What Registered Nurses Do
Registered nurses (RNs) provide and coordinate patient care and educate patients and the public about various health conditions.
Registered nurses work in hospitals, physicians’ offices, home healthcare services, and nursing care facilities. Others work in outpatient clinics and schools.
How to Become a Registered Nurse
Registered nurses usually take one of three education paths: a bachelor’s degree in nursing, an associate’s degree in nursing, or a diploma from an approved nursing program. Registered nurses must be licensed.
The median annual wage for registered nurses was $73,300 in May 2019.
Employment of registered nurses is projected to grow 7 percent from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average for all occupations. Growth will occur for a number of reasons, including an increased emphasis on preventive care; increasing rates of chronic conditions, such as diabetes and obesity; and demand for healthcare services from the baby-boom population, as this group leads longer and more active lives.
Registered nurses (RNs) provide and coordinate patient care, educate patients and the public about various health conditions, and provide advice and emotional support to patients and their families.
Registered nurses typically do the following:
- Assess patients’ conditions
- Record patients’ medical histories and symptoms
- Observe patients and record the observations
- Administer patients’ medicines and treatments
- Set up plans for patients’ care or contribute information to existing plans
- Consult and collaborate with doctors and other healthcare professionals
- Operate and monitor medical equipment
- Help perform diagnostic tests and analyze the results
- Teach patients and their families how to manage illnesses or injuries
- Explain what to do at home after treatment
Most registered nurses work as part of a team with physicians and other healthcare specialists. Some registered nurses oversee licensed practical nurses, nursing assistants, and home health aides.
Registered nurses’ duties and titles often depend on where they work and the patients they work with. For example, an oncology nurse works with cancer patients and a geriatric nurse works with elderly patients. Some registered nurses combine one or more areas of practice. For example, a pediatric oncology nurse works with children and teens who have cancer.
Many possibilities exist for working with specific patient groups. The following list includes some examples:
Addiction nurses care for patients who need help to overcome addictions to alcohol, drugs, and other substances.
Cardiovascular nurses care for patients who have heart disease or heart conditions and people who have had heart surgery.
Critical care nurses work in intensive-care units in hospitals, providing care to patients with serious, complex, and acute illnesses and injuries that need close monitoring and treatment.
Genetics nurses provide screening, counseling, and treatment for patients with genetic disorders, such as cystic fibrosis.
Neonatal nurses take care of newborn babies who have health issues.
Nephrology nurses care for patients who have kidney-related health issues stemming from diabetes, high blood pressure, substance abuse, or other causes.
Public health nurses promote public health by educating people on warning signs and symptoms of disease or managing chronic health conditions. They may also run health screenings, immunization clinics, blood drives, or other community outreach programs.
Rehabilitation nurses care for patients who have temporary or permanent disabilities or have chronic illnesses.
Some nurses do not work directly with patients, but they must still have an active registered nurse license. For example, they may work as nurse educators, healthcare consultants, or hospital administrators.
Clinical nurse specialists (CNSs) are a type of advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). They provide direct patient care in one of many nursing specialties, such as psychiatric-mental health or pediatrics. CNSs also provide indirect care by working with other nurses and medical staff to improve the quality of care that patients receive. They often serve in leadership roles and may educate and advise other nursing staff. CNSs also may conduct research and may advocate for certain policies.
Registered nurses held about 3.1 million jobs in 2019. The largest employers of registered nurses were as follows:
|Hospitals; state, local, and private||60%|
|Ambulatory healthcare services||18|
|Nursing and residential care facilities||7|
|Educational services; state, local, and private||3|
Ambulatory healthcare services includes industries such as physicians’ offices, home healthcare, and outpatient care centers. Nurses who work in home health travel to patients’ homes; public health nurses may travel to community centers, schools, and other sites.
Some nurses travel frequently in the United States and throughout the world to help care for patients in places where there are not enough healthcare workers.
Injuries and Illnesses
Registered nurses may spend a lot of time walking, bending, stretching, and standing. They are vulnerable to back injuries because they often must lift and move patients.
The work of registered nurses may put them in close contact with people who have infectious diseases, and they frequently come into contact with potentially harmful and hazardous drugs and other substances. Therefore, registered nurses must follow strict guidelines to guard against diseases and other dangers, such as accidental needle sticks and exposure to radiation or to chemicals used in creating a sterile environment.
Nurses who work in hospitals and nursing care facilities usually work in shifts to provide round-the-clock coverage. They may work nights, weekends, and holidays. They may be on call, which means that they are on duty and must be available to work on short notice.
Nurses who work in offices, schools, and other places that do not provide 24-hour care are more likely to work regular business hours.
This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of registered nurses.
For more information about registered nurses, including credentialing, visit
For more information about nursing education and being a registered nurse, visit
For more information about undergraduate and graduate nursing education, nursing career options, and financial aid, visit
For more information about the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) and a list of individual state boards of nursing, visit
For more information about clinical nurse specialists, including a list of accredited programs, visit
For a career video on registered nurses, visit
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Registered Nurses,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm (visited ).