Day to Day of a Nurse

Developing a Thorough Understanding of the Day to Day of a Nurse

If you’re considering entering the nursing field, then you probably already know how important nurses are to the day-to-day operations of hospitals and doctors’ offices. Nurses also work in schools, correctional facilities, and a variety of other settings, where they have diverse responsibilities relating to patient care and coordination.

Every day looks different for a nurse, whether they work in a hospital environment or not. They’ll face different challenges and work with diverse patients. They need to think quickly and make decisions on the fly in the best interests of their patients.

So, with that in mind, what does the day-to-day work of a nurse look like? Here’s what you might expect from a day on the job.

Day-to-Day Responsibilities of a Hospital RN (Registered Nurse)

When most people think of nurses, they think of RNs working in hospitals. Some nurses work in specific departments (such as the ICU or the ER), while others might move between departments. This depends on the nurse and on the hospital’s policies.

A day in the life of an RN working in a hospital might look something like this:

  • Coming to work clean and wearing a clean uniform—to prevent the spread of infection.
  • Checking daily assignments and schedule—nurses will be assigned patients to monitor and other duties.
  • Reviewing patient care plans/notes and participating in handover meetings—collaborating with the outgoing shift to ensure consistency of care.
  • Listening and asking questions about assigned patients—seeking clarification to prevent errors and other issues.
  • Evaluating the status of patients—getting an initial read on the condition of patients under their care.
  • Monitoring—keeping a close watch on vital signs, physical condition, and mental well-being.
  • Reporting changes in a patient’s condition—discussing any changes with doctors and other members of the patient’s health team.
  • Record-keeping—keeping detailed patient records as necessary, in compliance with all policies and regulations.
  • Discussing care plans—collaborating with the care team.
  • Providing treatments—as prescribed by the patient’s doctor. May include wound care, IV therapies, administering medication, and more.
  • Responding to emergencies—reporting potential emergencies and assisting in emergency situations.
  • Providing support for patients and families—emotionally supporting patients and their loved ones during a difficult experience.
  • Advocating for patients—helping to ensure that the patient’s preferences and voice are respected.
  • Educating patients and answering questions—involving patients in their own care and providing instructions for after discharge.
  • Providing accurate, clear handoff information to the next shift—helping other nurses be successful.

These are the activities that will make up the bulk of a nurse’s day. Other miscellaneous tasks might be required, but they might be less frequent or less critical.

Day-to-Day Responsibilities of an Outpatient RN

Because patients are only coming in for short appointments or general medical advice, the day-to-day responsibilities of a nurse in an outpatient setting will look quite different from a nurse in a hospital. In many cases, nurses in outpatient settings are focused on preventative care and treating minor illnesses and injuries, rather than helping patients recover from surgery or a serious illness.

Responsibilities might include:

  • Taking patient information—asking questions to understand their general health and concerns.
  • Assisting physicians—taking vital signs, helping with procedures, etc.
  • Keeping detailed patient records—maintaining compliance and providing information for other healthcare professionals who might work with the patient.
  • Providing health education—giving patients recommendations and advice on post-visit care and/or preventative care.
  • Helping patients manage chronic conditions—monitoring and providing ongoing care.
  • Advocating for patients—working with patients in vulnerable communities and doing advocacy work.

These duties can vary quite a bit, as outpatient roles for nurses take place in diverse settings. A nurse working in a community health center will have different responsibilities than a nurse in a plastic surgeon’s office, for instance.

The Nurse Working Environment

Nurses have extremely busy schedules and things can get hectic, especially in a hospital setting. This type of fast-paced environment can be stressful, which is why it’s so important for nurses to be prepared. Compassion, adaptability, and critical thinking skills are just a few of the most important attributes of a successful nurse.

Depending on the hospital or office, nursing teams might be understaffed, meaning that nurses must stay extremely organized and efficient. Patient care should take priority, but there’s also paperwork, physician support, cleaning, and other tasks that require attention. Many nurses enjoy this variety and fast-paced nature of the work— it makes the workday go by quickly and provides satisfying challenges.

With that said, the stress of working as a nurse can get overwhelming. Many nurses ultimately suffer from burnout and consider leaving the field. This is why it’s so important for nurses to have strong boundaries between their work and personal time. It’s also important for nurses to have a consistent self-care routine to help prevent burnout.

Is Nursing Right for You?

Compassionate people can make great nurses, but the working environment isn’t right for everyone. The day-to-day work can be physically and mentally exhausting. At times, it can even become dangerous.

On the flip side, few jobs are as satisfying and fulfilling as nursing. Going to work every day knowing that you’re helping people when they are at their most vulnerable is an incredible feeling. Nursing is a calling, and only you can decide if you’re prepared for the good, the bad, and the ugly. As an added bonus, nursing salaries can be quite attractive.

There’s never been a better time to become a nurse. Demand is growing, and the field is expanding and offering more options than ever before. If you want a stable, fulfilling, and challenging job that helps people from all walks of life, then being a nurse might just be your calling.