How Do Nursing Responsibilities Change In Different Work Settings? 

Nursing Responsibilities

Nurses predominantly work in general medical and surgical hospitals. Data shows that 1.86 million nurses had roles in this environment in 2019, which accounts for more than 50% of the nursing workforce. However, nurses can also secure employment in other working environments, and some are not hospital-based.

While the role of a nurse is generally defined as the provision of care and support for patients in healthcare settings, the job’s responsibilities can differ significantly depending on the work environment. Millions of nurses across the country work diligently each day to improve patient outcomes in some form. This work is crucial to a healthy and functioning society.

If you are considering a career in nursing, you will have job opportunities in a variety of industries and environments. While hospitals are the primary place of work, there are also many non-hospital jobs for nurses. Nursing is also a viable option for a career change, so if you have experience in other sectors or a bachelor’s degree in another field, you could enroll at Elmhurst University to earn a degree and become a registered nurse.

Nursing is a rewarding yet demanding role where you must listen and communicate, show strong leadership and judgment, and have an aptitude for teaching and advising others. You can nurture many of the soft and hard skills required for the role at a university. This education will also prepare you for the exams and certifications required to secure employment in this industry.

Where do nurses work?

Nurses predominantly work in general medical and surgical hospitals, but the second-most popular work setting for nurses is in physicians’ offices, which was the day-to-day environment for more than 400,000 healthcare professionals in 2019. A few other settings where you can expect job opportunities in this field include nursing care facilities (361,950), outpatient care centers (200,060), and elementary and secondary schools (66,150).

One of the more unique employers is the federal government, which employed 101,810 nurses before the pandemic. That number has since risen to 108,616. The most common roles in this sector are medical nurses, nursing assistants, and practical nurses. As you would expect, the responsibilities of employees in the federal government are different to those in a hospital, though there are some similarities.

One benefit of working for the federal government is the opportunity to work overseas. Around 1,600 nurses are stationed abroad, either in foreign countries or US territories, with the majority in positions related to the military, health and human services, and veterans affairs.

Employment services is another arena where nurses can thrive. Around 80,000 nurses are employed in this work setting. Helping older people is something many in this profession care passionately about, so it’s no surprise that a further 88,230 nurses work in care retirement communities and support elderly people in associated living facilities.

As you can see, the potential work settings are incredibly varied. This makes nursing an excellent career if you don’t want to be pigeonholed into one specific type of environment, such as an office job. While there is an overlap in responsibilities, unique tasks are undertaken in each of these settings. Let’s take a look at how exactly these responsibilities change based on the environment.


About 60% of registered nurses (RNs) work in hospitals in various roles, depending on their specialization. Nurses might, for example, work as psychiatric mental health practitioners or in general medical or surgical wards. When on duty in emergency rooms, nurses will have very different responsibilities than those working with the elderly in a care home.

Emergency services and intensive care unit nurses must cope with fast-changing circumstances and many challenging medical issues, such as life-threatening accidents, burns, and illnesses. Work here can be frantic and unpredictable, so nurses must be positive, confident, and practical to cope with the stress and provide vital support to patients.

There are obviously a number of different departments in hospitals, and nurses work in many of these doing different tasks. Pediatric nurses provide care for children and teenagers and will monitor and administer medication and injections, deal with emergencies, offer emotional support and reassurance, and assess and outline care plans within hospitals. They will do these duties for complex and routine cases and checkups.

Maternity nurses have similar responsibilities, but this time for parents and young families who need physical and emotional support when caring for babies and toddlers. While work will start in the hospital, maternity nurses may be on call to provide information and advice to new parents. This makes it a dual environment role as nurses must accompany moms to appointments and help the broader family unit.

Oncology nurses and other RNs will be more directly involved in taking x-rays and conducting exams in radiology and lab departments. They will work with patients directly but this is usually a more relaxed setting than emergency departments. Oncology nurses serve as the first point of contact for patients in hospitals, specializing in treatment for different forms of cancer.

Hospital-based nursing is generally a fast-paced profession on the frontline of healthcare. Nurses in this environment say the wide-ranging responsibilities mean no two days are the same, which keeps them motivated. However, there are emotional challenges, so nurses are advised to prioritize self-care and attain a manageable work and life balance. Working weekends and holidays are common in hospital environments.

Outpatient care centers and clinics

Nurses in outpatient care centers treat patients for less serious conditions and illnesses. The care in these centers and clinics does not require overnight stays or lengthy procedures, which is the main difference from hospital care. Nurses won’t be on the frontline in emergency wards but will instead provide noncritical acute care, educate patients, and implement preventive measures to help deliver better outcomes.

Some nurses who have worked in hospitals enjoy the less stressful and more predictable work patterns in care centers as treatment does not require constant coordination over several days and nights. That’s not to say the work here isn’t as important. Outpatient nurses just have more autonomy over what tasks they complete, and the responsibilities are usually more rigid and less likely to change day by day.

However, the absence of critical emergency care means nurses in care centers have to manage more administrative tasks. They might, for example, have to manage files and patient records, respond to phone calls and emails, and complete typical office tasks. Nurses may also have to oversee many cases as centers tend to be busy during the day. Weekend and holiday work is rare in these settings.

Offices of physicians

More than 400,000 nurses in the US work in physician’s offices, where they provide care and support to patients who have booked appointments. The work completed here depends on the branch of medical care, so a nurse could work as a family nurse practitioner in pediatrics, for example, where they will assist physicians and do everything possible to support families. Nurses could also work in dentistry and dermatology. A nurse’s skills will dictate where they are employed.

The main work in these offices revolves around support for physicians and doctors. It is common for nurses in physicians’ offices to be the first point of contact with patients, greeting them and finding out more about their appointment and what they need help with. Nurses will also collate and update medical histories and perform tests and other procedures.

Nurses who are employed in this setting say they value the less frantic nature of work, the more predictable 9-to-5 hours, and the relationships they build with patients who return periodically for checkups, tests, and medicinal changes. Nurses in physician offices often work in family medicine, which means they regularly deal with infections and bodily reactions like colds and allergies and less serious illnesses and complaints.

Home healthcare

Data shows that more than 270,000, or 12% of registered nurses in the US, provide healthcare to patients in their homes. This is an area where there is expected to be growing demand for specialized nurses. There are currently 46 million people aged 65 and older in the US, and this is expected to double by 2050. Nurses in home healthcare provide care and support to people who are chronically or terminally ill and are unable to leave their homes.

These services are not usually emergency-based, with nurses instead prioritizing assistance with day-to-day personal and living tasks, such as talking to the patient and close family members, changing a patient’s dressings and administering medication, coordinating broader care plans, and monitoring and evaluating a patient’s condition with a view to making changes to improve outcomes in the short to medium term.

Nurses in this environment say they like the slower pace of work and the relationships they forge with patients. Nurses visit people from different cultural, social, and economic backgrounds, so excellent communication skills and personal traits like empathy and understanding are required. The work might be physical at times too as nurses might need to move and lift patients in and out of bed and around the house.

Schools, colleges, and universities

One of the more unique environments for nurses is academia. Working in schools, colleges, and universities has a stronger focus on education and counseling. Nurses will be expected to educate young people about diet, exercise, and sexual health. This health advocacy is very important, especially in local communities, as it can prevent people from developing long-term conditions like diabetes, which reduces the strain on health services.

Nurses in schools also conduct tasks similar to other environments—dealing with minor injuries and illnesses, providing support and care, and conducting screenings and administering vaccines and medication. The work here is less stressful than in hospitals, and nurses benefit from longer holidays during the summer and over Christmas. However, nurses often work alone without the support of a healthcare team so require a more independent-minded temperament.

One of the most unique roles for nurses is training future prospects at colleges and universities. Rather than providing acute care and assistance, nurse educators will oversee lectures, seminars, and classes where they will teach others and pass on their expertise. University nurses also supervise clinical training and help students prepare for important exams and certifications. One of the benefits of being a nurse educator is a higher-than-average annual salary.

It does, however, require a different mindset as nurses will need to actively research key subjects to achieve tenure and demonstrate creativity and leadership to develop relevant and engaging lessons for students. This is an excellent option for anyone who wants to change careers and opt for one of the many jobs available outside of hospitals.

Federal government

Registered nurses are also be able to apply for roles within government agencies, which are one of the largest employers of healthcare professionals in the US. While many don’t associate nursing with government jobs, there are many job openings at agencies. Nurses can work alongside armed forces, for example, providing care on the frontline at military bases. Disease control is a common task here as the military must prevent the spread of infectious agents, like viruses, which could infect personnel.

An emerging profession within nursing is informatics, which requires expertise in technology and IT. Clinical informatics nurses work for governments as well as in hospitals and academia to run and manage IT systems that are fundamental to the smooth running of logistics within healthcare. Informatics nurses ensure x-rays and tests are uploaded and shared correctly, manage and link electronic patient records, and research data to uncover new trends and insights.

As you can see, not every nursing job is in a hospital, so a career as a registered nurse could propel you into various exciting and fulfilling work environments where you will be able to help people, first and foremost, but also improve your professional and personal life. Nurses often say they feel like their career is a calling in life, one that is always interesting and rewarding.

Charity Sector

Industry analysts claim that the trend is getting even stronger as more charities hire nurses for positions across all levels and specialties. As so many nonprofits are receiving contracts to deliver services, the charity sector is experiencing a tremendous boom.

Nurses with the necessary training and experience are well-positioned to investigate job openings in nonprofit organizations and the third sector in general. The range of career options is expanding, and nurses can find innovative methods to further apply their expertise.

Another developing trend is the rise in nurses going to work abroad, where salary and working conditions are generally higher.

What advantages come with nursing for a nonprofit?

Since they want to be able to hire the best candidates for their roles and understand that they must successfully compete, more and more charities are strengthening their pay structures.

Your professional life may benefit further by nursing for a charity. For instance, having flexible working hours, employment that complements family obligations, or advance notice of working hours. While each of these three characteristics of working hours is vital, having early notice of one’s working hours is thought to be the most crucial because it enables a better life/work balance.

For nurses wishing to use their training in the nonprofit sector and work in an atmosphere that is stimulating, gratifying, and demanding, opportunities and perks are growing. Salaries and conditions have improved as a result of the increased competition and have “caught up” with both the public  and the private sector.

Nursing for a charity can take in many different forms, from managing clinics for a family planning organization to helping HIV/AIDS patients. Although working in a hospital can be gratifying, many nurses who have made the switch say their career prospects have improved.