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What does a Nurse do?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A nurse, whether a registered nurse (RN) or licensed vocational nurse (LVN) is a key part of the medical team. In hospital settings nurses often provide the most patient care, carrying out the orders of a doctor, administering medications, supervising the use of medical equipment, observing and directly caring for patients, and acting as intermediary between patients and their families and physicians. A nurse's job varies depending upon where he or she works, and certain jobs can be performed by RNs but not by LVNs because LVNs have less training and education.

The difference between an RN and an LVN is largely based, as mentioned above, on length of training and education. LVNs tend to have about two years of education at either professional schools or community colleges. RNs generally hold bachelor's or master's degrees and have more extensive education and practicum experience. The LVN makes less money and cannot perform certain tasks. For instance, most LVNs cannot start IVs, though some can draw blood if they have phlebotomy training, and they may not be able to give injections. In hospital settings, the LVN is there to support the work of the RN and works under supervision of at least one registered nurse. LVNs can do work like helping patients, washing or cleaning patients, changing bed linens, taking vitals and monitoring patients for an RN.

The registered nurse tends to oversee aspects of the patient's care in a more direct manner. She or he alerts the doctor if a patient's health or vitals suddenly changes, starts IVs, administers oral or intravenous medication, and answers a patient's questions. Some nurses specialize in certain fields. Surgical nurses might work in surgery settings, assisting during operations, others may work in doctor's offices, clinics, birthing centers, or as hospice workers. Some nurses work in the home health industry overseeing the health and recovery of patients in the home setting.

Some nurses may choose to further their education and become an advance practice nurse (APN). These nurses usually hold master's or doctorate degrees, and often have additional certifications. APNs may take a more active role in healthcare; a nurse practitioner, for example, can provide a range of healthcare services, including diagnosing conditions and treating illnesses.

In hospital settings nurses can also take on administrative jobs. They may be responsible for overseeing a ward, scheduling, supervision, employee reviews and other business aspects of the medical field. In doctors' offices, nurses might work with insurance companies, transcribe medical information, and be responsible for overseeing an office, or other nurses or medical employees. Other nurses teach at nursing schools or universities, or teach communities about public health related issues. Variance in possible duties is significant because of the wide range of jobs available in the nursing profession.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Practical Adult Insights contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon945916 — On Apr 15, 2014

To the poster about the nurse providing unsolicited information: you can register a complaint with the hospital as this is not professional conduct on the part of the nurse. Ask to speak with the nursing supervisor or director of nursing and they can instruct you on how to proceed.

To the poster about whether the nurse can refuse to give you your prescription: unless the doctor ordered the drug screening, she can't make you take it before giving you your prescription. Nurses can't "overrule" a doctor; they can, however, hold a medication if they believe there was an error and contact the doctor to clarify orders.

The nurse can't ultimately decide if you get your prescription or not; that is up to the doctor. She can verify with the doctor that it is correct and carry out his orders only.

By anon295960 — On Oct 09, 2012

I think nurses are greatly need in the world. They do so much more then an actual doctor. They deserve a thank you from all around. So thank you to the nurses who have taken care of my needs. And let the world motivate you to stay a nurse.

By anon108055 — On Sep 01, 2010

a nurse can absolutely override a doctor's order. a nurse is most often times the last line of defense for the patient, and yes, doctors make mistakes and lots of them. this is one of the many ways nurses save lives.

Remember, most nurses now graduate after four to five years of intense course work with a bachelors degree in nursing. I don't know your exact situation, so i cannot comment on whether the nurse or physician is correct, but you need to speak with the physician and get things straightened out.

By anon92917 — On Jun 30, 2010

I just read the above posts. All I have to say as a worker in the health field I feel that we put up with a lot of crap. We are bound to not make everybody satisfied especially this day and age. I just wish that every person could experience working in the health field and then they would have a better understanding of things.

By anon91652 — On Jun 23, 2010

I just went to the doctor last month. I did not do anything different than what the doctor told me to do. Now i go after one month to get my refill and the nurse will not give my prescription to me because she thinks she runs the place. She says one thing and the doctor says another.

This is a specialty group located in Herrin, IL under the Chicago rehab institute. They specialize in many things including pain management. the nurse went against the doctor's orders and will not release my meds unless i take a drug screening. the doc already had these ready for me and she will not give them to me. Can an RN override the doctor's order? This is about the eighth incident I've had with this ungrateful nurse. How can she make a ruling over the doctor?

By anon66667 — On Feb 21, 2010

i feel male or female nurses have a job to do and it depends on the individual as to how well they do their own job.

I've had good and not so good encounters in hospital and i feel on the whole, these people are caring and compassionate and love their job. my friend is a nurse and they are underpaid, overworked and given little thanks for the amazing things they do.

we should offer our support and maybe that particular nurse was wrong about what she said but maybe she thought it was in your niece's best interest to face the facts or what "may" happen. with patient centered care the main focus is to never do harm to your patient or their family.

By anon53466 — On Nov 21, 2009

i feel nurses do a great job. they may be the first person the family of a patient meets. These family members are full of questions and a nurse can only say what she or he can to provide comfort. sometimes they are under a great amount of pressure, it should be made clear to the family of the patient who can answer their questions from the start.

By anon53192 — On Nov 19, 2009

i think that you should report to head of the hospital because, she shouldn't be able to determine that. Especially before running any test, that doctor should ask the nurse if she in fact said that. I don't think the family of the patient would lie.

By anon51938 — On Nov 10, 2009

i think you should go and tell the manager of the person who told you so maybe they can solve it.

By anon39014 — On Jul 29, 2009

I think you should change the female gender reference in this article, its not appropriate in today's world.

By anon25146 — On Jan 24, 2009

My niece's hubby is in critical condition after an accident involving an 18 wheeler. One of his nurses keeps providing unsolicited information about his condition such as that his quality of life will be poor and that she (wife) needs to begin thinking about making a decision about turning off life support. This is only after 4 days and no tests had even been done to determine brain wave activity until yesterday after this comment was made. Is this allowed and who would we make a complaint to? My niece mentioned it to the doctor and he acted as if he didn't believe his nurse would do something like that.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Practical Adult Insights contributor...
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