What is a Registered Nurse?

A registered nurse (RN) is a healthcare professional who has completed a nursing program and passed the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) to obtain a nursing license. RNs are responsible for providing and coordinating patient care, performing diagnostic tests, administering medication, and educating patients and their families on health conditions and treatment options. They work in a variety of healthcare settings such as hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, schools, and community health centers.

RNs may specialize in specific areas of nursing practice, such as pediatrics, critical care, oncology, mental health, or geriatrics, depending on their interests and career goals.

What does a Registered Nurse do?

A registered nurse listening to a patient's heartbeat in a hospital bed.

Duties and Responsibilities
Registered nurses have diverse duties and responsibilities that encompass direct patient care, education, advocacy, and coordination of healthcare services. Here are some key duties and responsibilities of a registered nurse:

  • Patient Assessment: RNs conduct comprehensive assessments of patients, including physical exams, medical histories, and evaluations of their health status. They monitor vital signs, assess symptoms, and identify changes in patient condition to provide timely interventions.
  • Care Planning and Implementation: Based on their assessments, RNs develop individualized care plans in collaboration with patients, families, and healthcare teams. They administer medications, treatments, and interventions according to physician orders and established protocols, ensuring safe and effective patient care.
  • Patient Education: RNs educate patients and their families about health conditions, treatment plans, medications, and self-care strategies. They provide guidance on disease management, lifestyle modifications, and preventive measures to promote optimal health and wellness.
  • Coordination of Care: RNs serve as liaisons between patients, healthcare providers, and support services to ensure continuity and coordination of care. They communicate patient needs, concerns, and progress to the interdisciplinary team and facilitate referrals to other healthcare professionals as needed.
  • Advocacy: RNs advocate for patients' rights, preferences, and best interests throughout their healthcare journey. They ensure that patients receive respectful and compassionate care, access to appropriate resources, and support in making informed decisions about their health.
  • Clinical Procedures and Interventions: RNs perform various clinical procedures and interventions, such as administering medications, inserting intravenous lines, dressing wounds, managing medical equipment, and providing emergency care in critical situations.
  • Documentation and Recordkeeping: RNs maintain accurate and up-to-date medical records, including patient assessments, care plans, progress notes, and treatment outcomes. They ensure compliance with regulatory standards and documentation requirements to support continuity of care and legal accountability.

Types of Registered Nurses
There are several types of registered nurses, each with its own area of specialization and scope of practice. Here are some of the most common types of registered nurses and what they do:

  • Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN): An advanced practice registered nurse has completed graduate-level education in nursing. APRNs have advanced knowledge and skills in a specific area of nursing practice, such as nurse practitioner, acute care nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, certified nurse midwife, or certified registered nurse anesthetist.
  • Critical Care Nurse: Critical care nurses work in intensive care units (ICUs), providing care to patients who are critically ill or injured. They are responsible for monitoring vital signs, administering medications, and performing procedures such as intubation and ventilation.
  • ER Nurse (Emergency Room Nurse): Emergency room nurses work in hospital emergency departments, providing care to patients with a wide range of medical conditions, including trauma, heart attacks, and strokes. They are responsible for assessing patients, administering medications, and performing lifesaving procedures.
  • Geriatric Nurse: Geriatric nurses specialize in caring for older adults, particularly those with chronic illnesses or disabilities. They work in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and other settings where older adults receive long-term care.
  • Home Health Nurse: Home health nurses provide medical care and support to patients in the comfort of their own homes. They may perform tasks such as administering medication, checking vital signs, wound care, and teaching patients and their families about managing their conditions.
  • Informatics Nurse Specialist: Informatics nurse specialists are registered nurses who specialize in the integration of nursing science, computer science, and information science to manage and communicate data, information, and knowledge in nursing practice. They use their expertise in healthcare information technology to improve patient care and outcomes.
  • Medical-Surgical Registered Nurse (MSRN): Medical-surgical registered nurses work in a variety of healthcare settings, including hospitals, clinics, and long-term care facilities. They are responsible for providing care to patients who are acutely ill, injured, or recovering from surgery.
  • Nurse Educator: Nurse educators are registered nurses who have advanced education and training in teaching and training other nurses. They may work in colleges or universities, teaching nursing students, or in healthcare facilities.
  • Nurse Researcher: Nurse researchers are registered nurses who conduct research studies to improve patient care and advance the nursing profession. They may work in academic or healthcare settings, designing and conducting studies to evaluate nursing interventions, improve patient outcomes, or address health policy issues.
  • Obstetric Nurse: Obstetric nurses work in maternity wards and other settings where women receive prenatal care, give birth, and receive postpartum care. They are responsible for monitoring the health of both the mother and baby, administering medications, and providing support during childbirth.
  • Oncology Nurse: Oncology nurses specialize in caring for patients with cancer. They provide emotional and physical support to patients, administer chemotherapy and other treatments, and monitor patients' progress. They also educate patients and their families about cancer treatment options, managing symptoms, and coping with the disease.
  • OR Nurse (Operating Room Nurse): Operating room nurses are specialized registered nurses who work in the surgical department of a hospital or other medical facility, and provide critical care before, during, and after surgical procedures.
  • Pediatric Nurse: Pediatric nurses specialize in caring for infants, children, and adolescents. They work in hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare settings, providing care to young patients with a wide range of medical conditions.
  • Psychiatric Nurse: Psychiatric nurses specialize in caring for patients with mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia. They work in hospitals, clinics, and other mental health facilities, providing therapy, medication management, and other forms of support.
  • Public Health Nurse: Public health nurses are registered nurses who specialize in promoting and protecting the health of individuals, families, and communities. They work to control the spread of infectious diseases, conduct screenings and immunizations, and collaborate help to develop policies and practices that promote health and wellbeing.
  • Rehabilitation Nurse: Rehabilitation nurses work with patients who are recovering from injuries, illnesses, or surgeries. They help patients regain strength and mobility, manage pain, and adjust to any physical limitations.
  • Trauma Nurse: Trauma nurses work specifically with patients who have experienced a traumatic injury, such as a gunshot wound, motor vehicle accident, or fall. They stabilize the patient, assess and treat the injury, and coordinate with other medical professionals.

Are you suited to be a registered nurse?

Registered nurses have distinct personalities. They tend to be social individuals, which means they’re kind, generous, cooperative, patient, caring, helpful, empathetic, tactful, and friendly. They excel at socializing, helping others, and teaching. Some of them are also investigative, meaning they’re intellectual, introspective, and inquisitive.

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What is the workplace of a Registered Nurse like?

The workplace of a registered nurse can vary significantly depending on their specialty, employer, and healthcare setting. RNs are employed in diverse healthcare environments, including hospitals, clinics, long-term care facilities, community health centers, schools, and home health agencies. The work environment for an RN is dynamic, fast-paced, and often demanding, requiring flexibility, adaptability, and effective communication skills.

In a hospital setting, RNs may work in various departments such as medical-surgical units, intensive care units (ICUs), emergency departments, operating rooms, labor and delivery suites, and psychiatric units. Hospital-based RNs collaborate closely with physicians, nurse practitioners, and other healthcare professionals to provide comprehensive patient care. They may be responsible for caring for multiple patients with complex medical needs, administering medications, monitoring vital signs, and coordinating treatments and interventions.

In outpatient settings such as clinics and community health centers, RNs provide primary and preventive care services, health screenings, immunizations, and patient education. They may work with diverse populations, including children, adults, seniors, and individuals with chronic illnesses or special healthcare needs. Outpatient RNs focus on promoting wellness, managing chronic conditions, and addressing acute health concerns in collaboration with interdisciplinary teams. Additionally, some RNs work in non-traditional settings such as schools, correctional facilities, occupational health clinics, and telehealth platforms, providing specialized nursing care and support services tailored to the unique needs of their patient populations.

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Pros and Cons of Being a Registered Nurse

Becoming a registered nurse offers numerous advantages and opportunities, but like any profession, it also comes with its own set of challenges. Here are some pros and cons of being a registered nurse:


  • Rewarding Work: One of the most significant advantages of being an RN is the opportunity to make a positive impact on people's lives. Nurses play a crucial role in providing compassionate care, comfort, and support to patients and their families during challenging times.
  • Job Stability and Demand: Nursing is a highly in-demand profession, and RNs enjoy strong job security and career stability. The healthcare industry consistently seeks qualified nurses to meet the growing needs of an aging population and advances in medical technology.
  • Diverse Career Opportunities: Registered nurses have a wide range of career paths and specialties to choose from, including medical-surgical nursing, critical care, pediatrics, obstetrics, psychiatric nursing, and more. Nurses can pursue advanced degrees, certifications, or specialized training to further their careers and expand their scope of practice.
  • Competitive Compensation: RNs typically receive competitive salaries and benefits, including healthcare coverage, retirement plans, and opportunities for professional development and advancement. With experience and additional education, nurses may qualify for higher-paying positions and leadership roles within healthcare organizations.
  • Flexibility and Mobility: Nursing offers flexibility in terms of work schedules, with options for full-time, part-time, per diem, and flexible scheduling arrangements. RNs also have the opportunity to work in various healthcare settings and locations, including hospitals, clinics, schools, nursing homes, and even international settings.


  • High Stress and Emotional Demands: Nursing can be emotionally and physically demanding, particularly in fast-paced clinical environments such as hospitals and emergency departments. Nurses may encounter high levels of stress, long hours, and challenging patient situations, which can take a toll on their well-being.
  • Physical Strain: Nursing involves a significant amount of physical activity, including lifting and transferring patients, standing for long periods, and performing repetitive tasks. This can lead to musculoskeletal injuries and strains, especially for nurses working in busy hospital settings.
  • Work-Life Balance Challenges: Nurses often work irregular hours, including nights, weekends, holidays, and overtime shifts, which can disrupt work-life balance and impact personal relationships and well-being. Balancing the demands of work with family obligations, continuing education, and self-care can be challenging for many nurses.
  • Exposure to Illness and Hazards: Nurses are exposed to various infectious diseases, hazardous materials, and workplace hazards while providing direct patient care. This includes exposure to bloodborne pathogens, chemical agents, radiation, and violence in healthcare settings, which can pose risks to their health and safety.
  • Burnout and Compassion Fatigue: Nursing can be emotionally draining, and many nurses experience burnout and compassion fatigue due to the demands of the profession. Dealing with suffering, death, and traumatic events on a daily basis can lead to feelings of emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and decreased job satisfaction.

Registered Nurses are also known as:
Registered General Nurse RN