Nurses are among the most critical and important professionals in the healthcare world. It is the nurse who works directly with patients to ensure their needs are being carefully met with every interaction. Nurses chart patient records, take vitals, assist with physical exams, communicate with physicians, and sometimes even interacts with insurance providers. Yet the daily work of a nurse can feel a bit ambiguous, particularly if you’re considering a career or degree in nursing and want to know what it is, exactly, you would be doing day-to-day. What is it that a nurse does daily to keep the healthcare world operating as it should? What does a “day in the life of a nurse” look like?
The answer to these questions will depend on a number of factors, not the least of which is where the nurse will work. Nurses who work in hospitals, for example, tend to work 12-hour shifts and move from patient room to patient room throughout the day. In comparison, a school nurse is going to stay in one place, work during school hours, and see students in an office setting. A registered nurse (RN) can be employed in surgical centers, walk-in clinics, and doctor’s offices. They may also work in residential homes as home care providers. Some nurses work in triage or providing virtual care to patients over the phone or using online technologies.
It’s also important to note that there are a number of different levels of nursing positions and degree credentials. From nursing aide or Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) to Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) or Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN) to RNs and beyond, their duties will vary according to their education and certification, as well as location or area of specialty. Nevertheless, while the daily work of a nurse can vary in each of these settings, educational credentials or level of certification, there are still some consistencies between these various nursing roles.
Considering what the typical day of a nurse looks like will help you better appreciate these important healthcare professionals and their role in patient care. It will also help you understand if the daily duties of a nurse would be a good fit for your skills and career goals. If you are a nurse, understanding what your daily work looks like will give you a greater appreciation for how hard you work and how important you are to the patients you care for each day.
What Do Nurses Do on a Typical Day?
What does daily life look like for a nurse? What do these professionals, those on the front lines of patient care, do?
The nurse is typically the first medical professional a patient sees when they enter a hospital or doctor’s office. The nurse will talk to the patient and hear their concerns, then make a record of those concerns for the physician to see. Nurses will evaluate patient health, both visually and by taking vitals, so they can report concerns to the physician. All of this makes it easier for doctors to maximize time with the patient, so more patients can get care each day.
Nurses also spend a lot of time with records. During a shift change, they will read patient records and notes from the nursing team that was caring for the patent before them. During their shifts, nurses record important information about patients and their care, so the next nursing team will know what to do to care for a patient.
In their daily activities, nurses spend a lot of time on their feet. They move from patient room to patient room or from clinic room to clinic room. They need to have a happy demeanor as they meet with and comfort patients. They must also have a strong attention for detail as they move from patient to patient to monitor their health.
Nursing shifts will vary depending on the location where a nurse works. In a hospital setting, nurses typically work 12-hour shifts, so each 24-hour period a patient interacts with two primary nursing shifts. Shift changes involve meetings between nurses to go over patient information and care needs, which helps create a continuation of care even when personnel changes throughout the day.
Paperwork is another important part of what a nurse will do each day. While most paperwork is online now, nurses still often record print and deliver it on behalf of patients or the doctors they work for.
When a patient is ready for discharge, a nurse helps with this process. They will deliver discharge papers to the patient and go over wound care and medication needs to ensure home care is safe and supportive for the patient. This may include demonstrating how to change dressings or care for an injured or wounded area, so patients and their families leave the hospital or doctor’s office equipped with the information they need for proper care.
Clearly, nurses are important. Without them, the healthcare system would struggle, and patent care would suffer significantly.
Daily Duties of a Nurse
What does this look like more specifically? How do nurses provide patient care day in and day out? While the daily duties of a nurse will vary a bit depending on where they are employed and what their specialty is, there are some tasks that seem to be fairly universal among those in the nursing profession.
1. Administer Medication
If a doctor prescribes a medication that a patient needs to take in the hospital or clinic setting, it is rarely the doctor who actually administers it. The doctor will send the medication request to a nurse, typically an RN, who will visit the patient and administer the medication. If the patient is at risk for a reaction to the medication, the RN will stay with the patient to observe for a few minutes after administering the medication.
Note: Depending on the state or the institution, an LPN may be able to administer intravenous (IV) antibiotics or fluids in a pump-delivery system. However, they are not able to administer higher-level medications through an IV site.
For patients who are hospitalized, nurses administer medication throughout the day and night, following a strict schedule to ensure timely dosing. This helps maintain patient health and comfort.
As part of medication administration, nurses must be aware of potential drug interactions. They should check the list of medications a patient is taking and ensure that none of the medications have potential interactions. If the patient reacts negatively to any administered medication, the nurse should discuss the interaction with the attending physician to ensure the patient’s health is protected.
As they administer medications, nurses may need to consult with pharmacists. They also may be asked to call in prescriptions to a pharmacy on behalf of physicians for patients to use at home. Understanding various medications and their uses and doses is helpful for today’s nurse.
2. Manage Patient Cases
In many hospital and clinical settings, nurses play a role in managing patient cases. They work with physicians to plan and implement patient care based on how the individual responds to treatment. For example, in a hospital, a nurse may notice that a patient is not improving after starting a particular medication. They will communicate their assessment with the physician and suggest a change in the care plan. The physician can make a medication change based on the nurse’s input. The nurse will then implement the change and observe the patient to see if there is any improvement. Case management is a team effort, but the nurse is a vital part of that team.
In some hospitals, patient case managers are registered nurses. These RNs manage the entire case, taking notes from physicians and nurses who are on the floor to ensure patients are cared for well. However, all nurses, regardless of whether or not they hold the title of “case manager” work in case management to some extent.
3. Maintain Medical Records
Medical records are a critical part of patient care. Clear records allow doctors and nurses to maintain a high quality of care, while also ensuring that care notes pass without issue from one shift change to the next. Every time a nurse checks on a patient, administers medication, helps with a basic hygiene task, or does a wellness check, it must be recorded.
Today’s nurses maintain medical records primarily on a computer rather than on paper. Electronic medical records allow a patient’s record to easily move from one provider to the next, even if they are switching from a hospital to a clinical setting for continued care. Maintaining medical records will require some basic technical understanding.
In addition to the records from treatment received in the clinical setting, nurses will record patient histories. This is vital because something that happened in a patient’s past can often be the key to finding an effective treatment for a current medical condition.
4. Record and Monitor Vitals
Almost any time a nurse has initial contact with a patient, they will take vitals—blood pressure, temperature, and pulse. These are a clear indicator to the nurse and the physician about the patient’s well-being. If a patient has high blood pressure, it can indicate distress. If a patient is running a fever, it can indicate an infection.
In a hospital setting, nurses will be required to take vitals on a set schedule, recording them every few hours to ensure a patient remains healthy. It may also include a visual assessment of patient wellness. Nurses become quite skilled at quickly assessing a patient’s condition from head to toe, even without the patient’s knowledge, so they can alert the physician to any signs of serious illness. Any patient interaction gives a nurse the chance to check for signs of illness or other problems, and those often need to be recorded after observation.
5. Provide Emotional Support for Patients
Finally, nurses are important emotional support for patients. The healthcare world is often a scary place for patients, especially if they face serious illnesses or injuries. Doctors are pressed for time and may not be able to sit with patients as they take in the severity of their diagnoses.
It is often the nurse that comes alongside a patient after a frightening illness or diagnosis to provide emotional support. It is the nurse who holds a patient’s hand through a difficult medical procedure. It is a nurse who calms a patient who is resistant to care. Nurses must have the fortitude to offer emotional support for patients and families.
For Nurses, Variety is a Key to the Job
While these are the typical daily duties of a nurse, the truth is that no two days are identical. People are different, so their health and their healthcare needs will be different.
Nurses are on the front lines of patient care, and every day presents new challenges with different patients who present with new conditions. Nurses need to be able to think on their feet and remain calm in stressful situations so they can provide emotional support to patients and clinical support to physicians.
As a nurse, you are critical to providing proper care to patients. Additional education can help you do your job even better. Post University offers an Online RN to BSN completion program which is a good option for current nurses who are looking to expand their education while letting them build on their professional experience in the medical world. Reach out to our admissions team to learn more about our RN to BSN completion program.
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