What do RN's Do?

Posted by Shanna Shafer on Feb 5, 2015 2:12:00 PM

What Do RNs Do?



In the ever expanding world of healthcare, Registered Nurses (RNs) may play one of the biggest and most significant roles today. Becoming a registered nurse may allow you to work alongside other health care professionals, play a prominent role in patient care, and find yourself as a valuable care giver amidst a wide variety of healthcare facilities and specialties.

Roles of the Registered Nurse

Registered nurses are often responsible for fulfilling many different roles throughout the course of their career. In many cases, they are the go-to patient care providers, and are responsible for medication administration, medical records documentation, and healthcare status updates. However, registered nurses may also take on clerical and managerial roles by filing and analyzing paperwork and overseeing other nursing personnel. When working with nurse practitioners or medical doctors, RNs often play an assisting role in the operating room, exam room, or clinic.

Responsibilities and Demands of the Job

Working as a registered nurse tends to come with many job duties that can vary on a day-to-day basis. When it comes to patient care, you may be the first line of contact for your patients and their families. You may have to educate patients on their conditions, help them prepare for upcoming procedures, and help them handle their symptoms, diagnoses and medication regimens. You will be responsible for developing care plans to help patients adjust to and recover from illness, along with designing and performing interventions to improve health.

You will perform patient assessments, provide patients with assistance with their activities of daily living (ADLs), administer medications, start IVs, place and manage feeding tubes, assist providers with procedures, and be responsible for a whole host of other aspects of nursing care.

RNs may also work in clerical settings. Many times, they analyze patient paperwork for doctors, make recommendations based on their observations, and keep records of patient care. Several case management roles are filled by RNs, especially as more and more patients are experiencing multiple health problems that require dedicated navigation and management. The responsibility for documentation is placed upon every RN, and you may find that you spend a good deal of time charting at the end of your shift or during downtime, which may be rare for registered nurses.

In some cases and facilities, RNs have to make split-second judgment calls in high-stress situations, particularly while working in surgery, emergency care, or other critical care specialties. As a result, it's important to have critical thinking skills, be adaptable and pay attention to details as an RN.


With experience and continuing education, you may have the opportunity to work in many different specialties as a registered nurse. The specialties available to you depend upon the level of education you've obtained and the work experience you have. You may be able to choose from fields like pediatrics, medical-surgical, OB/GYN, labor and delivery, oncology, emergency care, and cardiac care. As you begin working with patients and providers, you may find that you are drawn to a certain specialty, patient population or care setting, which can help you decide which specialty can bring you both satisfaction and success.


Registered nursing is a field that's heavily regulated by each individual state in the United States. At minimum, you will need an Associate's degree from an accredited two-year college or hospital nursing program. There is a great deal of long standing debate over minimum standards for education, with many states calling for nurses to enter practice at the Baccalaureate level. Many new nurses do choose to earn a Bachelor's degree, which usually takes about four years to complete.

Once you complete your entry level nursing education, you will need to get a nursing license in order to work as a registered nurse in your state.


Educational standards are high for registered nurses. In a two-year Associate's degree program, you learn the basics of nursing and delve into some of the more popular specialties in nursing, such as obstetrics and pediatrics. You may also opt to earn a Bachelor's degree at a four-year college, which gives you exposure to more nursing fields and may open up your job options.

It is crucial that the nursing school you choose be fully accredited, as this is required by most states as a condition of licensure. You will also want to ensure that the nursing program you enter has a solid clinical foundation, as you will be learning hands-on nursing skills and procedures in your program. You can find out more about admissions, curriculum, costs and requirements by visiting our site and requesting information from schools across the country.

Licensing and Certification

Certification is done on a state-by-state basis. Typically, you need a degree from an accredited two-year or four-year school. You must also pass the NCLEX-RN, which is a rigorous national nursing exam that assesses your knowledge base and critical thinking skills. Once you have passed the NCLEX-RN, you will be able to apply for licensure as an RN from your State Board of Nursing. Specific application, renewal and continuing education requirements may vary slightly from state to state, as do the state practice acts, which outline what you can and cannot do as a nursing professional.

Salary Range

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a broad salary range for registered nurses. Salaries can vary from state to state, and often depend upon your education and experience as well. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports salaries ranging from $45,040 to $94,720 per year (BLS, 2013) for RNs.


You can compare the potential salaries for several different RN nursing careers by getting our salary guide below.

Get 200 Nursing Salaries Guide

Job Outlook for 2014 and Beyond

Job growth for registered nurses is expected to be higher than average when compared to all occupations. Between 2012 and 2022, the Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates a 19% increase in job openings.

Career Path

Some registered nurses work as CNAs or LPNs before becoming RNs. After you become a registered nurse, you can take your career further with continuing education or specialized training.

Associations and Organizations


Topics: Career in Nursing