Different types of nurses and their job expectations

Updated 18 August 2023

Becoming a nurse may be a rewarding career for those who want to help others as a regular part of their lives. Nurses work in a variety of healthcare settings to provide medical services and patient support. Learning about the various types of nurses can help you determine which speciality you want to pursue and if the job can help you reach your goals. In this article, we discuss what nurses do, describe several different areas you can specialise in and outline beneficial skills to cultivate for the role.

What is a nurse?

A nurse is a trained healthcare professional responsible for providing medical care and patient support. Nurses work in various settings, such as hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and other healthcare facilities. Their general responsibilities often include the following:

  • administering medications and treatment following a physician's orders

  • monitoring and recording patient vital signs and symptoms

  • taking detailed medical histories

  • offering emotional support and education to patients and their families

  • collaborating with other healthcare professionals, such as doctors and therapists, to develop care plans

  • conducting diagnostic tests and analysing the results

  • performing medical procedures, such as connecting IVs and changing dressings

  • advocating for their patient's rights and wellbeing

Nurses play a crucial role in the healthcare system and may be the primary point of contact between patients and other healthcare providers, such as doctors and specialists. Nurses often benefit from strong communication, critical thinking and problem-solving skills. They also demonstrate high levels of compassion and empathy for their patients.

Different types of nurses

Within the profession, there are several different types of nurses. Some nurses focus their studies on general nursing skills and knowledge, while others specialise in a specific area, such as delivering babies or treating cancer patients. Depending on your interests, you can choose your speciality. Here are some areas of nursing to consider:

1. Registered nurse (RN)

Registered nurses play a similar role to licensed practical nurses in other countries. They focus on providing high-quality patient care and promoting overall health and wellness. To become a registered nurse (RN) or a registered general nurse (RGN), candidates complete a nursing degree at a higher education institute. After completing the programme, these nurses register with the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland (NMBI) to practise legally.

RNs may specialise in areas such as critical care, paediatrics or mental health. If they do so, they may have additional education and training requirements to complete before obtaining a certification in that area. Nurses work in a variety of locations, including hospitals, nursing homes, community health centres and private practices, to provide direct patient care. They administer medication, monitor general health, and collaborate with other medical professionals to create individualised care plans.

Related: What are the different nurse practitioner types?

2. Travel nurse

A travel nurse is a professional who takes temporary or short-term assignments from agencies that specialise in healthcare staffing. These assignments can be in any healthcare setting throughout the country, particularly hospitals, clinics, and nursing homes. Some travel nurses may have the opportunity to work internationally through government programmes or private organisations. A nurse may work in a developing country as part of a relief effort or work directly with international staffing agencies to help them meet their needs. Generally, these nurses have a variety of options to choose from and availabilities to suit their requirements.

Related: What is a travel nurse? (Duties and steps for becoming one)

3. Med-surgical nurse

A medical-surgical nurse is an RN who cares for adult patients with medical conditions or surgical needs. These professionals focus on providing comprehensive, holistic care to patients with acute or chronic conditions. They often work in hospitals and clinics. Medical-surgical nurses benefit from strong teamwork skills as they work with doctors and surgeons to provide high-quality care to patients with specialised needs.

Related: What does a practice nurse do? (Roles and responsibilities)

4. Emergency department nurse

Emergency department nurses care for patients who require immediate treatment for severe injuries or conditions. These issues are often life-threatening, so the nurse triages patients as quickly as possible and determines care based on the severity of the case. Thinking clearly in stressful situations and being able to consider solutions quickly are vital to this role. Working in an emergency department is a distinct setting with various challenges. Though not an educational speciality, emergency nursing often requires individuals who want a fast-paced environment. Some may choose to work in an emergency department during their training, while others prefer clinical settings.

Related: What is a clinical nurse specialist? (With steps)

5. Oncology nurse

An oncology nurse is an RN specialising in providing care to patients with cancer. Oncology nursing focuses on cancer prevention, treatment, and symptom management. They work in various healthcare settings, such as hospitals, cancer treatment centres, and outpatient clinics. Their responsibilities may include the following:

  • assessing and monitoring patients' conditions, including vital signs, symptoms, and medical histories

  • administering chemotherapy and other cancer treatments following an oncologist's orders

  • monitoring and managing patients' side effects and symptoms related to cancer treatment

  • collaborating with other healthcare professionals, such as oncologists, social workers and nutritionists

  • educating patients and their families about the condition, treatment options and side effects

  • providing emotional support to patients and their families during the cancer treatment process

6. Nurse educator

Nurse educators are qualified nurses who teach others instead of practising. A nurse educator trains future nurses in the theory and practice of nursing. Generally, they teach patient care, disease prevention, research methods and ways to promote wellbeing. They may also develop and lead educational programmes, write curricula and evaluate student performance. They typically work in academic settings, such as universities, healthcare institutions, community organisations and private industries.

Related: What does a nurse do? (With skills and requirements)

7. Birthing specialists

A birthing specialist is a nurse who helps deliver babies. Generally, these specialists work in the maternity ward of a hospital and are on call at all hours in case an expecting mother goes into labour. In addition to providing care to mothers, a nurse in this speciality also provides care during and after birth to ensure the newborn baby is healthy. The nurse may help the mother with the post-partum healing process and any challenges that arise during this phase.

Useful skills for nurses

As a nurse, you may benefit from a wide range of skills. For instance, it's beneficial for nurses to work well under pressure and time constraints since they often experience high-stress situations and unexpected events that require them to adapt quickly and efficiently. Here are some of the most valuable skills to cultivate to improve your practice as a nurse:

Communication

One of the most important skills for a nurse to have is communication. With strong communication skills, a nurse can discuss complicated diagnoses with patients in ways they understand. Speaking to patients in a kind and logical way helps patients feel more relaxed in challenging scenarios.

Empathy

Having strong empathy is imperative for a nurse. In this role, you work directly with patients who experience challenging physical ailments. Expressing empathy to these patients may help them to feel more understood and comfortable despite their situations. It also helps to build trust and improve communication.

Teamwork

Nurses often benefit from teamwork skills because they collaborate with many parties. Nurses work with various teams to deliver quality patient care. It's important to work well with other nurses, facility administrators and staff, and doctors to ensure the patient receives the correct treatment.

Related: What is a multidisciplinary team in healthcare? (Key benefits)

Technology

This role generally involves working with advanced medical equipment and technology. Many jobs require nurses to use computers to monitor and log patient results or access databases of medical and patient information. Understanding technology may help you perform your job better.

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