What does a nurse do?

Nurses work to promote health, prevent disease and help patients with illnesses. They are advocates and health educators for patients, families and communities. When treating a patient, they observe, assess and record symptoms, reactions and progress. Nurses collaborate with doctors when it comes to treatments and exams, administering medications and patient recovery.

The field of nursing offers several levels of practice, each with different educational requirements. To practice, some nurses earn a certificate while others complete a doctorate.

A licensed practical nurse (L.P.N) provides basic patient care under supervision of nurses and doctors. They administer medicine and perform treatments. They must earn a certificate, complete clinical training and pass an exam to practice.

A registered nurse (R.N.) provides and coordinates patient care. They sometimes oversee L.P.N.s and nursing assistants. They must earn an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree, complete clinical training and pass an exam to practice. Many R.N.s choose to get certified in a specialty area, which can increase earnings and career opportunities. 

There are also advanced practice registered nurses (A.P.R.N.s) who receive graduate-level training, called nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and nurse anesthetists.

People they work with: Doctors, nursing assistants, home health aides, other nurses and patients of all ages, from infants to the elderly

Where they work: Hospitals, medical clinics, schools, nursing homes and home health agencies

Career outlook for a nurse

The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects employment of nurses to grow faster than average. Opportunities should be excellent for nurses with advanced education and training. Some states report current and projected shortages of nurses, primarily due to an aging workforce and recent declines in nursing school enrollments.

With experience, L.P.N.s may advance to supervisory positions or complete an education program to become an R.N. With experience and continuous education, R.N.s can move into supervisory or leadership roles such as assistant clinical nurse manager, charge nurse, head nurse, assistant director or director of nursing, vice president of nursing or chief nursing officer.

Some R.N.s complete a graduate degree to become A.P.R.N.s, while some nurses move into the business side of health care or work as professors or researches at colleges and universities.

Nurse programs at Mayo Clinic

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