What Do Nurses Do? 7 Nurses Discuss What They Actually Do as a Nurse

10 Min Read Published April 25, 2023
What Do Nurses Do? 7 Nurses Discuss What They Actually Do as a Nurse

Ever wondered what nurses do? If you're considering becoming a nurse, you've likely thought about what it's like and what the job responsibilities are.

But what is nursing? While many of us have an idea of what a nurse's job entails, there is much more to it than meets the eye! Every specialty has its own unique set of responsibilities and duties, which is why we asked seven nurses to share what they really do.

Popular Online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Programs

Grand Canyon University

GCU's College of Nursing and Health Care Professions has a nearly 35-year tradition of preparing students to fill evolving healthcare roles as highly qualified professionals. GCU offers a full spectrum of nursing degrees, from a pre-licensure BSN degree to a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program.

RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Purdue Global

At Purdue Global, discover a faster, more affordable way to earn your Nursing degree. Purdue Global is committed to keeping your tuition costs as low as possible and helping you find the most efficient path to your degree.

RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide, but certain programs have state restrictions. Check with Purdue for details.

Western Governors University

WGU's award-winning online programs are created to help you succeed while graduating faster and with less debt. WGU is a CCNE accredited, nonprofit university offering nursing bachelor's and master's degrees.

RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Georgetown University
Nursing@Georgetown delivers Georgetown University’s MS in Nursing program online, preparing RNs with a BSN to pursue certification in an APRN specialty. Students can earn their degree in as few as 19 months.
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide, excluding NY and WA.

What Do Nurses Do? 

To start off, let’s look at what the high level responsibilities of a nurse are. Broadly, nurses  administer hands-on patient care and work with physicians and other members of the health care team to provide patients with  the best course of treatment. They work in a variety of settings including hospitals, medical offices, and nursing homes. 

Some of the job duties of a nurse include:

  • Administering and monitoring medications

  • Admitting and discharging patients

  • Assisting patients with ADLs including feeding, dressing, and bathing

  • Coordinating with other healthcare providers

  • Developing and implementing nursing care plans

  • Educating and providing emotional support to the patient and family 

  • Performing basic and advanced life support, end of life care, physical examinations, and vital signs checks 

  • Preparing patients for bedside procedures and surgeries

  • Reviewing and maintaining medical records

  • Supervising and orienting new nurses and nursing students

But, this is just the start. Nurses do so much more than that standard list of duties. Let’s hear from some real nurses on what their jobs actually entail.

7 Nurses Share What They Really Do

1. Anthony Strocks, Director of Nursing at a Recovery Facility

Anthony Strocks, RN, MBA,  is the Director of Nursing (DON) at a recovery facility working with patients detoxing from drugs and/or alcohol. 

What He Does

  • Coordinating care needs for his staff

  • Staying in contact across departments  such as compliance, human resources, scheduling, training, operations, utilization review, and clinical treatment

  • Ongoing education on mental health, illness and addiction

A Day in the Life

“I have been working in behavioral health (patients with serious mental illness and addiction) for over 30 years now, and the wonderful thing about this area of nursing is that you are truly working with a patient population that often goes overlooked or misunderstood. 

Working with these patients and getting to know them and their life circumstances provides constant opportunities to gain more education and understanding of this community, which endures unfair and inaccurate depictions in the media, resulting in a hugely unfortunate stigma.

I spend most of my time coordinating care for the needs of my staff so that they can care for our patients. There are some days that I miss being at the bedside, but the great part about working this closely with my nurses is that I can still get all of the patient interaction that my schedule permits.”

2. Lena Yeary, Couplet Care, Postpartum Nurse

Lena Yeary, RN, MSN, RNC-MNN (Registered Nurse Certification - Maternal Newborn Nursing), works in couplet care and postpartum nursing

What She Does

  • Head-to-toe assessments on mother and baby

  • Educating new mothers on how to care for themselves and their babies

A Day in the Life

“Most people think that couplet care or postpartum nursing is all about holding and cuddling babies all day, but it is far more than that. 

Yes, we do the normal head-to-toe assessments on both mother and baby, but the majority of my day is spent on education and re-educating the same thing over and over.   

The education that we provide ranges from the very simple of how to change the baby’s diapers or give a bath to the more complicated, such as what signs and symptoms to watch out for and when to call the doctor. 

New mothers are great at caring for their babies but sometimes not so great at taking care of themselves.  Sometimes, we need to sit and let a mom cry on our shoulders because she suffers from postpartum baby blues or postpartum depression. Occasionally, we snuggle a baby, but that is a rare day.”

3. Alyssa RN, PRN Nurse Educator

Alyssa RN MSN-Ed. is a PRN nurse educator working to help educate her colleagues in the hospital setting. Although her days look different now that she's a full-time parent, she still offers her colleagues a helping hand whenever she can.

What She Does

  • Helping colleagues 

  • Assisting in ACLS/BLS certifications

  • Presenting mock codes on the hospital floors

A Day in the Life

“Before becoming a clinical educator, I worked full time in ICU/CVICU, and I found that I had a passion for taking the extra time to make sure my patients, family members, and students all had a firm understanding of presenting diseases, the plan of care, and what it takes to ensure patients were able to embark on their continuum of health. 

Knowledge is power, and collectively we all can work together to spark ideas and gain insight that can be life-changing for the human beings we strive to help. 

Becoming a full-time parent shifted my role at the bedside, and my days look a little different now. 

Often, my time at the hospital is spent helping my education colleagues with tasks they need to complete, assisting in ACLS/BLS certifications, presenting mock codes on the hospital floors, and simply offering a helping hand whenever I can. 

I may not be around as often as I used to be, but I hope my cheerful demeanor and willingness to understand and reach out to others will make the difference in life when a person desperately needs it.”

4. Krista Lowenhagen, OR Nurse

Krista Lowenhagen, RN, is an operating room (OR) nurse, where she only has one patient at a time, one surgery at a time. 

What She Does

  • Works with the surgical team including the surgeon, an anesthesia provider, and a surgical tech

  • Assists the anesthesiologist with sedation

  • Interviews patient before surgery

  • Postions and preps the patient for surgery

  • Handles supplies during surgery

  • Documents it all in the patient’s chart

A Day in the Life

The most important things to consider for being an operating room nurse are time management, knowing what something is, where to find it, and what it is used for. A nurse from a different area of the hospital will not know what a yellowfin, peg board, or a Satinsky clamp are, let alone why or what they are used for. 

The knowledge that is needed takes a determined, easily adaptable personality that can take criticism daily without taking it personally and also taking it in stride. Learning the field requires regimented training for at least 6 months to a year with an assigned preceptor.

All of your patients will be sedated and likely intubated and incoherent. The amount of time you speak with a patient and their family is limited. You will interview a patient immediately before surgery, asking important questions such as if they've eaten anything recently for risk of aspiration.

“My day consists of being assigned to a surgical room with a predetermined lineup of patients and the cases in that room and with which surgeon. I will assist the anesthesiologist while sedating the patient. 

Once asleep, I will position the patient for the surgery. The patient must be surgically prepped with an appropriate cleaning solution. Once surgery starts, I am in charge of grabbing any supplies needed during the case and documenting them in the patient's chart.”

5. Cody Piwniczka, Clinical Nurse Educator

Cody Piwniczka RN, MSN, CCRN (Critical Care Registered Nurse), a Clinical Nurse Educator, is responsible for providing education to clinical staff at his hospital. 

What He Does
  • Teaching CPR, new employee orientation (NEO), new grad nursing, starting ultrasound-guided IVs, and more

  • Providing education on topics that must be done annually to meet certain accreditations for their hospital

  • Responding to emergency codes

  • Helping out with IT issues

  • Facilitating online learning

A Day in the Life

“When I am not educating or class prepping, I respond to emergency codes announced over a PA system in my hospital. Some of these codes include rapid responses, code blues, code strokes, and mass blood transfusion. 

I attend these critical situations to observe, provide support, and step into a role as needed. The observations I make help the education team decide on topics to teach throughout the hospital. I also provide community outreach through education. 

About a month ago, I dressed up as a penguin to teach children in kindergarten to 2nd grade about calling 911. This is not the only time I wear another hat.

My team jokingly says, ‘Cody is part-time IT’ since I will help out with technology-related issues (with our team and other staff) and help facilitate online/electronic learning via multiple platforms.”

6. Albert Balingit, Inpatient Mental Health Nurse

Albert Balingit, RN, BSN, works in an inpatient mental health unit, where the nurse-to-patient ratio is typically 9 to 12 patients to 1 nurse. 

What He Does
  • Albert's shift begins with attending a team huddle and receiving a report from a nurse from the previous shift for his daily assignment 

  • He then prepares for his morning medication pass and shift assessment

  • Reviews the patient's medication list for the day and pulls their medications from the unit pyxis or med cart

A Day in the Life

“The daily shift assessment normally consists of [asking] how they are feeling today, any anxiety or depression, are they are having any suicidal or homicidal thoughts. 

If yes, do they have a plan, and will they [make a] contract for safety while they’re in the facility. Are they hav[ing] any auditory or visual hallucinations and if yes, are they commanding them to hurt themselves or others. If the patient has had a bowel movement, how their appetite has been, are they attending groups and naming one thing they could improve on today? 

The biggest lessons I have learned being a mental health nurse for the last 7 years is having patience, a calm attitude when taking care of patients, working as a team with your nursing peers and your behavioral health technician to provide great patient care, and keeping patients safe. 

Because when mental health patients begin screaming and yelling, nurses and BHTs need to work together, stay, and talk calmly to the patient to attempt to de-escalate them to prevent the patient into a physical hold and giving injectable medications if possible. In turn, if the patient can be de-escalated, it will keep both the patient, other patients, and nursing staff safe. Also, the patient will thank you at the end.”     

7. Tracy Pajak, Hospice Case Manager

Tracy Pajak, RN is a nurse case manager who has been with hospice for 20 years, 13 years as a CNA, and 8 years as an RN. As a hospice home nurse, Tracy goes into people's homes and cares for them at the end of life.

What She Does
  • Patient needs assessments

  • Managing urgent patient needs

  •  Symptom management 

  • Supporting the patient and their family

A Day in the Life

“It is never boring and never the same. I focus on symptom management for comfort. I try to be where they’re at in their journey, supporting my patient and their family. 

I set up routine visits, which usually are assessments focusing on what they feel their needs are for that day. It could be spiritual needs, safety, outside resources, pain, wound care, constipation, medications, or difficulty breathing. 

I listen to their stories and encourage them to do a life review. I make sure they’re comfortable and have everything they need, including medical equipment, personal supplies, and medication.  I truly feel honored and blessed to be a hospice nurse.”

Nurse Roles and Responsibilities Are Different for Everyone

These are just a few examples of the many nursing specialties out there, each with unique responsibilities and challenges. To learn more about what specific nursing jobs and specialties do, check out our nursing careers page and our list of all the types of nurses

Breann Kakacek
Breann Kakacek
Nurse.org Contributor

Breann Kakacek BSN RN has been a registered nurse for more than 8 years and a CNA for 2 years while going through the nursing program. Most of her nursing years include working in the medical ICU and Cardiovascular ICU and moonlighting in the OR as a circulating nurse. She has always had a passion for writing and enjoys using her nursing knowledge to create amazing online content.

Read More From Breann
Go to the top of page