Close up of healthcare professionals

What Do Nurses Do?

10 of the Most Common Treatments and Procedures Registered Nurses Perform In Their Daily Work

Close up of healthcare professionals

Nurse Joni Metler probably didn’t expect to help perform a blood transfusion to save a newborn’s life. But that’s precisely what she did.

This Prisma Health Oconee Memorial Hospital nurse helped perform a procedure she hadn’t done before—a neonatal blood transfusion. As a rural hospital, they were new to blood transfusions like this, having only recently acquired the right equipment to do the procedure.

Not having used the equipment, Joni participated in a video call with doctors who walked her through the procedure. She and the Prisma team completed the emergency blood transfusion, saving the baby’s life.

We’ll provide a comprehensive overview of the role and responsibilities of nurses in the healthcare industry and describe ten of the most common treatments and procedures nurses perform as part of their everyday work.

If you are considering a career in nursing, be sure to read How to Become a Registered Nurse. You may also want to review our article on the Highest Paying Nursing Jobs.

What is the Role of a Registered Nurse?

Registered Nurses (RNs) provide and coordinate care for patients, educating them about various health conditions and collaborating care with physicians and other healthcare professionals. RNs typically work in hospitals, physician’s offices, nursing care facilities, and other healthcare facilities. They play a critical role in the health outcomes of patients as part of the interdisciplinary teams that provide comprehensive care to patients.

The BLS reports that RNs typically perform the following tasks:

  • Assess and record patients’ conditions and symptoms
  • Help perform diagnostic tests and analyze results
  • Consult and collaborate with doctors and other healthcare professionals
  • Teach patients and their families how to manage illnesses or injuries
  • Administer patients’ medicines and treatments
  • Explain what to do at home after treatment

How Much Do Registered Nurses Make?

According to the BLS, Registered Nurses make an average salary* of about $83,000. Those in the top 10% make an average salary* of over $120,000. As of May 2021, the leading industries and associated average salaries for Registered Nurses working in these industries are Government ($85,970), State/Local/Private Hospitals ($78,070), Ambulatory Healthcare Services ($76,700), Nursing Care Facilities ($72,420), and Educational Services ($61,780).

In addition to a good salary*, RNs may receive other favorable benefits, including paid vacation, sick leave, holidays, healthcare, and retirement benefits. Your actual salary* and benefits as a nurse will vary based on industry, experience, and level of education. For example, RNs with a BSN may qualify for more jobs and opportunities for advancement than those with an associate’s degree. Those with a Master’s in Nursing (MSN) degree can pursue greater specialization and qualify for management positions or work in higher education.

What is a Typical Schedule for an RN?

RNs work different shifts depending on the type of facility they operate in, their nursing work, and the employer’s preference. Many RNs work 12-hour shifts, especially those who work in hospitals. This schedule works well because shift changes only happen twice daily, so patient care is not interrupted often. These 12-hour shifts are usually three days per week, which gives nurses four days off a week. But some organizations choose to schedule 12-hour shifts in four days on/four days off patterns.

Nurses in private practice offices are likelier to work a traditional 8-hour shift five days per week. This can be beneficial for nurses who would instead work shorter days and have most weekends off. Another middle-ground option some facilities opt for is to schedule their nurses for four 10-hour shifts per week.

10 of the Most Common Nursing Duties

Now that you better understand the duties Registered Nurses perform as part of their daily work, let’s look at ten of the most common medical procedures RNs perform (under the direction of physicians) as part of the comprehensive care they provide to patients.

Medical professional bandaging a wound

1. Wound Care

What Is Wound Care?

Wound care is a standard duty for Registered Nurses, and it goes far beyond bandaging simple cuts and scrapes. In fact, RNs can specialize in treating wounds by becoming a Certified Wound Care Nurse (CWCN) and can also add continence care (CCCN) and ostomies (COCN) to this certification. Steps to wound care may include:

  • Assess and monitor wounds
  • Caring for ostomies
  • Collaborating with other healthcare professionals
  • Completing proper documentation for Medicare reimbursement
  • Debriding, cleaning, and bandaging wounds
  • Educating patients on wound care, infection and injury prevention
  • Work with the care team to determine if other treatments are needed

When Do Nurses Perform Wound Care?

There are numerous situations where patients should pursue medical treatment for wounds. Registered Nurses often perform wound care treatments. Here are five reasons they would care for wounds:

  1. It’s a deep laceration or puncture
  2. An animal caused it
  3. It shows signs of infection
  4. It’s not healing
  5. You’re prone to non-healing wounds

Medical professional with a patient's chart

2. Patient Counseling

What Is Patient counseling?

Patient counseling is when instructions are given to patients regarding their plan of care. This counseling can take place at every point of a patient’s treatment. For example, a patient may be given information about a condition before surgery, advised on what to expect during surgery, and how to manage healing and pain after going home. Educating patients about the safe use of medications is one of the essential parts of patient counseling.

Registered Nurses may counsel and instruct patients about issues like:

  • Self-care steps they need to take
  • Why they need to maintain self-care
  • How to identify warning signs
  • When a problem arises, what to do
  • Who to contact for questions

When Do Nurses Provide Patient Counseling?

Nurses can provide counseling at every point of patient care, from when they are admitted for care until they are discharged. RNs typically provide counseling:

  • When being admitted to the hospital
  • During a visit to see a physician
  • When self-care is required at home
  • If patients call in to speak to a nurse by phone
  • During an outpatient procedure
  • While getting vaccinations
  • When being discharged from the hospital

Gloved hands holding a catheter

3. Catheterization

What Is Catheterization?

Urinary catheterization is a procedure where a hollow tube is inserted into the bladder to allow urine to drain into a bag. When performing this procedure, an RN inserts a catheter into the bladder through the urethra.

When Do Nurses Apply Catheters?

Nurses apply catheters for several reasons, mainly because the patient cannot urinate on their own. The most common reasons for a catheterization are:

  • Urinary incontinence
  • Urinary retention
  • Blocked urine flow due to kidney stones
  • After surgery on the genital area
  • Impaired mental function

Medical professional placing a splint

4. Splints/Casts

What Are Splints/Casts?

Orthopedic injuries are initially treated by immobilizing the injured area, like for treating broken bones. Two ways an RN may immobilize the site are with splints and casts.

Splints are made of rigid plastic, fiberglass, or metal covered by cloth materials. A splint may be used instead of a cast if there is a lot of swelling with the injury. Casts, typically made of molded fiberglass, are more rigid than a splint and wrap around the area to help keep bones in alignment while they heal. Splints and casts can be required anywhere from a few days to a couple of months.

When Do Nurses Apply Splints/Casts?

Registered Nurses can apply splints and casts to treat issues like broken bones while under the direction of a doctor. RNs can also remove splints and casts upon the request of the physician.

Patient receiving blood transfusion

5. Blood Transfusion

What Is a Blood Transfusion?

A blood transfusion is a medical procedure where donated blood is given to a patient, usually through a vein in the arm. It can be a life-saving procedure for patients that have lost a lot of blood because of surgery or injury. Transfusions provide the parts of blood needed, with red blood cells being the most commonly transfused.

When Do Nurses Perform Blood Transfusions?

Under a doctor’s order and supervision, Registered Nurses may perform blood transfusions. This procedure can be performed for the following:

  • Surgery or injury where a significant amount of blood loss has occurred
  • Disease or illness that prevents the body from making blood correctly
  • Bleeding disorders

Medical professional covering stitches

6. Stitches

What Are Stitches?

Stitches, also called sutures, are used by doctors and nurses to close certain types of cuts or wounds. A special needle and thread form the stitches to sew the wound shut.

Stitches can either be absorbable, where they dissolve over time on their own, or nonabsorbable, where they need to be removed after the wound has had time to heal (anywhere from 3 to 21 days). Several types of techniques can be used to apply the stitches, depending on the type of injury.

When Do Nurses Apply Stitches?

Nurses can apply stitches when a wound is more severe than what could usually be treated with a band-aid. It is suggested that a doctor or RN apply stitches if a wound:

  • Looks deep, even if it’s not especially large
  • Is more than a half-inch long
  • Opens so wide that you can’t pinch it together with just a little pressure
  • Has ragged edges
  • Has debris in it, such as dirt, glass, or gravel
  • Bleeds enough to soak through a bandage
  • Keeps bleeding even after 5 to 10 minutes of direct pressure
  • Spurts blood

Medical student intubating a mannequin

7. Intubation

What Is Intubation?

Intubation is a medical procedure where a doctor or RN inserts a flexible plastic tube into the patient’s throat. Intubations can be performed for specific qualifying conditions, including for treatment of illnesses that affect the ability of patients to breathe normally on their own.

When Do Nurses Perform Intubation?

Doctors may direct RNs to perform intubation on patients. Some of the times it may be necessary for a nurse to perform this procedure include:

  • Opening up the airway to give oxygen, anesthetic, or medicine
  • Removing any blockages
  • Helping a person breathe if they have collapsed lungs, heart failure, or trauma
  • Allowing doctors to look at the airways
  • Helping to prevent a person from breathing in liquids

Patient with a tracheostomy

8. Tracheostomy

What Is a Tracheostomy?

A tracheostomy is a medical procedure where a small hole is made in the front of the neck and into the windpipe, called the trachea. A tracheostomy tube is placed into the hole to keep the airway open so the patient can breathe. This procedure can be performed in an emergency if someone’s airway is suddenly blocked, but this is rare.

When Do Nurses Provide Tracheostomy Care?

Registered Nurses provide tracheostomy care for patients who have had this procedure. They maintain the patency of the tube to reduce the risk of infection and keep the area suctioned and cleaned. Patients may receive tracheostomies when:

  • A patient requires a breathing machine for an extended period
  • The airway is blocked or narrowed due to vocal cord paralysis
  • Preparing for significant head or neck surgery to assist breathing during recovery
  • Severe trauma to the head or neck obstructs breathing
  • Other emergencies when breathing is obstructed

Medical professional irrigating a patient's ear

9. Ear Irrigation

What Is Ear Irrigation?

Although the body normally regulates the amount of earwax in the ear canal, sometimes a buildup of too much earwax requires treatment. Ear irrigation is a procedure that is routinely used to remove excess earwax or blockage from the ear canal.

To perform ear irrigation, a doctor or Registered Nurse will:

  • Look into the ear using an otoscope to diagnose the issue
  • Insert a syringe-like tool to insert water or a water/saline mixture
  • Flush out the wax using the tool

When Do Nurses Perform Ear Irrigations?

Nurses may perform this procedure in a doctor’s office. Some of the most common reasons a patient may need to have a nurse irrigate a patient’s ear include:

  • Buildup of extra earwax, hardened earwax, or foreign materials
  • Food, insects, or small stones stuck in the ear canal
  • Other issues (not advised for more severe conditions)

Medical professional drawing blood

10. Venipuncture

What Is Venipuncture?

Venipuncture is blood collection from a vein, also called a blood draw. A nurse may perform this procedure to collect a blood sample for laboratory tests. Often, the blood is drawn from the inside of the elbow or back of the hand using a needle and then collecting the sample with a syringe. To perform this procedure, a nurse will:

  • Clean the site with antiseptic
  • Apply an elastic band around the upper arm
  • Collect blood using a needle and an airtight vial or tube
  • Remove the band and place a small bandage on the site

When Do Nurses Perform Venipunctures?

Tests on blood or parts of blood can give doctors and healthcare providers meaningful results that may help determine certain medical conditions or deficiencies. Blood tests are performed any time a healthcare provider asks for them.

Nurse forming a heart with her hands

Prepare for a Career in Nursing

Now that you know a little more about what it’s like to work as a Registered Nurse, you can see why RNs significantly impact the healthcare industry as they help treat and care for patients every day. If you’re interested in a nursing career where you can help patients receive high-quality care that leads to positive outcomes, you may want to start preparing for a career as a Registered Nurse.

As part of your exploration, be sure to read more about the nursing programs at Eagle Gate College, including our BSN program and our RN to BSN program designed for RNs with an associate’s degree.