What Does a Nurse Do?

Nurses play significant roles in hospitals, clinics and private practices. They make up the biggest health care occupation in the United States. Nursing job duties include communicating between patients and doctors, caring for patients, administering medicine and supervising nurses' aides.

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Nurse Types and Education

Among the most common nursing careers are licensed practical nurses (LPNs), licensed vocational nurses (LVNs), registered nurses (RNs) and advanced practice nurses, who have different titles, such as clinical nurse specialist (CNS) or nurse practitioner (NP).

LVNs and LPNs are entry-level nurses who work under the supervision of RNs and have comparable job duties. They are typically required to have completed a 1-year nursing program available through community colleges, technical schools, high schools and hospitals. They must also pass the National Council Licensing Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN) and obtain licensure to legally work in the field.

RNs must complete a diploma, associate's degree or bachelor's degree program in nursing and pass the National Council Licensing Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) to obtain licensure. Advanced practice nurses typically need to have completed a registered nursing program, earned RN licensure and gained experience working as RNs prior to enrolling in Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program.

RNs who have not yet earned Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree can consider enrolling in RN-to-BSN programs or earning bachelor's degrees in other subjects since a bachelor's degree are required to gain admission to graduate degree programs. Combined programs that award both BSN and MSN degrees may also be considered. Graduate certificate programs are options for RNs and advanced practice nurses who would like to specialize in particular areas of nursing.

Nursing Job Duties

Although degrees of responsibility vary between nursing levels, job duties are principally similar. Daily duties involve activities such as:

  • Administering medications
  • Managing intravenous (IV) lines
  • Caring for patients
  • Observing and recording patients' conditions
  • Communicating with doctors
  • Providing emotional support to patients and their families
  • Advising patients on how to self-administer medication and physical therapy
  • Educating patients and the public on disease management, nutritional plans and medical conditions

Because nurses may choose to specialize in specific types of treatments, health conditions, patient populations or body systems, specific job duties can vary amongst specialties. Advanced practice nurses can work independently and have additional job duties, such as prescribing medications, examining patients and making diagnoses.

Nursing Career Information

Nurses may work in a variety of health care settings, such as hospitals, private physicians' offices and nursing facilities. In some cases, they run immunology clinics, general health screening clinics, public seminars and blood drives, as well as working in emergency departments. Nurses can also have uncommon schedules, working long hours in numerous facilities, based on need as well as their understandings of care types.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that over the 2010-2020 decade, employment of LPNs and LVNs will grow 22%, while employment of RNs will grow 26% in the same time period (www.bls.gov). Job growth is expected to be fueled by a growing aging population.

The BLS reported that RNs earned median annual wages of $65,470 in May 2012. LPNs and LVNs made median salaries of $41,540 annually, as of 2012.

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