Consumer Information

What You Should Know About Nurses and Their Services

What is an RN and what services does such a person provide?

A registered professional nurse (RN) is a licensed health professional who has an independent, a dependent and a collaborative role in the care of individuals of all ages, as well as families, groups and communities. Such care may be provided to sick or well persons. The registered nurse uses the art of caring and the science of healthcare to focus on quality of life. The registered nurse accomplishes this through nursing diagnosis and treatment of a patient’s, family’s or community’s responses to health problems that include but are not limited to issues involving the medical diagnosis and treatment of disease and illness.

Practicing in a variety of settings including hospitals, schools, clinics, private offices, private homes and industry, registered professional nurses:

  • Execute medical regimens as prescribed by licensed physicians, dentists, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and podiatrists, and dentists,
  • Assist, through in-depth assessment, a patient’s ability to adapt to new situations and circumstances created by changes in health status,
  • Teach and counsel on health procedures, emotional adjustment and adaptation of the patient and their families,
  • Identify, through case-finding and critical analysis, a patient’s, family’s, or community’s deviation from health and wellbeing and advocate for, initiate and recommend appropriate actions including the establishment of safe environments,
  • Manage and deliver restorative or palliative care to the ill, disabled and dying,
  • Participate in research, shaping health policy and inpatient and health systems management, and
  • Embrace fundamental values and obligations beyond that of a private citizen including ethical obligations and a recognition of patients’ rights to confidentiality.

Nursing education for an RN includes the study of basic sciences, humanities, and a clinical experience component which enables RNs to provide the following services:

  • Assessment: Assess patients, identify unmet patient needs and plan comprehensive care to meet those needs in relation to the patient’s illness, condition or disability,
  • Case-finding: Identify unidentified co-morbidities or emergent complications and intervene solely and also with health care team members to initiate additional exploration and treatment,
  • Co-ordination: Integrate care with other health care providers such as respiratory therapists, physical therapists, social workers, physicians, nurse practitioners, dieticians and discharge planners,
  • Provision of direct care services: Provide physical care in all of the patient’s manifested requirements including but not limited to administration of treatments and medication, acting as a sentinel for untoward events or symptoms, disease prevention guidance, rehabilitation care, public health care, and supportive care for symptom relief including health teaching and health counseling.

Registered nurses are not authorized to prescribe medications of any kind or to provide a medical diagnoses or medical plan of care.

What is a licensed practical nurse (LPN) and what kind of services does such a person provide?

A Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) is a licensed health care provider who provides nursing care under the direction of an RN, physician, or other authorized health care provider. There is no independent component to the LPN role. An LPN has graduated from high school and completed an approved practical nursing program of at least nine months (or two semesters).

Licensed Practical Nurses:

  • Administer medications as directed,
  • Provide bedside nursing care, including services requiring sterile techniques,
  • Observe, measure, record, and report indications of patient health status,
  • Perform more specialized tasks routinely, such as catheterizations and suctioning and others sparingly, such as IV therapy, with additional training,
  • Administer blood and blood products, with additional training and may assist in dialysis in outpatient centers that provide dialysis to chronically ill end stage kidney patients.

Licensed Practical nurses are not authorized to administer such services as bolus IV medication, initiation of non-patient specific orders, insertion of naso-gastric tubes or triaging of patients.

What is a nurse practitioner (NP) and what services do they provide?

A nurse practitioner (NP) is an RN who has earned a specialty certificate as a license to practice through additional education and experience. Nurse practitioners may diagnose, treat, and prescribe exclusively and autonomously within a State designated specialty area of practice in collaboration with a licensed physician qualified to collaborate in the specialty in accordance with an approved written collaborative practice agreement and practice protocols.

A nurse practitioner must maintain licensure as an RN. Additionally such practitioners must complete a Master's program or post-masters coursework in a specialty area of study. These advanced studies prepare the nurse to diagnose, treat, and prescribe medications exclusively in one of the following specialty areas:

  • Acute Care; Adult Health; College Health; Community Health; Family Health; Gerontology; Holistic Nursing; Neonatology; Obstetrics and Gynecology; Oncology; Palliative Care; Pediatrics; Perinatology; Psychiatry; School Health; and Women's Health.

Nurse Practitioners:

  • Diagnose illnesses and conditions exclusively within a licensed specialty area of care,
  • Prescribe a plan of corrective care including diagnostic tests, medications, minor surgery, and diagnostic and corrective procedures, and,
  • Make appropriate collegial referrals to other authorized providers.

Nurse Practitioners do not initiate major surgery or deliver babies.

Other Considerations:

Are nurses midwives? Midwifery is a separate profession in New York State. A nurse wishing to practice midwifery would have to earn a license in that profession.

Is everyone who cares for me a licensed nurse? Not necessarily. Aides, assistants, patient care associates, technicians, medical assistants and those with similar titles are not licensed nurses. They do not have the training or experience required of licensed nurses.

Tasks that can be performed by such unlicensed individuals include the following:

  • secretarial work such as assembling charts or assisting with billing,
  • preparation of non-sterile supplies,
  • measurement of non-sterile collecting devices such as urinary catheter bags,
  • measurement of vital signs including EKG readings,
  • assisting in positioning patients,
  • drawing blood.

Tasks that cannot be provided by unlicensed persons include:

  • triage,
  • administering medications through any route,
  • administering contrast dyes or injections of any kind,
  • placing sutures,
  • taking x-rays or position patients for x-rays,
  • applying casts,
  • removing stitches,
  • performing any invasive health care procedure,
  • performing procedures involving sterile techniques,
  • providing any health care procedures requiring the exercise of professional nursing judgment.

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

Patient’s are encouraged to ask information of the persons who care for them. In addition, New York licensed nurses are required to wear a badge listing their full name and identifying one of the following titles:

  • Registered Professional Nurse, Registered Nurse, or RN
  • Nurse Practitioner or NP
  • Licensed Practical Nurse, Practical Nurse, or LPN

You may verify a nurse’s license on this site.

When you enter a health care facility, a nurse is normally provided to help care for you. You may also call the discharge planning office of your local hospital to locate information about other nursing services available in the nonhospital setting.

For more information you may contact the New York State Board for Nursing by telephone, at, 518-474-3817, extension, 120, or by e-mail at

Last Updated: March 22, 2010