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What Do Nurses Do?

Nurses care for patients and provide a link between doctors and patients. They are part of the biggest healthcare profession in the United States and keep hospitals, clinics, and other care facilities ticking over.

But what are the exact roles performed by nurses in the United States? What sort of duties can you expect as a licensed practical nurse (LPN), registered nurse, (RN) or nurse practitioner?

What Do Nurses Do?

The types of duties performed by a nurse will depend on their specialty. For example, the role of a home care registered nurse will be decidedly different from that of an emergency room nurse or oncology nurse.

One spends most of their time monitoring patients, preparing equipment, and administering medications, the others perform triage, conduct examinations, consult with doctors, and provide complex treatments.

As a qualified nurse, you can choose which specialty to study and base your decision on the duties you wish to perform.

But your duties can also vary considerably before you reach that point.

It all comes down to how qualified you are, and whether you're a licensed practical nurse, registered nurse, or nurse practitioner.

What Do Certified Nursing Assistants Do?

A certified nursing assistant (CNA) provides basic care services to patients inside a medical setting. They often assist with daily activities of living, which means they help patients to:

  • Bathe and shower
  • Get dressed
  • Manage their personal hygiene
  • Eat
  • Maintain comfort and safety

CNAs may also administer medications and perform an array of other tasks designed to make the patient more comfortable.

What Do Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) Do?

A licensed practical nurse or "LPN" deals with basic patient care. Their duty is to keep the patient comfortable in a medical setting, and they do this by performing a number of duties. During the course of their day, an LPN may:

  • Administer medication
  • Change wound dressings
  • Record patient vital signs (including blood pressure, heart rate, and temperature)
  • Feed the patient
  • Bathe the patient
  • Follow plans set out by a healthcare team

The work that LPNs do is still an important piece of the puzzle, but they typically defer to other health professionals when it comes to more complex treatments and elements of care.

LPNs work in a variety of healthcare settings, including nursing homes, general hospitals, physician offices, and home health agencies.

What Do Registered Nurses Do?

A registered nurse is a qualified nurse who has completed an associate's degree or a bachelor's degree in nursing.

The duties performed by an RN can vary greatly from one day to the next, and that's one of the reasons this profession is so challenging. Those duties can include:

  • Conducting patient assessments
  • Making note of a patient's symptoms and medical history
  • Taking bodily samples for testing purposes
  • Administering medications and treatments
  • Changing bandages and cleaning wounds
  • Educating patients and their family members

Registered nurses work in a variety of medical facilities and in addition to providing direct patient care, they supervise less qualified and experienced nurses, including nursing students, licensed practical nurses, and licensed vocational nurses.

What Do Nurse Practitioners (NP) Do?

A nurse practitioner is an advanced practice registered nurse with an extensive nursing education. Nurse practitioners often work under the supervision of a physician, but in some places, they work independently.

The duties performed by nurse practitioners include:

  • Tending to patient injuries
  • Diagnosing and treating diseases
  • Performing physical exams
  • Delivering a high level of patient care

A nurse practitioner may work across a variety of specialties. Their chosen specialty will dictate what duties they perform, where they work, and how much they get paid.

Some of the specialties open to nurse practitioners include:

  • Clinical Nurse Specialists
  • Nurse Anesthetists
  • Certified Nurse Midwife
  • Acute Care Nurses
  • Family Nurse Practitioner

What About Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVNs)?

Licensed vocational nurses are the same as licensed practical nurses. The only difference is that the former title is used in Texas and California while the latter is used everywhere else.

Both LPNs and LVNs work under the supervision of a registered nurse (RN), and they perform the same duties.

Do Nurses Clean Poop?

Yes, nurses clean poop (AKA, stool). It's not the most glamourous part of the job, but it's an essential one, nonetheless.

Many nursing students worry about cleaning poop and other bodily fluids, but it's something that they get used to very quickly. Before you know it, you'll be elbow-deep in someone else's feces and the only thing on your mind will be finishing quickly so you can move on to your next job.

Cleaning poop is a very important part of the job, and it's also a fairly common one. It's important to keep patients, equipment, beds, and medical areas clean, and you may also be asked to prep patients for colonoscopies, administer laxatives, and help people who are unable to move their bowels.

If you work as a labor and delivery nurse, you can expect to encounter stool on a regular basis. If you have a serious problem with it, this probably isn't the specialty for you.

Do Nurses Administer Stitches?

Most nurses often clean wounds and change bandages. They are also asked to remove stitches. Administering them, however, is a job that's usually left for highly specific (and qualified) roles, such as nurse practitioners working in the emergency room.

Do Nurses Perform Surgery?

Nurses don't perform complex surgeries, but they do play a role in caring for the patient before, during, and after surgery.

Can I Be a Nurse If I Am Squeamish?

If you're squeamish, nursing probably isn't the profession for you. But don't give up just yet. Humans are very adaptable, and if we're exposed to something for long periods, it becomes second nature.

Many nurses don't realize that the profession is right for them until they start caring for a loved one. They grow up with little care experience and believe themselves to be too squeamish to work as a nurse, but as soon as a parent or grandparent falls ill, they step up to the plate and do what needs to be done. After a few months of serving as a caregiver, their attitude changes completely.

You might be squeamish now, but as soon as you start working in a clinical setting and surrounding yourself with blood, sputum, feces, infections, and open wounds, that will change.

Of course, if the question is, "Can I be a nurse without ever seeing anything gory, cleaning poop/vomit, or dealing with disease?" then the answer is resoundingly negative. Caring for people means exposing yourself to everything that can go wrong with the human body, and that's a pretty extensive list.

find nursing schools near you

find nursing schools near you