BlogCareersWhat Does a Registered Nurse Do? | Roles, Skills, Advice

What Does a Registered Nurse Do? | Roles, Skills, Advice

Do you want to help people? Or maybe you have a keen interest in biology? A career as a registered nurse may be just right for you!

In this article we will explore what it takes to become a nurse and how to get there, so you have plenty of insight to help you decide if it’s a role you see yourself taking on in the future.

Let’s take a look together! 

Meet Aimee
What is a Registered Nurse?
Steps to Becoming a Registered Nurse
Future Outlook
Best Thing & Worst Thing
Advice for Aspiring Registered Nurses

Meet Aimee

Aimee Ellis is a Registered Nurse, currently works part-time in two jobs. She works part time in the Emergency Department at a major hospital and as a medical triage. She has worked in various areas over the last 17 years and has a fascinating journey to becoming a nurse! 

Studies and Experience 

Aimee followed a non-traditional pathway into nursing. Initially she was interested in becoming a PE teacher, however when a friend signed up to the Australian Defence Force, Aimee followed and joined as a medic in the Royal Australian Air Force. During this time, she was trained and accredited by RMIT for a Diploma of Paramedical Science. 

After a year, she got a job offer as a paramedic and worked on mining sites in Queensland. However, paramedics were not nationally recognised, so when she moved to Perth she decided to continue down the medical field and study nursing. 

What made you want to work in this industry? 

Aimee tells us about how her experience as a paramedic, and what motivated her towards a career in nursing.

How to Become a Registered Nurse - Quote

What is Nursing and Working as a Registered Nurse?

When we think of nursing, generally we think of nurses who work at hospitals; however nursing is a very broad field that encompasses different sectors. For example, Aimee is a nurse in the Emergency Department, however you may also work in Palliative Care, Disability and Rehabilitation, Paediatrics or even specific wards like the Burns unit. 

Roles and Responsibilities

The roles and responsibilities of a nurse can vary depending on their position and which sector they are working in. However, nurses aid doctors in treating and caring for patients or individuals in need of medical attention.

Nurses meet a wide range of people from various backgrounds, so good communication and problem solving skills are crucial in order for nurses to address patient concerns — especially if the individual speaks a different language. Sometimes nurses will work as part of a team or they may work independently, depending on where they are allocated for the day and their position within the team. 

On a more practical aspect, nurses may also have to help with recording medical history and symptoms, sometimes even diagnosing patients. They may also help to administer medication and treatment, operate medical equipment or even educate patients about how to manage their illness. 

Which industries can this career be found in?

Traditionally, when we think of nurses we think of them in a hospital setting and caring for patients there or maybe we think of nurses at our local GP clinic. These nurses are known as primary health care nurses. 

However, nurses can be found in community services, like assisting with palliative care, home nursing or working in aged care centres. These nurses help to take care of the health of vulnerable community members, through outreach services or in-home nursing for aged care or disability care rather than working in clinical settings. 

Aimee worked as a medic in the Defence Force, and she was deployed in a field. While working there she recalls, “You go overseas. You get deployed as a part of a team overseas, whether it be in a hospital or a non-hospital setting — or blow up hospitals! We had a big tent that we had to blow up, literally with a foot pump to make the hospital.” 

Nursing is a career path that has many different sectors and industries it can take you into with highly transferable and practical skills! 

Some industries include:

  • General Practice 
  • Primary Healthcare 
  • Palliative Care 
  • Nursing Homes 
  • Community Services

Common Misconceptions About Being a Registered Nurse

A common misconception with a nursing career is that you don’t have flexible work hours or you are unable to work remotely.

Aimee has two young children and she says that working as a nurse has provided her with flexibility, especially working as a triage nurse. During the pandemic, she worked from home in triage, helping to assess patients over the phone and determining whether they need medical assistance. 

Aimee says, “With triage at home, you’re helping to decide what to do, whether to go the Emergency Department, whether to go to a GP — you are giving them options and then helping them to execute that decision. For me, working triage at home, means I go into my little room in here, turn on the computer and start answering calls. So if you’re the public and call health direct, you’re going to get a nurse on call — that’s me!” 

Thus, while we commonly associate nursing with frontline workers — Aimee does demonstrate that there can be some flexibility in the career depending on where individuals choose to specialise and work in. 

Characteristics and Qualities

How to Become a Registered Nurse - Characteristics

While talking to Aimee, she also talked about the importance of time management skills due to shift work. Furthermore, she talked about how important it was to have confidence in your own abilities and being able to build rapport with patients. 

Patients who come into the Emergency Department, are coming because it’s the worst time of their life. So you’ve got to develop that rapport to calm people down. Communication is also a big one, especially with different ethnicity groups. So being resourceful and thinking outside the box or knowing that you need an interpreter,” she explains. 

Thus, while it is important for nurses to have technical skills like diagnosing patients or being able to measure blood pressure, it is equally important that they are able to empathise and respond to an individual’s needs. 

Steps to Becoming a Registered Nurse

To become a registered nurse, you’ll generally need to complete a Bachelor of Nursing which is a three-year course. Students will learn both theoretical and practical skills and complete clinical placements.

Depending on the institution, the required hours for your practicals may differ however this gives students hands-on nursing practice in a variety of health care settings like emergency departments, paediatric units, mental health units or community health centres. 

However there are also other pathways. For example Aimee was a medic in the Royal Air Force, later trained as a paramedic and due to her experience, she applied for recognition of prior learning and studied Nursing. 

What should you study?

To become a Nurse, generally you’ll have to graduate with a Bachelor of Nursing, which is a three-year course that has to be accredited by the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Accreditation Council and approved by the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia. 

Check out some Nursing degrees at different universities below:

You can also check out the top schools for Nursing in Australia here!

However, Aimee is also a perfect example of non-traditional pathways into Nursing and Medicine if you are unsure about what you want to pursue after graduating high school! 

How long does it take to become a registered nurse?

Following your three-year degree, you may also decide to choose an area of nursing to specialise in, this may include intensive care or cancer and haematology nursing which may take up to an additional three years if you choose to undertake part time studies. 

What will this career look like in the future?

How in-demand is this career?

Nurses are in demand now more than ever — there has been strong growth in the industry over the past five years and it is forecasted to continue in this direction.

Registered nurses are able to work all across Australia in the Health Care and Social Assistance industry. Furthermore it is a broad and big industry that has generally employed more people with each passing year. 

Are there opportunities to grow or specialise? 

As Aimee discusses, there are plenty of wards and areas that need nurses, not just hospitals and emergency departments. Students may choose to pursue further studies and become a specialist nurse for Intensive Care or Cancer and Haematology for example.

Salary 

According to JobOutlook, Nursing a ‘very high skill job’ with registered nurses making an average of $99,268 per year. 

Annual SalaryFuture GrowthSkill Level Rating
$99,000+Very strong over the next 5 yearsVery high skill

Influential Factors

Nurses will always be in demand as people will always need help for medical reasons. Whether it is a broken bone, old age or more serious health conditions — nurses help to take care of us and our health. 

However, there are events that occur in the world that may increase the demand for nurses. For example, COVID-19 or SARS outbreaks may need more nurses in the frontline caring for the health of our population.

During times of civil unrest, nurses are often deployed with the military to help vulnerable communities and care for them as well. 

The Future of this Industry

Aimee says, “To be honest, I can see it going into tele-health. You’re always going to have an Emergency Department, but for your primary health stuff and most other things — I can see it changing into tele-health where you’ll be working from home or a clinic like a call centre.” 

We also discussed technology changes within the medical industry and Aimee notes that in her practice, they are still mostly using pen and paper. However, there are definitely changes with more things becoming computerised.

Aimee says, “Tablets are dispensed through a computer, whereas I physically do it. Although, I honestly never thought I’d work on a computer doing triage and assisting people from home.”

Best Thing & Worst Thing

What do you enjoy most about this job?

Aimee quips, “I love talking to people! I love finding out their backgrounds and how they’ve come to this situation. Even on the phone doing triage, I love talking to people.

“For example in Emergency, we had an elderly man that came in who’s over 100 and he still works on a farm and I love that aspect of finding out people’s backgrounds and their story. People are very interesting.”

What do you enjoy least about this job?

Aimee states that working as a nurse can be hard with two young kids, “But as long as you have a really great support network it’s doable.

Juggling shift work with the physical strain on the body working as a nurse can be tough, so Aimee emphasises that while you are taking care of others, it is also important to take care of yourself. 

Advice for Aspiring Registered Nurses 

Aimee says before becoming a nurse there are several things that you should consider, “It’s shift work, so you have early shifts or late night shifts. You are also dealing with death — you’re helping people as much as you can but that’s probably the biggest thing in the medical field, no matter what you do, you’ll encounter death at some point so you need to be prepared for that.” 

She also talks about the importance of taking care of your mental health, “Our work is patient focussed but you need to have your support networks and someone to talk to. Never be afraid to speak up about your mental health and how you are coping.”

What do you wish you had known before you started working in this career?

Aimee notes that having worked as a paramedic, she has experience dealing with tough patients so there was very little that shocked her when she started working as a Nurse. She states, “Clinical placements and stuff like that prepares you for being an outside nurse and then with my background, I knew what I was getting myself into as a registered nurse in Emergency.”

She also adds, “I’ve had students come to me in Emergency and I tell them there’s different sides of nursing. So you can explore and work as a nurse practitioner, a midwife in oncology, in palliative care or the burns ward. Just because you don’t feel comfortable in the environment that you are currently in doesn’t mean you aren’t going to be a good nurse — you might be a really good nurse in other realms of nursing!”

Why should people consider taking on this career? 

Nursing is a highly altruistic and rewarding career where you are able to help the vulnerable or communities in need. 

Job Flexibility

Nursing comprises shift work so there is some flexibility that accompanies work hours, however this is also highly dependent on the sector and industry you choose to practise in. Thus, there is some option for flexibility if you are working in a hospital.

However, if you are working in General Practice, it would be more likely that you have fixed hours where you are expected to be on-site at the clinic.

Aimee’s work as a triage enables her to work through a computer and phone from home, where she advises individuals on whether to seek further care or the type of medical attention that is available to them in their circumstances. Thus, tele-health is also starting to open up more possibilities for flexibility in nursing. 

What is the workplace culture like?

Aimee says, “There’s camaraderie. You’re all one team and you help each other, you’ve got each other’s backs. You’re always going to come across people that are old and done with the profession but that’s in every job.

Most people there want to help you. You work as a team and you communicate. Work is work, and play is play but there is definitely a sense of camaraderie among us.” 


Tiffany Fong is currently completing a double degree in Media and Communications with Law at Macquarie University. She currently contributes to the university zine, Grapeshot where she enjoys writing feature articles, commentary on current affairs or whatever weird interest that has taken over her mind during that month. During her spare time, Tiffany enjoys reading, writing, taking care of her plants or cuddling with her two dogs. 

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