Day in the Life of a Registered Nurse


How does an experienced registered nurse spend her day? She stays on the go and in the know about her numerous patients.

By Tony Moton

It didn't take long for Annette Staack to realize that making the decision to pursue a career as a registered nurse (RN) was the right one for her.

"It was my calling," says the energetic Staack. "With the first thermometer that I put into my first patient's mouth, I loved it."

A 55-year-old mother of two adult children, Staack earned an associate's degree in nursing from an Iowa community college when she was in her 20s. She says she decided to go to school because she had long had an interest in a career that would allow her to help others.

And while circumstances are different for all nurses, Staack says that she was able to finish her nursing degree in two years, which led to a career that has provided her with a good living and a better work/life balance.

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Staack currently holds the title of cardiac liaison and cardiac procedure nurse at her Los Angeles-area hospital, where she has worked for more than two decades. She specializes in testing and assisting in the treatment of patients with heart ailments. And most importantly, she enjoys every moment of it.

"You get to work with patients in all kinds of situations," she says. "You've got emergencies, patient contact, and being responsible for their lives. I like the hands-on aspect of it."

Here's a closer look at how Staack spends a typical day on the job at her hospital.

"I arrive at work, clock in, and it's on"

6:45 a.m. - I check my outpatient bookings which tell me when and how many patients I will be in contact with throughout the day.

7:00 a.m - I head on up to the dedicated office for the cardiac liaison and cardiac procedure nurses. I call all the departments that I cover (EKG, echocardiology, radiology, and outpatient surgery) to see what in-patient tests are on the schedule. I call the doctors involved so I can get my day organized and coordinate times. I also check my work emails and respond as needed.

7:45 a.m. - I fax premed orders (medications patients need to take for procedures) given to me by doctors during earlier phone calls. I set up my equipment and supplies needed for my first 9 a.m. patient and call the patient transporter to ensure the patient will be on time for the procedure.

8:15 a.m. - I head to the EKG to run a dobutamine stress echo test on another patient with a doctor present.

A lost in translation moment...

8:45 a.m. - In the cardiac procedure room, I greet a new patient and call for an Armenian translator because the patient doesn't speak English. I check the patient's vital signs and they are all normal.

9:00 a.m. - The translator explains the process to the patient and she verbalizes her understanding. I finish my computer charting, obtain sedation IV medicines, and wait for the doctor. I text him that we are ready.

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9:15 a.m. - The doctor arrives and we begin a procedure to look at the patient's heart and determine whether there are any abnormalities. Within two-to-three minutes the patient is sedated. Images are taken during a five-to-seven minute time period.

9:45 a.m. - The patient slowly wakes up and responds appropriately. I check the patient's vital signs, which are stable. I fill out a patient's chart on the computer. I also provide a written report of meds and findings for the bedside nurse to review.

"I get to actually see a human heart being operated on"

10:15 a.m. - I head to the cardiac surgery room and speak directly to surgeons to get an update on the progress of a coronary bypass surgery. I get to actually see a human heart being operated on. It's so amazing, truly a miracle. Then I go to the main lobby to speak with family of the surgery patient and give them an update and answer any questions.

10:45 a.m. - I return to my office and try to eat my yogurt, but I get called to EKG as I'm needed for a patient test.

11:15 a.m. - Another sedation procedure. On the way to the room, I get a call directly from another doctor that's needs me for an urgent electrocardioversion. I call anesthesia and meet them all at the patient's bedside. I call the transporter and tell him I will be delayed by 15 minutes for the other patient due to this urgent matter, but all goes well.

11:45 a.m. - I greet my patient in EKG, connect her to monitors, get her meds, and call the doctor.

12:30 p.m. - The doctor arrives.

12:45 p.m. - The patient tolerates the procedure just fine and is returned to the outpatient unit. I give a report to the patient's nurse.

"They were so worried but now are so grateful and give me a hug"

1:15 p.m. - I go to the surgery room, where a heart surgery is just finishing. The surgery involves another one of my patients, so it's important for me to monitor their progress. I update the patient's family, tell them "all is well," and the MD will speak with them in about 30 minutes. They were so worried, but now are so grateful and give me a hug.

1:45 p.m. - I go to eat my lunch and, sure enough, I get interrupted by EKG. I do three back-to-back-to-back Lexiscan stress heart tests. Today is a pretty hectic day, which is usually the case. But no two days are exactly alike for me.

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2:30 p.m. - I head back to my office - to a cold lunch - but I eat it anyway.

3:00 p.m. - I head to Telemetry Unit to speak with a patient and their family about tomorrow's coronary bypass surgery. I need a Spanish translator to help explain and repeat the process to the patient and family. They verbalize understanding and agree to proceed. I schedule the surgery with the OR (Operating Nurse) booking clerk.

Some down time...even for just a minute or two

4:00 p.m. - I return to my office to just rest for a minute or two. Check to see if I have any new work-related emails and respond, if necessary.

4:15 pm. - I go to the ICU, where today's heart surgery patient is recovering. I review her chart and collect the surgery data. One of my main responsibilities is that I collect and record data on every cardiac surgery patient. It's a 14-page database form, very complicated but very important.

4:45 p.m. - I make a final check of any new work emails and get ready to head home.

5:00 p.m. - I look at my schedule for tomorrow, which gives me an idea of how many patients and procedures I might have the next day.

"I am out of here. Tired but fulfilled!"

5:15 p.m. - I am out of here. Tired but fulfilled! I am thinking about what I might have for dinner and having a relaxing night at home in front of the TV. I'm usually in bed and asleep by 10 during the week because I need my energy for the next day.

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