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Registered nurses (RNs) are among modern healthcare's most important, adaptable figures. There are an estimated 3+ million registered nurses in the U.S. healthcare sector today—and despite those numbers, not a single shift an RN works is identical from one day to the next. A nurse’s responsibilities can vary depending on the level of nursing.1

From taking patients' vital signs to counseling families on the next steps in care, patient care practices differ considerably from workplace to workplace and specialty to specialty. The nursing practice is described in three parts: assessing patients' health, helping develop a plan for their care, and ensuring their medical records are up-to-date to enhance treatment efficacy.2

So, what does a registered nurse do each day?  We'll look at what's expected of these healthcare professionals in the theory and day-to-day practice.

The Framework of an RN’s Daily Task Load

RNs spend a lot of time working directly with patients and their families. But whatever daily tasks make up each day on the job, the American Nurses Association (ANA) delineates a 5-part short- and long-term process for working licensed practical nurses delivering direct patient care3

  1. Assessment – An RN’s first step is to retrieve and interpret accurate patient data. This includes signs and symptoms of illness but extends to a patient's holistic wellness profile. An RN might address a patient’s family structure, professional background, cultural background, daily habits, and other factors that could influence their physical and psychological well-being.
  2. Diagnosis – The RN collates and interprets the data to arrive at a projected diagnosis and areas of health the diagnosis could affect. For instance, a patient expressing symptoms of diabetes may also struggle with excess weight, fatigue, and depression due to low self-esteem.
  3. Outcomes and planning – At this stage, RNs create a treatment proposal and present benchmarks for gauging a patient’s convalescence. Each feature of treatment should be measurable by both quantitative and qualitative metrics.
  4. Implementation – RNs will then work with patients to implement their treatment plan in the healthcare facility's care. At this point, tracking and storing data about treatments administered and how well the patient is responding is equally crucial.
  5. Evaluation – The final stage of the nursing process is determined by a patient's progress, outcome, and treatment efficacy. RNs regularly follow up with patients so that adjustments can be made where necessary, and so the patient can leave a facility’s care with a maintenance plan in place.

This workflow system can be implemented across patient populations and RN specialties, including (but not limited to):4

  • OBGYN nursing
  • Maternal or neonatal nursing
  • Pediatrics
  • ER nursing
  • Psychiatric nursing

The five-step framework is also a viable model for RNs working in unique environments—schools, hospitals, urgent care clinics, assisted living facilities, etc. That said, each unique workplace can influence what daily responsibilities RNs take on, the challenges they face at work, and the broader mission they have for their work. Licensed practical may also include certified nurse midwife, family nurse practitioner, critical care nurse, travel nurse, and military nurse among many others. 

A Day in the Life of A Registered Nurse

No matter their specialty, most RNs work many hours during any given work week. Most registered nurse jobs have shifts lasting for 10 to 12 hours, with 3 to 4 shifts per week.5 Nursing assistants often work alongside them.  But depending on facility needs, a single shift can scale up to 24 or even 36 hours.

These long work hours are a major aspect of what makes RNs some of the most dedicated, driven workers in healthcare. What does a RN nurse do during a typical 10- to 12-hour shift and what's the career outlook for all these nursing care professionals? 

Beginning of Shift

To begin a day shift at a busy hospital, an RN might arrive to work around 7 a.m. Sometimes, an RN can sign up for shifts in specific units or departments (depending on availability).6

The day starts with:

  • Being briefed by fellow RNs, attending physicians, and other essential workers from the previous shift on patients’ statuses.
  • Completing fundamental tasks like checking vitals, drawing and running fluid samples to the lab, and performing physical exams.
  • Checking in with patients to see how the treatment is going and making a plan for their day’s care.

End of Shift

Closing out a shift is a critical part of being an RN, as it creates consistency between rotating shifts of healthcare professionals. Many RNs complete their days by:

  • Relaying with patients and patient families to provide emotional support.
  • Ensuring that patient records have been updated accurately.
  • Communicating with the next shift of nurses and healthcare workers about how their patients are doing.
  • Ensuring treatment rooms are in sanitary, suitable conditions for incoming patients.

When answering the question, what do registered nurses do? It’s helpful to note that daily tasks may feel more consistent in smaller-scale work environments or those that serve specific populations. But for most RNs, every day demands something different. Essentially, the patients’ needs dictate what responsibilities an RN must complete on their shift—which is, in part, what makes these essential workers modern heroes.

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Where do Registered Nursing Practitioners Work?

RNs can work in diverse healthcare settings from primary care clinics, plastic surgery centers, emergency departments to rehabilitations. They can also be in long-term care facilities such as retirement communities and private home care facilities.

Are Registered Nurses in Demand?

RNs with licensure are in demand due to different factors including the increasing healthcare needs. They are also needed in extending their services to an aging population. All these contribute to nurse shortages in the healthcare industry. Once you've completed a nursing program degree and earned your RN license, you have the flexibility to look into the most suitable career path where your skills are in high demand. You'll be able to pursue even more and better job positions if you are an advanced practice registered nurse or clinical nurse specialist. 

Design Your Own Path as a Registered Nurse With Alliant International University

Pursuing a nursing education and becoming an RN opens up a host of versatile possibilities for a fulfilling and exciting career in healthcare. May it be a BSN program or a nursing associate degree program, obtaining your RN license provides the foundation for a rewarding career. When you pursue a Master’s or Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree at Alliant International University, you gain more than a scientific education: you gain the agency and professional network to pursue the best registered nursing career path for you.

Learn more about nursing school requirements and the Masters of Science in Nursing Direct Entry program by contacting Alliant International University today and discovering how we prepare RNs across specialties for a fulfilling career in modern healthcare.


Sources: 

  1.  U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2021 – 29-1141 Registered Nurses.” March 31, 2022. https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291141.htm. Accessed February 1, 2023.
  2.  U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2021 – 29-1141 Registered Nurses.” March 31, 2022. https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291141.htm. Accessed February 1, 2023.
  3.  American Nurses Association. “The Nursing Process.” https://www.nursingworld.org/practice-policy/workforce/what-is-nursing/…. Accessed February 1, 2023.
  4.  Herndon, Jaime R. “Everything You Want to Know About Registered Nurses”. July 19, 2021. https://www.healthline.com/health/what-is-a-registered-nurse#specialties. Accessed February 1, 2023.
  5. Herndon, Jaime R. “Everything You Want to Know About Registered Nurses”. July 19, 2021. https://www.healthline.com/health/what-is-a-registered-nurse#specialties. Accessed February 1, 2023.
  6. Elkins, Kathleen. “A day in the life of a 25-year-old registered nurse who works 12.5-hour shifts at NewYork–Presbyterian.” April 2, 2019. Accessed February 1, 2023.https://www.cnbc.com/2019/04/02/a-day-in-the-life-of-a-registered-nurse…

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