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A Quick Refresher Course on an RN’s Role in the Hospital

Higher Education Articles July 31, 2013

One of the greatest benefits of a registered nurse (RN) career is the opportunity to work in a wide variety of settings. Day clinics, private care facilities, and even cruise ships hire registered nurses. But, for those who want a job in which no two days are ever alike, hospital nursing is the way to go. So here’s an RN refresher course on the types of duties common in a hospital environment:

•Assessing a patient’s health includes evaluating his or her heart rate, bowel sounds, lung function, pupils, etc. Patients on life-sustaining equipment such as a bedside cardiac monitor must be observed for changes in their heart rhythm, oxygen level, and other vital signs. RNs must also analyze lab and test results, being sure to point out any unusual readings to the doctor.

•Supervising LPNs is also part of a hospital RN’s daily duties. The degree to which this is done varies widely from one state to the next. For example, in some states LPNs aren’t allowed to give IV meds, insulin, or heparin drips. In others, an RN must sign off on any assessments made by an LPN. All of this has a huge effect on how much time the RN has to spend with his or her own patients.

•Collecting specimens is another task that frequently falls to hospital RNs. Urine, sputum, stool, hair, wound, emesis, and skin samples might be taken on any given day.

•Educating patients and their families on health care and medication dosages and effects are a growing part of the average RN’s day, as the emphasis on preventative medicine grows over time. An RN might answer questions about healthy diets for diabetics, advise on the potential side effects of anti-depressants, or train spouses or relatives in care giving techniques for use at home.

•Giving meds also takes up a large portion of a hospital RN’s time. During the day shift, the busiest times for this are at 1000, 1200, and 1800, though often additional medicine passes are required. Sometimes this is virtually the only care a patient receives.

•Most nursing students think they will never have to perform such duties as turning, bathing, or feeding patients. However, in the real world there’s a critical shortage of CNAs at many locations. So the RN will frequently find him or herself taking on these tasks.

•Starting IVs and drawing blood is also part of the job. The degree to which a hospital RN will perform such duties will vary from one hospital to another. In some cases, a dedicated phlebotomy team does this work. But even in such cases an RN will still need to do these tasks when a phlebotomist isn’t available.

•RNs also do elementary physical therapy, such as a range of motion and assisting the patient with mobility issues. This is an important part of the recovery process that often falls on the nursing staff, due to the limited amount of time patients may have with a physical therapist.

•Documenting medications given, changes in patient condition, diet regimens, updates in care plans, etc. is a time-consuming yet necessary part of a hospital RN’s daily tasks. Without this, doctors and other health care professionals wouldn’t receive the vital data needed to ensure proper care.

An Active, Sometimes Hectic, But Very Rewarding Career Choice

As you can see, the life of a hospital RN isn’t easy. He or she must be able to perform a diverse group of jobs and do each of them well. But, for those with the desire and ability to be on the front lines of medical care, there’s no better career on earth.

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  • Listed on the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll in 2013, for the sixth consecutive year
  • Links students to hundreds of training opportunities (beyond their traditional internships and practicum) at their many “partner agencies” in each of their local communities.
  • Accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WUSCUC).
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  • Ranked among the Best National Universities in 2015 by U.S. News and World Report.
  • Ranked 8th among the Best Online Graduate Education Programs in 2015 by U.S. News and World Report.
  • A private, co-ed college founded in 1821 and located in downtown Washington, D.C.
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  • Has distinguished alumni including Senator Harry Reid, former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, and actress Courtney Cox.
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