Consumer Information

What You Should Know About Nurses and Nursing Services

What is a registered professional nurse (RN)? What services can an RN provide?

A registered professional nurse (RN) is a licensed health care professional who helps patients to achieve optimal health and prevent disease or injury. RNs provide compassionate care that is respectful of each patient's values and wishes. They coordinate and supervise care provided by other personnel, such as licensed practical nurses or home health aides. RNs provide health teaching to patients, families, other care providers and the public. They participate in health research and in making health care policies.

RNs may work independently, in collaboration with other health care personnel or under clinical supervision (i.e., from a physician or nurse practitioner). They work in a variety of settings, such as hospitals, nursing homes, community residences, mental health facilities, clinics, private practices, surgery centers, county health departments, correctional facilities, work places, camps, schools and private homes.

  • In clinics, RNs take health histories and perform physical examinations to identify and address health problems and unmet patient care needs.
  • In nursing homes, RNs develop nursing care plans and manage the nursing care of residents.
  • In hospitals, RNs administer medications and provide medical care as prescribed by a physician, dentist, nurse practitioner, physician assistant, midwife or podiatrist.
  • In hospice programs, RNs help patients and their families cope with and manage serious illnesses by providing emotional support and health teaching.
  • RNs provide mental health counseling to patients and families to promote healthy behaviors.
  • At county health departments, schools, and health fairs, RNs perform health screenings to detect risk factors for (or early signs of) disease and then provide health teaching or make referrals, as appropriate.
  • RNs work closely with patients, families, caregivers and other health practitioners to provide well-coordinated, individualized care in home and community settings.

RNs make nursing assessments and nursing diagnoses, and also plan, implement and evaluate nursing care. RNs do not make medical diagnoses or prescribe medical treatments or drugs.

What is a clinical nurse specialist (CNS)? What services can a CNS provide?

A clinical nurse specialist (CNS) is an RN who has completed advanced nursing education (usually a master's or doctorate degree) and is certified by the New York State Education Department as a "Clinical Nurse Specialist" or "CNS" in a specialty area of practice. The New York State Education Department certifies CNSs in the following specialty practice areas: Adult Health; Pediatrics; Psychiatric/Mental Health; and, Oncology.

CNSs provide expert, highly specialized nursing services that benefit patients with complex health care needs. They typically work in hospitals but may also work in other health care or community settings. They often evaluate quality and effectiveness of patient care and provide clinical consultation to other health care personnel. CNSs are often involved in health care management, clinical research and health care policy development.

CNSs do not make medical diagnoses or prescribe medical treatments or diagnostic tests. For example, a CNS does not prescribe medications or order x-rays.

What is a nurse practitioner (NP)? What services can an NP provide?

A nurse practitioner (NP) is an RN who has completed advanced nursing education (usually a master’s or doctorate degree) and is certified by the New York State Education Department as a "Certified Nurse Practitioner" "Nurse Practitioner" or "NP" in a specialty area of practice. The New York State Education Department certifies NPs to practice in the following specialty areas: Adult Health; Family Health; Gerontology; Neonatology; Obstetrics/Gynecology; Oncology; Pediatrics, Perinatology; Psychiatry; School Health; Women’s Health; Holistic Care; College Health; Acute Care; Community Health; and, Palliative Care. An NP performs physical exams and diagnoses and treats illnesses and other health problems that fall within the specialty area of practice in which the NP is certified.

NPs may provide primary care, acute care or long term care. They may prescribe medical tests and treatments (i.e., x-ray tests, drugs) and perform a variety of medical procedures and minor surgical procedures. They provide health counseling, emotional support and health teaching. They coordinate and supervise patient care delivered by other health care personnel, such as RNs and LPNs. They engage in clinical research and make health care policy. Like RNs, NPs practice in broad range of health care and community settings. Many NPs have admitting and clinical privileges at hospitals and other health facilities.

NPs work with physicians and other health care practitioners to ensure that their patients receive appropriate, timely and well-coordinated care. They consult with physicians and other health practitioners regarding their patients as well as provide clinical consultations to other health practitioners. NPs identify when their patients require further evaluation or specialized care and make the appropriate referrals. New York law requires NPs practice pursuant to a written practice agreement with a collaborating physician except when an NP qualifies for and chooses to practice more autonomously and have collaborative relationships with physicians and/or a hospital.

What is a licensed practical nurse (LPN)? What services can an LPN provide?

A licensed practical nurse (LPN) is a licensed health care practitioner who provides nursing care under the direction of an RN, CNS, NP, midwife, physician, physician assistant, specialist assistant, dentist or podiatrist. LPNs provide compassionate care that is respectful of each patient’s needs, values and wishes. They work a variety of settings, such as hospitals, nursing homes, mental health facilities, clinics, private practices, correctional facilities, and private homes.

LPNs typically provide the following nursing services under the supervision and direction of an RN, clinical nurse specialist, nurse practitioner or physician:

  • Administer most types of medications, immunizations and blood products (with additional specialized training).
  • Provide bedside nursing care in hospitals and nursing homes.
  • Observe, measure, record, and report clinical data relating to a patient’s health status.
  • Perform a variety of clinical procedures, such as urinary catheterization, tracheal suctioning, sterile dressing changes, and starting an IV (with additional specialized training).
  • Supervise care provided by other health care personnel, such as certified nurse aides in nursing homes.
  • Provide emotional support and health teaching to patients and their families.

New York law does not allow LPNs to: practice nursing independently, perform nursing assessments or triage, develop nursing care plans or provide mental health counseling. LPNs are not allowed to provide clinical services that require nursing or medical assessments. For example, LPNs do not administer IV chemotherapy, IV anesthesia or IV antibody therapy.

Other Considerations

Are midwives licensed as nurses? In New York State, midwifery is not considered a nursing profession. Midwifery is a separately licensed profession.

Is everyone who cares for me a nurse? Not necessarily. Certified nurse aides, home health aides, personal care aides, medical technicians, medical assistants, dialysis technicians, direct support professionals and care providers with similar job titles are not licensed nurses. They lack the education and clinical experience to practice nursing or to qualify for a nursing license in New York State.

Tasks that may be performed by persons who are not New York State licensed nurses may include:

  • Administrative services (i.e., billing) and stocking of medical supplies.
  • Taking vital signs or a patient's weight, or performing (but not interpreting) an EKG.
  • Measuring and recording a patient's food and fluid intake and urinary output.
  • Assisting individuals with hygiene and personal care (i.e., bathing, grooming and eating).
  • Phlebotomy (if working for a clinical laboratory, health care provider or a blood bank).

Tasks that should not be provided by unlicensed care providers include:

  • Performing patient care involving sterile techniques, such as sterile dressing changes.
  • Performing invasive medical procedures, such as inserting indwelling urinary catheters or suturing.
  • Performing services that require nursing or medical judgment, such as triage or applying plaster casts.
  • Administering medications, immunizations, blood or blood products to patients.
  • Taking x-rays or administering contrast media to patients.

How will I know if the person caring for me is a licensed nurse?

Patients are encouraged to ask persons who care for them what their job title is and whether they are a licensed health care professional. New York State licensed nurses are required to wear identification badge with listing their full name and one of the following professional titles:

  • Registered Professional Nurse, Registered Nurse or RN
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist or CNS
  • Nurse Practitioner, Certified Nurse Practitioner, or NP
  • Licensed Practical Nurse or LPN

You may verify a nurse's license on this web site.

More information regarding the New York State Nursing Professions is available on this web site.

Last Updated: March 6, 2015