What Does a Nurse Do?

Male nurse reviewing information with elderly female patient.

Nurses are the cornerstone of the healthcare system, often handling multiple patients and providing critical support services. Nursing professionals are a patient’s main point of contact at the hospital. In addition to providing medical services, nurses offer patients emotional support, advocacy and education.

Nursing professionals work in a variety of healthcare settings. Beyond staffing emergency rooms and other departments within hospitals, nurses can be found at standalone urgent care clinics, family physician offices, schools, pharmacies and retirement homes. Some nurses, such as those who work for hospice programs, even make house calls.

The specific job duties of a nurse depend on the employer. For example, direct care nurses who work for homeless outreach programs will often provide referrals to social service resources. Those who work at inpatient departments in hospitals may handle and administer medications. Earning a nursing degree can pave the way toward a rewarding career as a registered nurse. Regardless of specialization, nurses are in high demand.

Patient Evaluation

When a patient goes to a primary care office or an emergency room, one of the first points of contact is a nurse. At this stage, the nurse’s primary responsibility is to perform a thorough evaluation of the patient. This typically starts with asking for the patient’s medical history. The nurse will review any patient records and ask about any recent changes in medications, supplements and diagnoses. If the patient has previously been diagnosed with a long-term medical condition, the nurse will ask if there have been any changes to that condition.

The nurse will also ask about the patient’s current symptoms. Patients may neglect to disclose symptoms that they believe are insignificant or unrelated to a current complaint. For example, a patient experiencing panic attacks may fail to report digestive upset. A nurse needs to ask whether the patient is experiencing other possible symptoms.

Another crucial aspect of patient evaluation is physical examination. In family care offices, the physician is usually the one who performs routine physical examinations. However, in ER and urgent care settings, nurses often do light examinations depending on the patient’s condition. For instance, if a patient has a rash, the nurse may only need to examine the affected part of the skin.

Diagnostic Testing

Diagnostic testing is another major responsibility of nursing professionals. Nurses may recommend specific diagnostic tests depending on the patient’s symptoms. For instance, if a patient is suspected of having strep throat, the nurse may swab the patient’s throat and send the swab to the lab. If that test comes back negative, the nurse may then need to test the patient for mononucleosis, which can sometimes mimic the symptoms of strep throat.

Medication Management

The American Association of Nurse Practitioners recognizes that in 50 states, licensed nurses have the authority to prescribe medications without first seeking a physician’s approval.* For outpatients, nurses may write a prescription or call in a prescription to a pharmacy. In inpatient departments such as an intensive care unit (ICU), nurses may directly administer oral, inhaled or injected medications.

Nurses must be extremely careful to double-check all prescribed medications and their dosages to avoid medication errors. This is particularly important when two medications used for different medical purposes have similar names.

Patient Education

Patient education is a major part of a nursing professional’s job. Nurses help patients understand their diagnoses, treatment options and discharge recommendations. When working with hospitalized patients, nurses focus on helping patients and their family caregivers understand how to complete their recovery at home. Nurses may also need to demonstrate how to care for wounds and explain how to take medications properly at home.

Nursing Specializations

In nursing practice, some nurses perform additional tasks related to their area of specialization. For example, a labor and delivery nurse assists OB/GYNs in delivering newborns and providing postnatal care. A nurse anesthetist administers anesthesia during medical procedures. A critical-care transport nurse works out of an ambulance, stabilizing patients on their way to the hospital.

If you imagine yourself in a profession that allows you to serve your community and promote the wellness of your neighbors, consider starting your nursing education at Grand Canyon University. In the College of Nursing and Healthcare Professions, you will acquire important foundations through our Bachelor of Science in Nursing (Pre-Licensure) degree program. After securing licensure and gaining practical experience in the field, you may wish to earn your graduate nursing degree at GCU. We offer multiple specialization options, including the Master of Science in Nursing with an Emphasis in Healthcare Quality and Patient Safety. To learn more, click on the Request Information button on this page.

*Retrieved from https://www.aanp.org/advocacy/advocacy-resource/position-statements/nurse-practitioner-prescriptive-privilege in September, 2020.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University.

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