Nursing is the science and art of providing care to the sick, injured, and infirm. A nurse is someone trained and licensed¹ in that practice.

The US recognizes two kinds of nurse. Their exact responsibilities and scope of practice vary, as specified by each individual state's Nurse Practice Act, but the basics are approximately the same across the country.

A Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) typically has one year of career training before licensure. LPN education focuses on how to care for patients in stable condition with predictable outcomes. They can do the great majority of physical nursing tasks, such as passing medication, dressing a wound, placing a foley catheter, and so on. However, they receive little background in the underlying sciences of disease and medicine. For that reason they are not permitted to perform tasks that require assessment and independent action, such as administering blood products or pronouncing death. An LPN works under the direction of physicians and RNs.²

A Registered Nurse (RN) earns a college degree before licensure. In addition to performing all the same physical tasks as an LPN, they have more independence, and greater leadership and decision-making responsibilities. An RN does assessments, makes nursing diagnoses, designs the care plan, provides education and counseling, and delegates tasks to LPNs and unlicensed personnel. They provide care to all patients, including those whose condition is unstable or unpredictable. RNs are considered professionals in their own right; though they work under doctors in providing medical care, they act independently in providing nursing care.

The RN may have either an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or Bachelor's of Science in Nursing (BSN). The BSN provides a stronger academic background, especially in sciences such as pathophysiology, pharmacology, nursing theory, research, and so forth. However, as both degrees lead to the same license, they legally provide the exact same responsibilities and capabilities. The BSN-prepared RN is often given preference in hiring or promotion decisions, and may or may not be paid a higher rate than an ADN counterpart who does nominally the same job; there is an ongoing, heated debate about whether various parts of this situation are entirely fair.

Nurses may also obtain graduate degrees, and at that point there is a fork in the road. One choice is to obtain a nonclinical Masters of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Ph.D. in Nursing, preparing for positions in administration, professorship, or academic research. The other choice is a clinical MSN or a Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP), leading to a higher level of licensure as an advanced practice nurse. (Nurse practitioners are an example of nurses who have followed this latter path.)

The most familiar image of the nurse is one who works in a hospital, directly at the patient's bedside, but this is far from the only option, and career options are enormously varied. Nurses may work in doctors offices, home health care, hospice, psychiatric care, infection control, immunization clinics, school nursing, public health, insurance companies, advice lines, telephone triage, disaster response, STI clinics, nursing informatics, or dozens of other specialties.

¹In most countries and all US states, the term "nurse" is legally protected. Only a person possessing an active nursing license may call themselves a nurse. Penalties for impersonation can be as high as several months in prison.

²Common sense does come into play here. Though an LPN with 20 years experience may find herself working "under the direction" of an RN fresh out of school, only a foolish RN would fail to take her lead from the more experienced nurse.

"No I won't be afraid, no I won't be afraid
Just as long as you stand, stand by me

I won't cry, I won't cry, no I won't shed a tear
Just as long as you stand, stand by me"

-Stand by Me by Ben E. King

She was my favorite nurse.

She was there the day I had an allergic reaction to the medicine I was being given. She helped give me a steroid medication that countered the reaction. It burned going in (it felt like my vein was on fire) because they had to give it to me so quickly. She also helped me by putting a blanket over me to counteract the shaking and a wet washcloth on my forehead to counter the fever caused by the allergic reaction. She was a great help to me that day. Although she might no have had to save my life she helped avert a great danger.

She was always very friendly, kind, and compassionate to me, my family, and her other patients. She got along swimmingly with her co-workers and it was obvious they like her. She had a good laugh and used it often.

One time she noticed a greenish tint to my fingers and asked me what I had been playing in. She really didn't seem to be expecting an answer and what I didn't tell her was that in a science class in high school I had touched a chemical that had turned my fingers green. Another time she told me that I was a "big boy" and that I should be able to handle myself. She was right and she helped me greatly.

I always thought of her as the most beautiful. She had a pretty voice with a slight southern accent. She also had a very nice smile that was radiant.

I hated when she left my life but she was having a personal family issue and I can only hope things got better for her. I still love her and appreciate the time we had together and all the things she did for me.


Nurse (?), n. [OE. nourse, nurice, norice, OF. nurrice, norrice, nourrice, F. nourrice, fr. L. nutricia nurse, prop., fem. of nutricius that nourishes; akin to nutrix, -icis, nurse, fr. nutrire to nourish. See Nourish, and cf. Nutritious.]


One who nourishes; a person who supplies food, tends, or brings up; as: (a) A woman who has the care of young children; especially, one who suckles an infant not her own. (b) A person, especially a woman, who has the care of the sick or infirm.


One who, or that which, brings up, rears, causes to grow, trains, fosters, or the like.

The nurse of manly sentiment and heroic enterprise. Burke.

3. Naut.

A lieutenant or first officer, who is the real commander when the captain is unfit for his place.

4. Zool. (a)

A peculiar larva of certain trematodes which produces cercariae by asexual reproduction. See Cercaria, and Redia.


Either one of the nurse sharks.

Nurse shark. Zool. (a) A large arctic shark (Somniosus microcephalus), having small teeth and feeble jaws; -- called also sleeper shark, and ground shark. (b) A large shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum), native of the West Indies and Gulf of Mexico, having the dorsal fins situated behind the ventral fins. -- To put to nurse, ∨ To put out to nurse, to send away to be nursed; to place in the care of a nurse. -- Wet nurse, Dry nurse. See Wet nurse, and Dry nurse, in the Vocabulary.


© Webster 1913.

Nurse, v. t. [imp. & p. p. Nursed (?); p. pr. & vb. n. Nursing.]


To nourish; to cherish; to foster

; as: (a)

To nourish at the breast; to suckle; to feed and tend, as an infant

. (b)

To take care of or tend, as a sick person or an invalid; to attend upon.

Sons wont to nurse their parents in old age. Milton.

Him in Egerian groves Aricia bore, And nursed his youth along the marshy shore. Dryden.


To bring up; to raise, by care, from a weak or invalid condition; to foster; to cherish; -- applied to plants, animals, and to any object that needs, or thrives by, attention.

"To nurse the saplings tall."


By what hands [has vice] been nursed into so uncontrolled a dominion? Locke.


To manage with care and economy, with a view to increase; as, to nurse our national resources.


To caress; to fondle, as a nurse does.

A. Trollope.

To nurse billiard balls, to strike them gently and so as to keep them in good position during a series of caroms.


© Webster 1913.

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