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What Do Nurses Do on a Daily Basis?

Luna Ramsay

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What does this look like more specifically? How do nurses provide patient care day in and day out? While the daily duties of a nurse will vary a bit depending on where they are employed and what their specialty is, there are some tasks that seem to be fairly universal among those in the nursing profession.


1. Administer Medication

If a doctor prescribes a medication that a patient needs to take in the hospital or clinic setting, it is rarely the doctor who actually administers it. The doctor will send the medication request to a nurse, typically an RN, who will visit the patient and administer the medication. If the patient is at risk for a reaction to the medication, the RN will stay with the patient to observe for a few minutes after administering the medication.


Note: Depending on the state or the institution, an LPN may be able to administer intravenous (IV) antibiotics or fluids in a pump-delivery system. However, they are not able to administer higher-level medications through an IV site.


For patients who are hospitalized, nurses administer medication throughout the day and night, following a strict schedule to ensure timely dosing. This helps maintain patient health and comfort.


As part of medication administration, nurses must be aware of potential drug interactions. They should check the list of medications a patient is taking and ensure that none of the medications have potential interactions. If the patient reacts negatively to any administered medication, the nurse should discuss the interaction with the attending physician to ensure the patient’s health is protected.


As they administer medications, nurses may need to consult with pharmacists. They also may be asked to call in prescriptions to a pharmacy on behalf of physicians for patients to use at home. Understanding various medications and their uses and doses is helpful for today’s nurse.


2. Manage Patient Cases

In many hospital and clinical settings, nurses play a role in managing patient cases. They work with physicians to plan and implement patient care based on how the individual responds to treatment. For example, in a hospital, a nurse may notice that a patient is not improving after starting a particular medication. They will communicate their assessment with the physician and suggest a change in the care plan. The physician can make a medication change based on the nurse’s input. The nurse will then implement the change and observe the patient to see if there is any improvement. Case management is a team effort, but the nurse is a vital part of that team.


In some hospitals, patient case managers are registered nurses. These RNs manage the entire case, taking notes from physicians and nurses who are on the floor to ensure patients are cared for well. However, all nurses, regardless of whether or not they hold the title of “case manager” work in case management to some extent.


3. Maintain Medical Records

Medical records are a critical part of patient care. Clear records allow doctors and nurses to maintain a high quality of care, while also ensuring that care notes pass without issue from one shift change to the next. Every time a nurse checks on a patient, administers medication, helps with a basic hygiene task, or does a wellness check, it must be recorded.


Today’s nurses maintain medical records primarily on a computer rather than on paper. Electronic medical records allow a patient’s record to easily move from one provider to the next, even if they are switching from a hospital to a clinical setting for continued care. Maintaining medical records will require some basic technical understanding.


In addition to the records from treatment received in the clinical setting, nurses will record patient histories. This is vital because something that happened in a patient’s past can often be the key to finding an effective treatment for a current medical condition.


4. Record and Monitor Vitals

Almost any time a nurse has initial contact with a patient, they will take vitals—blood pressure, temperature, and pulse. These are a clear indicator to the nurse and the physician about the patient’s well-being. If a patient has high blood pressure, it can indicate distress. If a patient is running a fever, it can indicate an infection.


In a hospital setting, nurses will be required to take vitals on a set schedule, recording them every few hours to ensure a patient remains healthy. It may also include a visual assessment of patient wellness. Nurses become quite skilled at quickly assessing a patient’s condition from head to toe, even without the patient’s knowledge, so they can alert the physician to any signs of serious illness. Any patient interaction gives a nurse the chance to check for signs of illness or other problems, and those often need to be recorded after observation.


5. Provide Emotional Support for Patients

Finally, nurses are important emotional support for patients. The healthcare world is often a scary place for patients, especially if they face serious illnesses or injuries. Doctors are pressed for time and may not be able to sit with patients as they take in the severity of their diagnoses.


It is often the nurse that comes alongside a patient after a frightening illness or diagnosis to provide emotional support. It is the nurse who holds a patient’s hand through a difficult medical procedure. It is a nurse who calms a patient who is resistant to care. Nurses must have the fortitude to offer emotional support for patients and families.

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