What Does a Nurse Do?

Apr 30, 2020

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a nurse. Get a quick view of the requirements and details about programs, job duties, and licensure to find out if this is the career for you.

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Career Overview

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. The educational paths for becoming a nurse vary depending on the type of nurse one hopes to become, but all nurses must be licensed.

Nurse Types & Education

Career Registered Nurse Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses
Educational Requirements Associate degree in nursing (ADN), bachelor's of science degree in nursing (BSN) or professional diploma from an approved nursing program Certificate from a 1-year approved program
Licensure Requirements Must pass the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX-RN) Must pass the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX-PN)
Career Outlook (2018-2028)* 12% 11%
Median Salary (2019)* $73,300 $47,480

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Among the most common nursing careers are:

  • Licensed practical nurses (LPNs)
  • Licensed vocational nurses (LVNs)
  • Registered nurses (RNs)
  • 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 (or 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 (or 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) programs.

RNs who have not yet earned a 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 is 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 among 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 work 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 2018-2028 decade, employment of LPNs and LVNs will grow 11%, and RNs will grow 12%. Job growth is expected to be fueled by a growing aging population.

The BLS reported that RNs earned median annual wages of $73,300 in May 2019. LPNs and LVNs earned a median salary of $47,480 annually, as of May 2019.

Expert Contributor: Patricia Jankowski Patricia has a BSChE. She's an experienced registered nurse who has worked in various acute care areas as well as in legal nurse consulting.

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