What Does a Registered Nurse Do? Your 2024 Career Guide

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Registered nurses work in a variety of settings to provide medical care for patients and support physicians. Learn more about this highly in-demand job.

Three nurses, two female and one male all wearing blue scrubs, smile in a hospital.

Registered nurses (RNs) provide patient care and support other medical professionals, such as physicians, as they work to improve patient outcomes. According to the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario [1], nurses make up the largest group of employees within the health care system. Because the job is in high demand, those who complete nursing programs can usually count on competitive wages and job security.

In this article, you'll learn more about registered nurses, what they do, their salary and job outlook in Canada, and how to become one. You'll also explore cost-effective online courses to help you gain job-relevant skills today.

What is a registered nurse?

A registered nurse provides and coordinates care for patients in hospitals, doctor's offices, clinics, schools, nursing homes, and other medical facilities. As an RN, you’ll also support physicians and other medical professionals and communicate with patients' families about their progress. 

While your exact responsibilities will likely vary from day to day, some of the most common duties you will likely perform as an RN include: 

  • Administering medication

  • Dressing wounds

  • Monitoring vital signs

  • Inserting intravenous (IV) catheters

  • Creating a plan of care

  • Documenting patient information

  • Preparing patients for discharge

  • Teaching patients and their families about various illnesses and treatments 

Registered nurses may work in almost every type of medical facility, including hospitals, clinics, and medical offices, with patients from all walks of life. You may deliver babies, work with the elderly, provide basic first aid, or help treat serious diseases. All nurses are different but have the same goal of delivering care to their patients.

Where do registered nurses work?

Registered nurses work in almost every type of medical facility, including hospitals, clinics, and medical offices.


RN salary and job outlook

According to Glassdoor [2], an average registered nurse in Canada can expect to make $87,192 per year. The Government of Canada Job Bank reports a median hourly wage of $40.39, ranging from $28.00 to $50.00 per hour, depending on your province, experience, and position [3].

According to the Government of Canada Job Bank [4], registered nurse job opportunities are expected to be very good throughout the country from 2022 to 2025. 

Skills needed to become an RN

If you enjoy working closely with people and feel passionate about helping others, a career in nursing could be a good fit. Successful RNs often share a set of technical and workplace skills.

Technical skills:

  • Check and monitor vital signs: Registered nurses must be able to check blood pressure, pulse rate, temperature, and respiration rate. It's also important to know what normal ranges are for each specific type of patient. 

  • Basic care skills: This might include dressing a wound, inserting a catheter, or drawing blood. 

  • Patient safety and well-being: RNs work hard to keep patients safe. This might include getting a patient from their bed to the bathroom without falling or keeping a room sanitary so there is no risk of infection.

  • Comfort with technology: Whether you're accessing patient records with a computer or using a monitor to check vital signs, you'll likely need to use technology. Being savvy with devices and systems is a key skill for nurses.

  • Administering medication: Giving a patient the wrong medication can have serious consequences. You must know how to count and identify medications and understand what they treat.

Workplace skills:

  • Communication: You’ll work nonstop with others, including patients, physicians, and patients' families. Because you're usually caring for people who are sick or in pain, you may need to stay calm when a patient is upset or angry. You need to be able to listen and provide information in a way that a patient can understand, and you'll even need to understand body language. 

  • Leadership: As an RN, you can set a positive example for those around you. You may also be responsible for managing nursing assistants and other staff members. 

  • Flexibility: You never know what type of patient will walk through the door or when a current patient's condition will change. Be ready to respond to any situation that arises. 

  • Ability to work under pressure: RNs who work in an emergency room or ICU must be able to handle stressful situations. Still, any registered nurse can find themselves with a patient whose life is threatened by an injury or illness. You must be able to think critically and react to stressful situations promptly.  

  • Collaboration and teamwork: Throughout your career, you'll likely encounter physicians, therapists, nursing assistants, office managers, and countless others with the same goal: healthy patients. Collaborating on a plan of care will ensure the best outcome for your patients. 

Types of registered nurses 

Registered nurses work across many fields of medicine, giving you the flexibility to choose a career based on your medical interests. These are the types of people you could be if you decide to pursue this path.

Type of registered nurseWhat you do
Cardiac registered nurseProvide care for patients with heart-related problems, including those recovering from heart surgery
Critical care registered nurseProvide care for patients in critical condition, such as those on life support or with a serious wound or injury
Dialysis registered nurseOversee dialysis treatment for patients with kidney failure
Emergency room registered nurseWork in a fast-paced emergency room, evaluating and stabilizing patients with a variety of ailments
Geriatric registered nurseProvide basic care for older adults
Obstetrics registered nurseProvide care for pregnant women during pregnancy and childbirth
Oncology registered nurseWork with cancer patients to monitor symptoms, provide education, and administer treatments
Orthopedic registered nurseProvide care for patients with injuries and disease of the joints and bones
Pediatric registered nurseProvide basic medical care for infants, children, and teenagers

How to become a registered nurse

Many registered nurses complete nursing school to learn the fundamentals of becoming a nurse. They may hold a nursing degree such as a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or a Master’s in Nursing (MSN).

Once you graduate, you will likely need to pass the NCLEX-RN exam and fulfill any other requirements in the province or territory where you want to practice. For example, working as a registered nurse in Ontario requires passing the NCLEX-RN exam and the RN/RPN Jurisprudence Examination. You must pass the NCLEX-RN exam and obtain professional liability protection in Alberta. The regulatory body in your province or territory can provide you with all the requirements.  

RN career path

Once you become a registered nurse, you have many paths. You can choose a specialty, such as critical care or geriatrics. You can work in a fast-paced emergency room or a relaxed family practice. You can work in a school, a nursing home, or with a home health care program. 

Keep in mind that you may need to continue to take courses and advance your education to maintain your license.

If you choose to advance your career, you can become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). This usually requires getting a master’s degree in nursing. A nurse practitioner is an APRN who has received a master's plus training in a specialty area. Examples of APRNs include nurse practitioners and clinical nurse specialists.

Get started with Coursera.

Ready to explore one of the most in-demand and exciting career paths today? Get started with nursing education courses from some of the top universities in the world. Options include the University of Pennsylvania's Vital Signs: Understanding What the Body Is Telling Us and the University of Colorado's Medical Emergencies: Airway, Breathing, and Circulation

If you're already a registered nurse, consider building upon your current education by taking courses that cover some of the latest topics that have impacted the medical field, like the University of Minnesota's Nursing Informatics Leadership Specialization.

Article sources


Registered Nurses Association of Ontario. “Nurses are the Largest Group of Regulated Health Professionals, https://rnao.ca/sites/rnao-ca/files/Backgrounder_RN_Effectivesness.pdf.” Accessed May 21, 2024.

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