Whether you are just contemplating nursing school or are an experienced nurse weighing your work options, it can be helpful to understand the scope and nuances of nursing work. After all, a day in the life of a registered nurse (RN) can look very different depending on the type of facility where he or she works. The same eight-hour nursing shift would look vastly different at the emergency room (ER) of a hospital than at a physician’s office. Therefore, to understand the duties and responsibilities of an RN, it is necessary to understand the key features of working at different types of healthcare facilities.
What Are the Duties and Responsibilities of an RN?
Before we go over how RN job descriptions can vary, let’s take a look at the duties and tasks that most RN positions have in common. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the following are typical RN duties:
- Evaluate patients’ conditions
- Obtain and record patients’ medical histories and symptoms
- Monitor patients and record the observations
- Administer patients’ medications and other treatments
- Create or modify plans for patients’ care
- Collaborate with other healthcare professionals
- Operate and monitor medical equipment
- Obtain samples and help perform other diagnostic tests
- Analyze the results of lab work and other diagnostic tests
- Educate patients and their families on how to care for the patients
Where Do RNs Work?
Nurses can work in a variety of settings, including office administrative services and the pharmaceutical industry. However, the vast majority of RNs work in hospitals, followed by ambulatory healthcare services, such as physician’s offices, home healthcare, and outpatient care centers.
This is how RN employment is distributed according to BLS data:
- Hospitals (state, local, and private): 61%
- Ambulatory healthcare services: 18%
- Nursing and residential care facilities: 6%
- Government: 5%
- Educational services (state, local, and private): 3%
Inpatient vs Outpatient Care
As its name indicates, inpatient care refers to situations in which patients stay in a facility overnight or even for months or years, as is the case with nursing homes, whereas outpatient care refers to situations in which patients remain at a facility for a few minutes to a few hours but are not admitted to the facility for long-term care, as is the case with patients who simply need a physical or a shot.
Characteristics of Inpatient Care
Although vastly different work settings, both hospitals and nursing homes fall into the category of inpatient care. Patients in these settings stay overnight or for extended periods of time because they need around-the-clock care. Therefore, clinicians who work in these settings take turns covering 24 hours per day, seven days per week.
The very nature of long-term care comes with certain characteristics that could be perceived by different clinicians as either pros or cons depending on individual preferences:
- Most inpatients have acute conditions and will often need assistance with even basic tasks, such as walking or eating.
- Clinicians must cover shifts around the clock 365 days per year.
- Nurses are able to supervise patients to make sure they follow treatment plans, and they can be more involved in the education of patients and their families.
- Clinicians spend more time with patients, which allows them to form relationships with the people they care for. This can be incredibly fulfilling when patients recover, but it can also be very difficult when patients relapse or pass on.
Understanding Outpatient care
Ambulatory healthcare services, also known as outpatient care, include physicians’ offices, home healthcare, and in some cases hospitals. Outpatient care is short term, which implies that clinicians are not required to work around the clock. Based on the short-term nature of outpatient care, here are some aspects that typically come with working in this type of setting:
- Patients will be in and out of care within a day, so there usually isn’t any turnover.
- These patients are usually not in critical condition and generally can function on their own.
- Clinicians see more patients per day than they would in inpatient care settings and spend less time with each patient.
- Nurses don’t typically work nights or weekends.
- Clinicians send patients home with treatment plans or instructions and must trust that patients will follow through with their care plan. This can lead clinicians to feel worried about their patients’ well-being without being able to check up on them.
Which Is the Right Setting for You?
Determining the ideal work setting is a complex issue since there are so many factors to consider. Is it important for you to develop meaningful, deep relationships with patients? If so, inpatient care could be the most fulfilling for you. Nevertheless, if it is important for you and your family that you work daytime office hours, outpatient care might be your best bet. The truth is that the best way to know for sure which work setting is best for you is to experience the duties and responsibilities of an RN at each type of facility. This might not seem realistic, but through PRN work, you could easily pick up extra shifts at different facilities in order to have some firsthand experience on which to base such a significant life decision as choosing a career path or making a career change.
In fact, you might find that you enjoy a little of both worlds. In this case, you might decide to work PRN full time and allow yourself the freedom to work where you want when you want and reap the benefits of working at different types of facilities. Learn more about working PRN from Nursa's per diem nursing blog — the most comprehensive source of information about PRN nursing.