What is the role of the nurse in the acute care setting?

By | February 16, 2014

Acute care settings are hospitals that admit patients for short periods of time while they recover from illnesses, injuries, surgery or temporary complications of chronic diseases. There are two types of nurses in acute care settings, licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and registered nurses (RNs), each with their own roles.


Physicians diagnose conditions and prescribe treatment for patients in an acute care setting. These plans are then typically carried out by the nursing staff. Nurses also oversee the condition of patients to look for any signs that their condition is deteriorating.

Division of Duties

The primary function of LPNs in an acute care setting is to provide patient care, performing routine tasks that do not require advanced medical training. Registered nurses complete the more advanced patient care tasks and frequently have other roles in acute care settings, as well.

Types of Duties

LPNs check patient vitals, monitor fluid intake and urinary output, give shots, dress wounds, give injections, administer enemas and help patients with feeding, dressing, bathing and going to the bathroom. RNs administer IVs and catheters, perform diagnostic tests and give therapies such as dialysis.

Other Duties of RNs

One of the primary tasks of RNs is providing education to patients and their families about how to care for a patient’s condition after discharge. RNs also compile medical histories, report patient progress to physicians, provide feedback about treatment plans and supervise LPNs.


To prepare them for their respective roles, LPNs take a one-year licensing practical nursing course, while RNs complete two-year associate’s, three-year hospital training or four-year bachelor’s programs. After graduation, both LPNs and RNs must pass a national certification examination to obtain state licensing to perform their roles independently.


U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Registered Nurses

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Licensed Practical Nurses