What Do RNs Do Behind the Scenes?

RN with nursing degree filling out paperwork beside patient

Registered Nurses (RNs) are the nursing professionals that people tend to associate with nursing. RNs are responsible for providing direct care to patients, but they take on many other responsibilities. A closer look at the full list of tasks that an RN takes on may help you decide on whether you wish to pursue a BSN degree in this rewarding role.

Basics of the RN’s Role

If you walk into any hospital or clinic, you will quickly see that registered nurses are some of the busiest people on the staff. Registered nurses assist specialized hospital staff by performing administrative tasks. Aside from performing direct and indirect care, RNs spend time updating patient records and performing reception duties at their department’s desk.

A direct-care RN’s position revolves around the needs of patients. Depending on experience and specialization, RNs work with a diverse patient population, from newborns to the elderly, and oversee basic care. Some RNs with specialized qualifications may take on administrative or managerial roles, while others may perform delicate tasks for specific patient populations. For example, RNs working with patients in an Intensive Care Unit (ICU), Emergency Room (ER) or while recovering from orthopedic surgery will have different responsibilities.

Communicating With Patients, Families and Caregivers

Clear communication is critical in many professions, but especially so in the nursing field. Nurses act as interpreters and liaisons for patients, explaining medical jargon, complicated diagnoses and treatment plans. Nurses also frequently communicate with a patient’s family members, particularly if the patient has a chronic or severe medical condition that requires family or caregiver support upon discharge from the hospital.

One of the most rewarding parts of direct patient care is providing support and compassion to patients going through a challenging time. It is difficult for patients to hear diagnoses or be hospitalized for any length of time. Nurses can offer empathy for patients that need to process difficult information.

Performing Patient Evaluations

Another major component of an RN’s job is to evaluate patients. Nurses must be keen observers who can identify potential issues in patients ranging from unusual changes in mental health to signs of domestic violence. Nurses may also perform physical exams and record a patient’s medical history. Gathering information on the health and medical history of a patient is an important part of ensuring their continuing health after being discharged from a hospital.

Another key responsibility of RNs is to frequently monitor patients by taking their vital signs and talking to them about how they feel. Hospitalized patients need to be reassessed periodically throughout a nurse’s shift. RNs often order, perform and evaluate diagnostic tests such as blood work and urinalyses to ensure that patients respond well to treatments. RNs may need to adjust the patient’s treatment plan and consult with other health care professionals based on the results of these examinations.

Administering Medications and Treatments

Depending on their qualifications and their specific role at their patient care facility, an RN can prescribe and administer intravenous medications or perform other treatments. For example, an RN might perform wound care, manage catheters and assist doctors during surgeries. RNs often conduct follow-up visits with patients during their recovery from surgeries.

Caring for Hospitalized Patients

In addition to taking vital signs and administering medications, nurses provide care to hospitalized patients in other ways. Patients are given a button that they can press at any time during the day or night to get assistance from medical staff. RNs and other members of the nursing staff work together to ensure that all requests for assistance are answered promptly. Patients who request assistance may need anything from a refill for their water pitcher or help getting out of bed to another dose of pain medication. Whether patients press the call button, RNs are responsible for keeping an eye on them. For example, some patients are “NPO,” which means they cannot take any food or fluids by mouth. RNs must ensure that patients follow these restrictions prior to surgeries and during medical treatment.

If you feel called to serve others in the nursing field, you can develop the academic foundation for future success in one Grand Canyon University’s nursing degrees. The College of Nursing and Health care Professions offers multiple nursing degree options, including our Bachelor of Science in Nursing (Pre-Licensure) degree program and our Accelerated RN to BSN. To learn more about our college, visit our website or click on the Request Information button on this page.

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. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.