What is a Registered Nurse?

A Registered Nurse (RN) is defined as a nurse who has passed the NCLEX-RN exam administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) and who has met all the other licensing requirements maintained by their state’s Board of Nursing.

With nearly three million Registered Nurses (RNs) in the U.S., as compared with only around 700,000 physicians and surgeons, RNs form the backbone of health care services in America.

What Registered Nurses Do

In general, RNs work under the supervision of physicians or other healthcare professionals, although some nurses work independently performing tasks that fall into their scope of practice. State laws upheld by each state’s Board of Nursing determine what an RN’s scope of practice will include.

Possible job duties of an RN depend on factors such as work setting, training and experience, and specialty. At the most basic level, RNs:

  • Administer medicines and treatments to patients
  • Help establish plans of care for patients
  • Operate and monitor medical equipment
  • Prepare patients for exams or treatments and assist during the exam/treatment, including helping perform diagnostic tests and analyze results
  • Record medical histories and symptoms of patients, including observing patients and recording the observations
  • Teach patients and their families how to manage their medical conditions, how to promote health, and how to prevent diseases

RN job titles depend on where they work and the types of patients they help. RNs may choose to specialize in an area such as:

  • A health condition (examples: diabetes management, nephrology (kidney disease), or oncology nurse)
  • A part of the body (examples: dermatology or cardiovascular nurse)
  • A group of people (examples: geriatric, pediatric, or women’s health nurse)
  • A specific workplace (examples: emergency room nurse, perioperative (operating room) nurse, or school nurse)

In general, an RN can spend more time with a patient than a physician and more thoroughly address patient questions and concerns. While many nurses provide care directly to patients, other RNs work in administrative, leadership, advocacy, or education positions.

The Nursing Process

At the core of all registered nursing practice is the delivery of holistic, patient-focused care, according to the American Nurses Association. Delivering this care is a five-step process:

  1. Assessing the needs of a patient, not only physically but also based on psychological, sociocultural, spiritual, economic, and lifestyle factors
  2. Using clinical judgment to diagnose the needs of the patient
  3. Establishing a care plan for the patient by setting measurable and achievable short- and long-term goals for the patient based on the assessment and diagnosis
  4. Implementing nursing care according to the care plan
  5. Evaluating the patient’s status and the effectiveness of the nursing care

The nurse also carefully documents all these steps so that other health care providers have access to the information.

Advanced Practice Registered Nurses

An RN can become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) by completing a graduate degree in a nursing specialty and meeting other requirements of the state for licensing as an APRN. The four types of APRN are:

  • Certified Registered Nurse Practitioners
  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists
  • Certified Nurse-midwives
  • Clinical nurse specialists

Although the scope of practice of APRNs varies by state, they can provide primary and specialty care to patients, often without the supervision of a physician. Plus, many states let APRNs write prescriptions.

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