Nursing is a varied field, which means that there is no typical answer as to what exactly nurses do. Responsibilities could range from making small treatment decisions or providing vaccinations in schools. Nursing is a career that takes both skill and drive, as it is necessary to take an all-encompassing view of a patient’s wellbeing. In the U.S. today, there are over 4 million registered nurses, which means that one in every 100 people is a registered nurse. According to the American Nursing Association (ANA), roles range from direct patient care and case management to establishing nursing practice standards, developing quality assurance procedures, and directing complex nursing systems. 

While doctors specialize in one area, nurses coordinate care for all areas of a patient’s overall health. A nurse would ensure prescriptions don’t negatively interact with each other, and that a patient understands and is prepared for treatment. When diagnostic results come in, it’s the nurse that reads them first and notifies the appropriate doctor if necessary. Nowadays, nurses play a role that is equally responsible for the patient’s health as a doctor.2

Job Settings

Registered nurses work in hospitals, physicians’ offices, home healthcare services, and nursing care facilities. Others work in outpatient clinics and schools. A majority of nurses (over 60%) work at hospitals.1 With a nursing degree, there are so many different roles that people can serve.

Daily Responsibilities

A nurse’s daily responsibilities will vary depending on the specialization. In general, a nurse has to continuously monitor and evaluate patients. They must also coordinate with multiple specialists to ensure that patients are being well managed. Specifically, here is a list of some of the things nurses do on a typical day:2

  • Conduct physical exams
  • Take detailed healthcare histories
  • Listen to patients and analyze their physical and emotional needs
  • Provide counseling and healthcare education to patients
  • Coordinate care with other healthcare providers and specialists
  • Stay current with advances in healthcare options, medications, and treatment plans
  • Draw blood, and perform other health-related testing
  • Check a patient’s vital signs 

Important Skills

Nurses typically have to possess several critical skills. This includes empathy, effective communication, organization and time management, and networking skills. An empathetic nurse is able to connect with a patient by understanding what that particular patient is going through. Effective communication skills allow a nurse to decipher a patient’s verbal and non-verbal cues.The ability to maintain organization by prioritizing a workload and being able to multitask is critical. Finally, a nurse must be able to effectively communicate and collaborate with a network of healthcare professionals in order to provide the best possible care for patients. 


In May 2020, the median annual wage for registered nurses was $75,330. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $53,410 and the highest 10 percent earned more than $116,230. When surveying the top industries where nurses work, nurses working in government tended to earn the highest wage whereas nurses in educational services; state, local, and private tended to make the least.3

Job Outlook

Employment of registered nurses is expected to grow by nearly 7% from 2019 to 2029, which is faster than the average for all occupations. About 175,900 openings are expected each year. However, for some areas of the country, there is more competition. 

Pros and Cons


  • Ability to help others: Nurses play a significant and important role in shaping the health of individuals, families, and communities.
  • Career in high demand
  • High earning potential
  • Diverse opportunities: As mentioned earlier, nursing is such a diverse profession that there are not only a multitude of practice settings but also many different specialty areas and paths.
  • Flexible schedule: Dependent on the employer, many nurses can choose to work full time, part time, or on call. Work days also can vary greatly in length. 
  • Trusted profession: According to various polls, nurses are ranked highly when it comes to honesty and high ethical standards.
  • Work attire: Most nurses abide by a simple and comfortable dress code.


  • Can be physically demanding: Foot problems and back injuries can be common for nurses who spend a lot of time on their feet, both moving and lifting patients.
  • Long hours: Hospital nurses typically work 12 hour shifts and nurses with less seniority often end up working a lot of nights, weekends, and holidays.
  • Possible illness exposure: Although nurses take precautions, there is always a risk of possibly contracting a disease. Bearing in mind that most healthcare facilities do have testing and cleaning protocol.
  • Stress and pressure: Nurses have to maintain composure during very difficult and stressful situations. This can also lead to emotional burnout if not properly monitored.


Why become a nurse?

Nurses practice on the frontlines of patient’s care. Whether it be administering IV fluids or simply listening to a patient, nurses are the eyes, ear, and voice of healthcare. Most people underestimate the multi-faceted role that nurses play. Not only do they have to understand complicated conditions and their implications, but they also need to have empathy and interpersonal skills. Nurses are with patients for the long haul. The flexibility of their profession allows them to transfer to different departments or work across several units. Typically, they work better schedules than doctors and don’t need to take home charts and paperwork. A nursing degree also allows one to enter the workforce quicker.6

Career Path

Take a look at this infographic to view an overview of the nursing career pathways.

Having already obtained a bachelor’s degree (in a field other than nursing), some may look at an accelerated nursing program. These programs build on previous learning experiences and provide individuals with undergraduate degrees in other disciplines to transition into nursing. 

Fast-track entry level baccalaureate programs typically take around eleven to eighteen months to complete including prerequisites. Instruction can be intense as participants receive the same number of clinical hours, and admission often requires a minimum GPA of 3.0. Accelerated programs also often group classes together in quarters or sections rather than traditional semesters. With the completion of one of these programs, graduates should be prepared to pass the NCLEX-RN and to enter the field as RNs.7

Fast track entry-level master’s degree programs typically take around three years to complete. Because of this, they also cost more (sometimes twice as much as a BSN degree). It is possible to move directly from an accelerated MSN program to a doctorate or advanced nursing specialty degree. MSN nurses have even more flexibility when it comes to choosing their role. While RNs are more limited to working in direct patient care, MSN prepared nurses can choose managerial or leadership positions.7

The program directory from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing can be found here

Benefits of accelerated nursing program:

  • Flexibility
  • Accelerated time frame
  • Focus on essential courses
  • Stronger clinical skills
  • Increased maturity
  • Increased marketability

Financing Your Degree

The cost is completely dependent on which track that the student decides to take. For example, accelerated programs can range widely in cost, anywhere from $30,000 to $120,000. It is important to keep in mind that you most likely will not be able to work while in an accelerated program because of how rigorous the curriculum is. Many schools also offer both merit based and need-based scholarships. 


Some programs utilize the NursingCAS, which is the Centralized Application Service for Nursing. Most programs require GRE scores and undergraduate transcripts. Some programs do require prerequisites which are usually Human Anatomy and Physiology, Microbiology, Statistics, and Human Growth and Development.4 However, it is very important to evaluate the individual programs and tracks that you are considering applying to. 

Additional Resources