What Does a Registered Nurse Do? Your 2024 Career Guide

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Registered nurses work in various 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. Given India’s nursing shortage and the need to add more than four million nurses by 2024, this profession remains in high demand [1]. Because of that 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, and how to become one. Ultimately, 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 duties you will typically 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 or work with the elderly, or you might provide basic first aid or help treat serious diseases. No matter their differences, all registered nurses prioritise patient care.

RN salary and job outlook

According to Payscale, a registered nurse in India can expect to make an average of ₹3,12,908 per year [2]. Additionally, the job outlook remains positive. Nursing shortages continue driving demand, with approximately three million RNs caring for a population of 1.3 billion in 2022 [1]. To meet the World Health Organisation's standards of three nurses for every 1,000 people, India must hire significantly more nurses, creating ample opportunities for those with the education and training.

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 have a set of technical and workplace skills in common.

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: As an RN, you must dress a wound, insert a catheter, or draw 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 to reduce the 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 drugs and understand what they treat.

Workplace skills:

  • Communication: You’ll work continually 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. You must be ready to respond no matter what happens.  

  • Ability to work under pressure: RNs who work in an emergency room or ICU must be able to handle stressful situations, but any registered nurse can find themselves with a patient with a life-threatening 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. Being able to collaborate on a plan of care will provide your patients with the best outcome. 

Types of registered nurses 

Registered nurses work across many fields of medicine. This broad scope of practice allows you to choose a career based on your medical interests. You could be these types if you decide to go down 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 department registered nurseWork in a fast-paced emergency department, evaluating and stabilising patients with a variety of ailments
Geriatric registered nurseProvide basic care for older adults
Oncology registered nurseWork with cancer patients to monitor symptoms, provide education, and administer treatments
Orthopaedic registered nurseProvide care for patients with injuries and disease of the joints and bones
Paediatric registered nurseProvide basic medical care for infants, children, and teenagers

How to become a registered nurse

Many registered nurses attend nursing school to learn the fundamentals of becoming a nurse. They may hold a nursing degree such as a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (B.Sc) or a Masters in Nursing (M.Sc). You also need to pass an examination from the university or the Nursing Examination Board.

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 department or a relaxed family practice. You can work in a school, a nursing home, or with a home health care program. 

Remember that you may need to continue to take courses and advance your education to maintain your licence. You also have the option to pursue registration as an Auxiliary Nurse & Midwife (R.ANM), General Nurse and Midwife (R.N and R.M), Nurse Practitioner, or pursue your PhD.

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

Consider building upon your current education if you're already a registered nurse. For example, you could take courses covering some of the latest topics that have impacted the medical field, like COVID-19 Contact Tracing For Nursing Professionals from the University of Houston or the University of Minnesota's Nursing Informatics Leadership Specialisation.

Article sources


The Health Site.com. “International Nurses Day: Challenges in Filling Gap in Supply and Demand for Nurses in India, https://www.thehealthsite.com/diseases-conditions/international-nurses-day-how-to-address-shortage-of-nurses-in-india-880064/.” Accessed April 4, 2024.

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