Nurse Job Description – What Do Nurses Do? |

Nurse Job Description – What Do Nurses Do?

The nurse job description is broad and covers a wide variety of responsibilities. It also varies depending on the type of nurse and the work environment. Here is a high-level overview of the nursing job description.

There are many types of nurses, but two common types are registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses (LPNs and LVNs). Each of these positions focuses on different specialties and has a slightly different job description.

General Nursing Duties

Specific nursing duties vary from nurse to nurse, but the following are some job duties that most nurses carry out:

  • Working closely with doctors and other members of a healthcare facility
  • Examining and diagnosing patient conditions
  • Explaining injuries, diseases, and illnesses to patients
  • Dressing wounds and changing bandages
  • Administering injections, IVs, medications, and other forms of treatment
  • Utilizing various medical equipment
  • Monitoring patient vital signs

Further nurse duties apply depending on a nurse’s specialty, level of experience, and training. For example, RNs take on more responsibility for planning and managing a patient’s case than LPNs and LVNs do, so an RN’s job duties may involve conducting full patient health assessments and creating broad treatment plans. Case management nurses are responsible for following patients through long-term care processes, so their job duties may involve coordinating follow-up tests and planning for effective and efficient care delivery. Other specific nurse duties can be found at Nursing Specialties.

Nurse Work Environment

Nurses work in a variety of work environments. A few of them are:

  • General Hospitals
  • Surgical and Specialty Hospitals
  • Physician’s Offices
  • Outpatient Surgical and Nursing Facilities
  • Nursing Homes
  • Home Care and Hospice Organizations

A nurse’s job description will be slightly different in each of these work environments. For example, nurses in hospitals typically care for 5-8 patients at a time, while home care and hospice nurses may only care for 2-3 patients, staying with them for longer periods of time. While there is a lot of overlap in job duties between different work environments, there are specific nurse duties associated with every work environment.

Nursing hours also vary between work environments. Nurses in hospitals either work eight-hour shifts five days per week, or 12-hour shifts three days per week. They may also work either nights, days, or a mix. Nurses in other clinical environments work normal business hours according to the facility’s schedule.

Homecare nurses normally work days, when their at-home patients are awake. Their hours depend more on their patients’ care needs.

Nursing Job Requirements

The requirements of the nurse’s job description vary just as much as the job does. Depending on the type of nurse, there may be specific education and licensing requirements.

Education Requirements

RNs need at least an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree in nursing to practice, though many nurses hold higher degrees. For example, to move into management roles, RNs need at least a BSN degree, and many RNs in management and executive roles hold MSN degrees. Nurse practitioners, or RNs whose roles are more similar to those of doctors, require a master’s degree.

An LPN or LVN requires at least a certificate in nursing to practice, though many have associate’s degrees. Similarly, CNAs need at least a certificate to hold patient care roles. Some types of nursing staff, such as orderlies, only require a high school diploma, though postsecondary education such as a certificate is preferred by most employers. Facilities also hire entry-level staff nurses who hold diplomas in nursing.


In addition to earning a certificate, degree or diploma, all nurses are required to become licensed before working. Licensing, which is regulated by each state individually, involves meeting certain educational criteria and passing licensing exams both at the national and state levels.

At the national level, nurses must pass either the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) or the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN). Both exams are administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN).

State-level licensing requirements vary by state. These, and further details on national licensing, will be added soon to this site.

Personal Characteristics

The responsibilities of a nurse can be intimidating as nurses work closely with injured, sick, traumatized, and sometimes dying patients. A good nurse will be able to weather the unpleasant sights, sounds and smells of the profession as well as the long hours, and be able to remain dedicated to the care of their patients.