13 Important Nursing Responsibilities

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated May 26, 2022 | Published May 3, 2021

Updated May 26, 2022

Published May 3, 2021

A nurse advises a patient about a prescription.

Nurses play an important role in providing care for patients to help manage their physical needs, treat health conditions and prevent illnesses. As highly trained members of the medical team, most nurses have a broad skill set and a wide range of responsibilities that can vary from one patient to the next. If you are starting your career as a nurse or looking to become one, understanding what nurses are responsible for may benefit you.

In this article, we share some of the common certifications nurses hold, discuss where nurses can work and explore some of the most important nursing responsibilities.

What is a nurse?

A nurse is a medical professional who provides general patient care and triage. Nurses usually work with a team of other medical professionals, such as physicians and other healthcare specialists. Nurses can work in a wide variety of environments, including:

  • Hospitals

  • Clinics

  • Doctors' offices

  • Schools

  • Correctional facilities

  • Homeless shelters

  • Rehabilitation centers

  • Senior care homes

Nurses may also hold different levels of certification, including:

  • Registered nurse (RN): These nurses assist doctors and other medical professionals by providing hands-on care for patients. They also manage and maintain medical records.

  • Nurse practitioner (NP): In this role, nurses often diagnose and treat minor conditions and injuries. They may also provide prescriptions to their patients.

  • Certified nurse midwife (CNM): These nurses provide gynecological and obstetrics services for women. They may work in hospitals, birthing clinics or private residences.

  • Clinical nurse specialist (CNS): In this role, nurses can treat both mental and physical conditions. They often work in clinics, hospitals, senior care homes, community health centers or independent practices.

  • Certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA): These nurses administer sedation treatments to patients to alleviate pain or prepare them for surgery.

Related: What Are the 5 Different Levels of Nursing?

13 essential responsibilities for nurses

A nurse's responsibilities may vary depending on where they work, what licenses they have obtained and how experienced they are. Here are 13 of the most common tasks nurses are responsible for:

1. Recording medical history and symptoms

Nurses record and maintain accurate documentation of their patients' health to ensure they receive the proper treatment. Most nurses begin this process by asking patients questions about their medical history to gather information about previous diagnoses and surgeries, current medications, allergies and relevant family medical information. They may also ask the patient questions about any symptoms they are currently experiencing and record their vitals.

If the patient receives a new diagnosis, medication or treatment plan during their visit, a nurse may be responsible for updating their medical record with this information. Maintaining detailed and accurate medical records is critical for ensuring patients receive the best possible care.

Related: 5 Must-Have Skills For Your Nursing Resume

2. Administering medications and treatments

Most nurses can administer medications and treatments to their patients with a physician's order. They can also help develop a treatment plan for their patients. Specialized nurses, such as nurse practitioners, may be able to prescribe medications without a doctor's approval. Some treatments nurses may help with include cleaning and dressing wounds, changing bandages and inserting catheters. Nurses may also assist doctors with more advanced procedures or administer emergency care to patients in critical condition.

3. Collaborating with teams for patient care

Nurses play a vital role in collecting information from patients and sharing it with the rest of their medical team. Because this is such a key responsibility for those in the nursing profession, nurses must have excellent verbal and written communication skills to effectively collaborate with physicians and other healthcare providers. Clear, concise communication can also ensure that patients and their family members understand all of the information they receive.

Related: Communication Skills in Nursing: Definition and Examples

4. Performing diagnostic tests

Nurses may perform a wide variety of diagnostic tests, including checking vitals and collecting tissue, blood, stool or urine samples for analysis. It is important for nurses to pay close attention to detail to ensure these tests are administered properly because they need this information to diagnose patients and develop treatment plans. Nurses may also be responsible for analyzing the results and sharing what they find with the rest of their medical team.

5. Conducting physical examinations

Nurses often conduct a physical examination of patients at the beginning of their visit to assess their overall health. This may involve taking the patient's temperature, recording their weight, monitoring their heartbeat and checking their blood pressure. This examination may also include testing the patient's reflexes, checking their lymph nodes and examining their eyes, ears, nose and throat. The physical examination provides nurses and the rest of the medical team with a current update on the patient's health and an opportunity to talk to patients about their health goals and concerns.

6. Monitoring patients' health

Nurses must carefully monitor and observe their patients to record any symptoms or relevant information that could lead to a diagnosis or a change in their treatment plan. This may involve carefully checking patient records to ensure the correct medications and dosages are listed, maintaining intravenous (IV) lines to ensure they are changed regularly and monitoring the patient's vital signs. Nurses must also pay close attention to nonverbal cues from their patients to help them identify underlying causes for their health-related issues.

Related: 15 Nursing Skills To Put on Your Resume

7. Providing support and advice to patients

It is important to make sure patients feel cared for, listened to and understood, especially when nurses need to deliver challenging medical news. Patients often look to nurses for support and advice to help them process their diagnoses and determine what steps they should take next. Nurses who are empathetic toward patients and their family members can provide comfort and guidance during these situations. They may also equip their patients with effective coping strategies or provide them with inpatient and outpatient resources.

8. Operating medical equipment

Nurses use a wide variety of diagnostic tools to care for their patients, including stethoscopes, glucometers, pulse oximeters, thermometers and blood pressure machines. Depending on where they work and what licenses they hold, nurses may also be trained to operate more specialized machinery, such as intravenous infusion pumps, ventilation equipment and wound drainage systems. Having a strong background in technology and mathematics can help nurses properly operate medical equipment and analyze the results.

9. Educating patients about how to manage an illness

Part of a nurse's role is to educate their patients about various medical conditions and provide clear instructions on how they can manage their symptoms. This could include explaining what medications the patient needs to take, when the patient should schedule a follow-up appointment and instructions for rehabilitative exercises or practices. Nurses may also be responsible for explaining additional post-treatment home care needs to a patient's family or caregiver. This can include recommendations for the patient's diet and nutrition, exercise routine and physical therapy.

Some nurses may also proactively educate people about common diseases by speaking at seminars, helping with blood drives or offering their services at health screening and immunization clinics.

Related: A Day in the Life of a Nurse: Typical Daily Activities and Duties

10. Advocating for the health and well-being of patients

In order to properly care for their patients and ensure their safety, nurses may often act as advocates for their health and overall well-being. This can involve translating the medical information or diagnosis a doctor provides to ensure the patient understands the important details, encouraging patients to ask questions or connecting patients with resources at another facility that's better suited for their needs. Nurses can also advocate for their patients by taking the time to actively listen to their concerns, respecting their wishes and communicating what the patient wants with their family or other staff members.

11. Providing basic bedside care

Nurses may be responsible for a wide range of basic bedside care tasks, depending on their particular working environment. These tasks can include helping patients bathe, use the bathroom and perform other hygiene-related activities. Bedside nurses also offer their patients emotional support, administer medications and track their vitals.

12. Training and educating staff

In addition to the clinical work they do to take care of patients, qualified nurses with an appropriate amount of experience may help train and supervise newer members of their medical team, including practical nurses and nurses' aides. Some nurses may even work with nursing students by offering training courses through a local college or providing continuing education programs for nurses looking to advance in their careers.

Related: 7 Leadership Styles in Nursing

13. Maintaining inventory

Experienced nurses may take on extra job roles, such as maintaining inventory and ordering supplies. This is often a shared responsibility, but tenured nurses may supervise entire departments. Making sure supplies are properly organized, accounted for and restocked on time can help ensure the medical team has all of the resources they need to provide quality care for their patients.

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