If you have visited a medical office, clinic, or hospital, you have encountered a registered nurse. While these practitioners are not limited to healthcare settings, they are often the first point of contact a patient has when seeking medical advice, intervention, or aid.

What is a registered nurse?

A registered nurse, or RN, is a licensed caregiver with an associate's degree or higher in nursing, who has completed state mandates and passed an exam issued by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. There are currently three times as many active registered nurses as there are doctors in the United States. This statistic demonstrates a nurse's overall value and potential in healthcare settings.

Reasons to see a registered nurse

When a medical concern, issue, or crisis comes up, your first objective may not be to see a nurse. However, registered nurses are on the front lines of the medical workplace, providing evaluation and a pair of eyes for determining if you need to see a physician. Registered nurses help the doctors do their jobs more effectively and efficiently, particularly in settings where medical services are spread thin.

Registered nurses work in many different roles and settings, such as: 

  • Psychiatric mental health nurse
  • School nurse
  • Cruise ship nurse
  • Diabetes management nurse
  • Nurse midwife
  • Camp nurse
  • Research nurse
  • Prison nurse
  • Parish nurse
  • Pediatric nurse
  • Emergency room nurse
  • Military nurse
  • Traveling or home health nurse
  • Home health nurse
  • Oncology nurse
  • Cosmetic surgery nurse

Registered nurses are utilized in settings that need an on-site medical expert to make decisions related to treatment, care, and hospitalization, as well as to determine when to notify a physician.

What does a registered nurse do?

A simpler question might be, what doesn't a registered nurse do? These professionals may be your first point of contact when showing up for an appointment or seeking critical care during a health emergency. These are the individuals who dress a wound or explain a procedure to your family. These are the same providers who provide pain relief and check your blood pressure.

Some of the responsibilities of an RN include:

  • Taking a patient's history
  • Performing physical examinations
  • Health education
  • Wound care
  • Administering medications
  • Personalizing interventions
  • Interpreting patient information
  • Making critical-care decisions
  • Coordinating care
  • Supervising to other treatment team staff
  • Researching optimal outcomes and improved patient care
  • Documenting interactions and interventions

Registered nurses practice in a vast range of healthcare settings, including hospitals, nursing homes, healthcare clinics, medical office, schools, and private practices. These professionals are also present in positions at homeless shelters, summer camps, tourist attractions, sporting events, and correctional facilities such as county jails or state prisons.

How is a registered nurse certified?

Registered nurses must first graduate from an accredited nursing program, with an Associates Degree in Nursing (ADN), although many nurses enter the field with their Bachelor's of Nursing degree (BSN). All nurses are required to take the state board exam from the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. Registered nurses must be licensed in the state they practice in, although these guidelines vary state-to-state. Professional organization affiliation and training also certifies the nurse in specialized areas, such as gerontology, pediatrics, or ambulatory care. This specialized training may set them apart from other nurses and practitioners.

Referral research

You don't need a referral to see a registered nurse. In fact, a nurse will likely be the first care provider you see when seeking medical attention. Check online reviews through reputable third-party sites or look them up on the practitioner licensing database to verify that the nurse is actively licensed. You can also find out about any disciplinary actions or complaints the RN may have within your region.

First meeting with your registered nurse

Make sure you take notes during your interactions and instructions with registered nurses. Ask them to clarify or write down any information you may need to revisit later on. Although most nurses will provide contact methods for maintaining a continuum of care, not all do. Don't hesitate to inquire if you would like the information.

When seeking help for a first-time medical issue, ask your registered nurse the following questions:

  • What are the names of the providers and members of my treatment team?
  • Could you clarify and explain my diagnosis?
  • Can I sign consents to release information to those I want aware of my care, such as family members or my primary care provider?
  • Can you clarify and provide information about m?
  • How is my condition responding to the treatment?
  • How can I better facilitate my recovery?
  • Ask for demonstrations related to wound care, as well as an outline of limitations and recommendations.
  • Ask any questions related to your discharge plans and follow-up.

Nurses are on the frontlines of healthcare, fielding questions and providing care to patients seeking medical attention. Feel free to ask your registered nurse questions about your care and treatment options, and consider this practitioner as your direct line to the attending physician. Don't be afraid to speak up and ask questions to your nurse. He or she is in the perfect position to provide accurate information and respond to queries.