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Nursing Work Environments: A Brief Guide

Recently, nurses have navigated their careers through a global pandemic, a travel nursing boom, supply issues, and continue to face an ongoing nursing shortage. Nearly 30% of nurses considered leaving the profession in 2021, compared to 11% in 2020, according to Nurse.com’s 2022 Nurse Salary Research Report.

Nurses have many options when choosing their career and care setting. Rather than leaving the profession altogether, knowing your options can help you find a better fit.

Top nurse work environments

1. Hospitals

Nurses working in the hospital environment directly oversee and administer patient care plans. Typically, nurses spend time with and balance the care of several patients simultaneously. The hospital environment can be both physically and mentally demanding throughout the duration of an eight- or twelve-hour shift.

2. Emergency room

While the hospital setting is demanding, the emergency room nurse is constantly facing unpredictable challenges. Patients with acute, life-threatening issues are constantly flowing through the doors, which requires the ER nurse to be sharp and prepared for anything.

3. Surgical

A surgical nurse is critical to the operating room and responsible for ensuring that the environment is set up for success. This includes sterilizing equipment, understanding and assisting with surgical procedures, managing fellow nurses/staff, and conducting post-operative administrative duties.

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4. Geriatric

A nurse who specializes in geriatric care may be in the hospital setting or in a nursing home. Their primary role is to care for the elderly when they can no longer care for themselves. Duties include assessing patients’ physical and mental conditions regularly, administering care plans, monitoring the progression of any chronic conditions, and much more. They must also communicate with the families of their patients regularly to keep them updated.

5. Private practice

Nurses working in a private practice setting typically deal with fewer patients, as there are fewer doctors present. Patients’ needs may be more specific depending on the specialization of the private practice itself. The pace is traditionally slower due to the lack of emergency situations.

6. School nurses

School nurses are responsible for the well-being of the students within their building. Whether assessing injuries, administering medication, creating a care plan for the students’ teachers, or any number of disparate tasks, the responsibilities of the school nurse are especially varied.

7. In-home

Nurses working in the in-home environment have similar responsibilities to the geriatric nurse. They administer medications and care plans for patients who are unable to do so themselves. They often assess the progression of chronic conditions, both mental and physical.

8. Research

The research nurse typically has a specific area of focus to further understand an area of care. This nurse may specialize in caring for patients undergoing explorative care or treatment and may spend a great deal of time conducting research alongside teams of fellow medical professionals.

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9. Military

The military nurse has the traditional nurse responsibilities in addition to specializing in administering care to military personnel and provide acute care in often stressful situations. Additionally, they have military duties along with their nursing responsibilities.

Healthy nursing work environments 

Each nursing work environment can look vastly different. Regardless, any particular environment should prioritize the success of both the nurse and the patient. While the environments may differ, strategies to ensure a healthy nursing work environment are the relatively the same.

Nurses are constantly presented with a number of challenges and stressful situations. Regardless of their chosen care setting, their work environment should not be one of them. A healthy nursing work environment is critical to the success of nurses, better patient outcomes, and good retention rates. Learn about some best practices of a supportive healthcare environment here.

The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) notes that a healthy work environment (HWE) enables nurses to provide the highest standards of compassionate patient care while being fulfilled at work. The AACN highlights six HWE standards:

  • Skilled communication
  • True collaboration
  • Effective decision making
  • Appropriate staffing
  • Meaningful recognition
  • Authentic leadership

“Creating safe, empowering, and healthy work environments” is a complex issue leaders need to address, according to a statement on the ANA’s website. And although the need for healthier work environments has been an issue since well before the unrest caused by the pandemic, COVID-19 brought nurses to their breaking points.

Knowing your rights as a nurse: The Nursing Bill of Rights

The American Nurses Association implemented monumental changes with the creation of The Nurses Bill of Rights. This outlines professional standards and serves as a guide for employers, policymakers, contract agencies, and nurses. This document emphasizes the importance of nurse wellness and creates a common understanding of what nurses need from their employers.

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RN working environments are directly reflected in the care of their patients. It is the responsibility of leaders in the healthcare industry to implement standards nationwide that nurture positive and healthy work environments for nurses. The implementation of these elements and standards will help fight the national nurse shortage, increase retention rates, combat nurse burnout, and promote financial growth within the industry at large.


Whether you’re actively seeking a new role or assessing your next steps, explore Nurse.com’s job marketplace to help match your experience and skills to the best-fitting role.

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