What You'll Do as an RN

Here's what you'll do daily in your role as a registered nurse.

registered nurse with patient files

If you've ever been treated for an illness or just had a regular check-up, there's a strong chance you interacted with a registered nurse (RN). A popular job, it's also in very high demand.

Registered nurses are team players and typically contribute to a larger medical team's mission. Usually found in operating rooms, doctors' offices, intensive care, ambulatory care, and clinics, RNs focus on patient care and providing the resources they need.

In conjunction with patient care tasks, RNs usually serve in a supervisory role to licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and nursing assistants.

What does a registered nurse do?

RNs can be found in all arenas of health care.

On the job, registered nurses perform a variety of functions:

  • Evaluate and record patient symptoms
  • Help doctors during exams and surgeries
  • Dress wounds and incisions
  • Teach patients about self-care and healthy habits
  • Lab work
  • Review patient treatment plans and measure progress
  • Act as supervisor to some nurses

The exact duties an RN performs relies heavily on where they work. For example, RNs in hospitals are more likely to be in fast-paced situations with irregular hours whereas an RN in a doctor's office is more apt to work a typical 40-hour week and work closely with regular patients.

What education or certification will I need to become a registered nurse?

The first stop to becoming an RN is getting the proper training and degree. Aspiring RNs can choose between an associate degree in nursing, bachelor's of science in nursing degree or a nursing diploma. Learn more about what you'll study

Both online and on-campus schools offer RN training courses. An associate's degree in nursing can get you on the job faster than other degree programs. It allows graduates to apply for entry-level jobs and jump into the weeds right away. The nursing diploma is offered by hospitals, usually in conjunction with a community college, and teach students about nursing in hospitals and inpatient environments.

Bachelor's degrees in nursing (BSN) come in a few flavors. The traditional BSN typically takes four years to complete and gives BSN nurses the chance to work in a variety of settings, like critical care.

The RN-to-BSN path is intended for RNs with an associate's degree or diploma and take between two to three years to complete. These programs tend to have more flexible schedules and offer credit for work experience because they're designed for working nurses.

Potential RNs aren't done once their degree is in hand. They must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) in order to practice. Check with your state's board of nursing to ensure you complete the proper education requirements to become certified.

What career paths can I take as a registered nurse?

After graduating from registered nursing school and getting certified, RNs can choose from the many forks in the road. Simply put, RN career paths are plentiful:

Physician's office: For the RN who prefers a regular 9-to-5 schedule, working in a physician's office is the go-to path. In this environment, RNs help out during exams, dress wounds, do lab work and administer injections. There's usually more competition for these jobs due to the perks of regular hours and more comfortable setting.

Hospitals: Despite the frenetic environment, RNs who work in hospitals enjoy a few advantages: The opportunity to supervise, the ability to care for a wide variety of patients and ailments and gain training in a specialty, such as surgical nursing. 

Nursing homes: Demand is growing in these residential care facilities as the population ages. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates job growth in long-term rehabilitation facilities treating strokes and head injuries. Additionally, demand for RNs will be high for facilities treating Alzheimer's disease. RNs assess and monitor the health of the patients, devise treatment plans, perform medical procedures and work as a supervisor.

Home health care services: Working in home health care gives RNs autonomy as well as the chance to provide a more personal, one-on-one patient experience. Generally, home health care RNs monitor patients once they've left the hospital and treat them as necessary.

Military nursing: If you're interested in serving your country while helping others, becoming a military RN could be for you. Some of the perks include tuition reimbursement, travel across the globe and specialized training. Once you've become certified as an RN, you can choose between working as a civilian in a military hospital or applying for active duty.

Travel nursing: For the RN who wants to explore the country and enjoys short-term assignments, the traveling nurse role could be ideal. Generally, traveling nurses are giving free housing and coverage of relocation costs, as well as bonuses to sign on or continue the job. Assignments can last anywhere between eight and 26 weeks.

Learn about Pay & Job Projections for registered nurses.

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Registered Nurse Career and Degree Guide