registered nurse role and responsibilities

11 Nursing Responsibilities that Every RN Should Know

When you think of a nurse, you may think of the professional who draws your blood at the doctor’s office, or who checks on you throughout your hospital stay. While these are common tasks for registered nurses (RNs), this career encompasses so much more. Nurses take on many responsibilities related to patient care, advocacy, and education, and it is these responsibilities that make nurses such a vital and trusted part of the medical team.

In fact, many consider registered nurses to be the backbone of the healthcare system. There are currently more than 3.13 million registered nurses employed in the United States, with continued growth expected over the next several years. Making up the largest healthcare profession in the nation, it is nurses that help keep the system running smoothly. They are the professionals responsible for assessing patient conditions, administering treatments, and providing health counseling to those in need. According to the American Nurses Association, the key responsibilities of a registered nurse are:

  • Performing physical exams and recording health histories for patients, before making critical decisions.
  • Providing health promotion, counseling, and education to patients and families.
  • Administering medications and other personalized interventions for treatment.
  • Coordinating patient care, in collaboration with a wide array of health care professionals.

If you are a prospective nurse, you may be wondering what all of this really means. What do these nursing responsibilities really entail? What specific types of duties can you expect as a nurse today, and which responsibilities might surprise you along the way?

Below, we discuss important nursing responsibilities you may not know about.

11 Responsibilities of a Registered Nurse (RN)

In the RN scope of practice, you will find that diagnosing patients, providing care, teaching others, and collaborating with a medical team are key components of the role. Here are 11 specific examples of nursing duties and responsibilities that make RNs such valuable providers:

1. Assessing patients’ symptoms and observing problems or abnormalities.

One of a nurse’s primary duties is to conduct physical patient examinations. At the beginning of a patient’s visit, a nurse will take vital signs (like temperature and blood pressure), talk to the patient about their symptoms and concerns, and examine the condition as needed. A nurse will then report on any concerning symptoms or results that were identified during the exam. As a result, nurses must know which symptoms are “normal” or “expected” in patients, as well as which could indicate a deeper health problem.

2. Recording patient medical histories and current health.

In part with the patient examination, nurses must record their assessment and document any findings or results regarding a patient’s health. Similarly, nurses are often responsible for recording any changes in a patient’s medical history. At the beginning of an examination, a nurse will ask the patient questions about previous diagnoses, current medications, allergies, family history, and more – recording this information in a confidential and compliant electronic database.

3. Collecting lab samples and performing diagnostic tests.

Nurses can perform a wide variety of diagnostic tests, beyond checking patient vital signs. For example, registered nurses might be found collecting samples of blood, urine, tissue, or stool for analysis. Nurses may also run the tests of these samples, as well as analyze the results and report them to the patient’s care team. While many people are aware that nurses often conduct diagnostic tests, they do not always know about the role that nurses play in analyzing the results. Nurses often review the results and make decisions about a patient’s care based upon them, in collaboration with other care team members.

4. Administering medications, treatments, and other interventions.

Registered nurses are typically responsible for administering medications and treatments to patients, with a physician’s order. They do not prescribe medications but can administer them to treat symptoms with a doctor’s approval. Nurses may also clean, dress, and bandage wounds, insert catheters, or assist with other interventions to make patients more comfortable.

5. Monitoring patients for side effects and reactions.

In addition to administering medications, nurses also ensure that patients receive medications safely. They watch for any problems or abnormal reactions in patients after treatments are provided and ensure that dosages and medications are correct. Nurses will also keep a close eye on patients under their care to watch for changes in condition, symptoms, vital signs, or general health. This is all to keep the patient safe throughout their healthcare stay.

6. Operating and monitoring medical equipment.

Registered nurses are specially trained to operate medical equipment, including blood pressure machines, glucometers, pulse oximeters, stethoscopes, and more. Depending on the state in which they work, some registered nurses can also operate ventilation equipment, intravenous infusion pumps, and other advanced medical equipment.

7. Collaborating with doctors on a patient’s treatment plan.

Registered nurses are responsible for collecting information about a patient’s health and sharing that information with the larger medical team – such as doctors, surgeons (if applicable), and other nursing staff. Nurses may also play a role in developing a plan for their patient’s treatment, in collaboration with a doctor or physician. Therefore, they must have strong critical thinking skills, as well as good interpersonal and communication skills.

8. Educating patients and their families on treatment, preventive care, and more.

A nursing responsibility that not many know about is patient education. It is an RN’s duty to teach patients (and their families) about conditions, treatment, and proper care. For example, nurses may educate a patient about the procedures they are going to receive, the side effects they can expect from a medication, or how to properly care for a wound after leaving a medical facility. Patients require adequate education in order to stay safe, healthy, aware, and empowered as they heal.

9. Directing other staff, such as licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and nursing assistants (CNAs).

Not only do registered nurses teach patients, but they may also help teach and supervise other nursing staff. Registered nurses may train new members of their team or educate and direct certified nursing assistants (CNAs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs).

10. Advocating for the health and well-being of patients.

Registered nurses are more than just care providers. They are also advocates for their patients, acting on behalf of their patients’ safety and overall health. Sometimes, this involves communicating a patient’s needs and requests to their family, a doctor, or other medical professional – particularly when a patient cannot do so on their own. It may also mean communicating information clearly to patients, to ensure they fully understand what is going on. Advocacy may also involve connecting patients to resources at another facility, or in their community, to ensure their healthcare needs are being met. At the end of the day, patient advocacy means eliminating barriers for patients and enabling them to get the care they need and deserve.

11. Staying up to date on current nursing and health care practices.

The healthcare field is constantly evolving, as new technologies and research are introduced. As a result, registered nurses are responsible for keeping up with the latest news and best practices. This does not end after nursing school. A commitment to continuing education and learning is essential for nurses to be successful in providing top-quality care.


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The Important Role of a Registered Nurse

Nurses are respected, essential members of the medical team, with responsibilities to educate, care for, and advocate for their patients. As the American Nurses Association describes:

“Nurses are responsible for recognizing patients’ symptoms, taking measures within their scope of practice to administer medications, providing other measures for symptom alleviation, and collaborating with other professionals to optimize patients’ comfort and families’ understanding and adaptation.”

Not only is nursing a diversified field, full of different responsibilities and roles, but it is also a highly specialized profession. It requires years of dedicated training and education, to provide the highest quality care and support to patients in need. For this reason, registered nurses must attend an accredited nursing school, earn a college degree, and become licensed in their state of work. An associate degree in Nursing (ADN) or bachelor’s degree in Nursing (BSN) are both options for aspiring RNs looking to break into an exciting, important, and caring role helping people in need.

Are you interested in becoming a registered nurse? While the nursing responsibilities are vast, this career is reported to be among the most rewarding ones out there today. Learn more about becoming a nurse in Connecticut by visiting us online here, or downloading our free guide: Your Guide to Becoming a Registered Nurse.