurses Association.

  • Performing physical exams and taking health histories
  • Providing health promotion, counseling and education
  • Administering medications, wound care and other personalized interventions
  • Interpreting patient information and making critical decisions about needed actions
  • Coordinating care in collaboration with other health care professionals
  • Directing and supervising care delivered by other health care personnel like licensed practical nurses and nurse aides
  • Conducting research in support of improved practice and patient outcomes

Registered nurses work in all health care settings, including hospitals, nursing homes, medical offices, ambulatory care centers, community health centers, schools and retail clinics, as well as locations such as prisons, homeless shelters, camps, tourist destinations and at sporting events. Certain responsibilities and duties of a registered nurse in health care settings can vary.

RN Duties and Responsibilities in Hospitals

Registered nurses work in hospitals more than any other work environment. State, local and private hospitals comprise 61 percent of registered nursing positions, according to the BLS.

Registered nurses in hospitals perform many of the typical duties listed previously. After obtaining the needed level of education, experience and qualifications, registered nurses can enter a specialization that will alter fundamental duties and responsibilities. The following examples illustrate some of the opportunities that are possible.

  • Cardiac nurses: Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Cardiac nurses help patients suffering from heart disease, recovering from heart surgery and receiving treatment for all types of heart conditions. These nurses receive special training for treating physical symptoms of cardiac patients, as well as the emotional, nutritional and ongoing needs of this group of patients.
  • Critical care nurses: Patients with serious and acute illnesses and injuries require close monitoring and treatment. Critical care nurses use advanced knowledge and skills to perform assessments, provide intensive therapy and intervention, advocate for patients and operate life support systems.
  • Neonatology nurses: Neonatology nurses care for premature and critically ill newborns in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) of hospitals. Responsibilities include administering medications, recording newborns’ status and progress, and educating new mothers about their baby and any questions they may have about caring for their baby.
  • Perioperative nurses: Perioperative or surgical/operating room nurses care for patients before, during and after surgery. These nurses maintain a sterile operating room during surgery, monitor patients during surgery and help patients prepare for and recover from surgery.

RN Duties and Responsibilities in Primary Care

In primary care, registered nurses provide a high skill set to settings like pediatrics and family medicine offices. These nurses engage in tasks such as complex care management, lead care teams and oversee specialized care services.

Physicians Practice recommends that primary care physicians consider hiring registered nurses to assume responsibilities that medical assistants cannot perform. Registered nurses can assist with procedures, directly supervise medical assistants and head telephone triage for answering questions from patients. As a result, registered nurses can free up a physician’s time and increase the quality of care in a primary care environment.

RN Duties and Responsibilities in Nursing Homes

Registered nurses in nursing homes care for patients and can be in charge of other employees, because they typically have more training and education than other nurses. Some registered nurses have taken specialized graduate courses in geriatric care and have obtained a certificate or degree to become a gerontological nurse.

Registered nurses often work as the head nurse in nursing homes. Under the direct supervision of the medical doctor, the registered nurses oversee licensed practical nurses and certified nursing assistants. Supervisory tasks include designating nursing assignments and creating working schedules. Other roles include preparing IVs, administering medications, drawing blood and taking vital signs. Registered nurses also interact with a patient’s family to report changes in the patient’s health or living situation.

RN Duties and Responsibilities in Schools

Registered nurses in schools are able to play a role in students’ ability to learn. There are 11.2 million U.S. children at risk for chronic physical, developmental, behavioral or emotional disorders who may require health-related services in schools. School nurses advance the well-being, academic success, and lifelong achievement and health of students.

There are four primary standards of practice and services provided by the school nurse, according to the National Association of School Nurses.

  • Leadership: School nurses lead in the development of policies, programs and procedures for school health services. They advocate for the individual student and provide skills and education that encourage self-empowerment, problem solving, effective communication and collaboration with others, as well as participate in plans that monitor bullying, school violence and emergency incidents. They provide system‐level leadership and act as change agents, promoting education and health care reform.
  • Community/public health: School nurses employ cultural competency in delivering effective care in culturally diverse communities. They promote health by addressing topics like healthy lifestyles, risk‐reducing behaviors, developmental needs, activities of daily living and preventive self‐care. They strive to promote health equity, assisting students and families in connecting with health care services, financial resources, shelter, food and health promotion.
  • Care coordination: School nurses are members of the educational and medical/nursing communities, and are able to communicate and collaborate with practitioners from both fields. As case managers, they coordinate student health between the medical home, family and school. School nurses deliver quality health care and nursing intervention for actual and potential health problems. This includes education of school staff.
  • Quality improvement: School nurses utilize research data as they advocate and illustrate the impact of their role on meaningful health and academic outcomes. They engage in quality improvement, which is a continuous and systematic process that leads to measurable improvements and outcomes and is integral to health care reform and standards of practice. Continuous quality improvement is the nursing process in action: assessment, identification of the issue, development of a plan of action, implementation of the plan and evaluation of the outcome.

Taking Your Nursing Career to the Next Level

Some health care employers have started requiring that all candidates who are registered nurses have at least a bachelor’s degree. It is also needed to enter many nursing specialties.

Aurora University’s online RN to BSN program helps nurses build their skills and prepare for leadership positions. Graduates are equipped with the skills and knowledge to pursue advanced career opportunities. The program takes place in an online learning environment that allows students to complete their degree while maintaining their work and personal schedule.