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What Registered Nurses Do

Registered nurses (RNs) provide and coordinate patient care, educate patients and the public about various health conditions, and provide advice and emotional support to patients and their family members.


Registered nurses typically do the following:

Some registered nurses oversee licensed practical nurses, nursing aides, and home care aides. For more information, see the profiles on licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses; nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants; and home health and personal care aides.

Registered nurses sometimes work to promote general health by educating the public on warning signs and symptoms of disease. They might also run general health screenings or immunization clinics, blood drives, or other outreach programs.

Most registered nurses work as part of a team with physicians and other healthcare specialists.

Some nurses have jobs in which they do not work directly with patients, but they must still have an active registered nurse license. For example, they may work as nurse educators, healthcare consultants, public policy advisors, researchers, hospital administrators, salespeople for pharmaceutical and medical supply companies, or as medical writers and editors.

Registered nurses' duties and titles often depend on where they work and the patients they work with. They can focus on the following specialties:

Some registered nurses combine one or more of these specialties. For example, a pediatric oncology nurse works with children and teens who have cancer.

Many possibilities for specializing exist. The following list includes just a few other examples of ways that some registered nurses specialize:

Addiction nurses care for patients who need help to overcome addictions to alcohol, drugs, tobacco, and other substances.

Cardiovascular nurses treat patients with heart disease and people who have had heart surgery.

Critical care nurses work in intensive care units in hospitals, providing care to patients with serious, complex, and acute illnesses and injuries that need very close monitoring and treatment.

Genetics nurses provide screening, counseling, and treatment of patients with genetic disorders, such as cystic fibrosis and Huntington's disease.

Neonatology nurses take care of newborn babies.

Nephrology nurses treat patients who have kidney-related health issues that are attributable to diabetes, high blood pressure, substance abuse, or other causes.

Rehabilitation nurses care for patients with temporary or permanent disabilities.

Advanced practice registered nurses may provide primary and specialty care, and, in most states, they may prescribe medicines. All states specifically define requirements for registered nurses in these four advanced practice roles:

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition