Outpatient vs. Inpatient Nurse: What’s the Difference?

You’ve read every, “What does it take to be a nurse?” blog. You’ve checked yourself against every list of skills a nurse should have. Patience, compassion, dedication: check. You know this is your future, but you’ve been so focused on becoming a nurse that deciding where to work is the least of your concerns. But as you get further along in the process of becoming a nurse, you’re starting to think about the type of nursing work you’d like to focus your career on.

One easy way to narrow down your search is to decide whether you want to work inpatient or outpatient care. This high-level distinction categorizes all your options. Depending on what kind of patients you want to work with, what kind of schedule you want to have and what kind of impact you want to leave, choosing inpatient or outpatient care will help you find the best place to utilize your skills.

Inpatient nurses care for patients who require long-term care, and outpatient nurses care for patients who need immediate care. However, a patient may see both kinds of nurses for the same issues. For example, a patient may initially receive treatment from an outpatient nurse in an emergency room.

Inpatient Vs. Outpatient Registered Nurses & common MYTHS DEBUNKED!

Outpatient nurse vs. inpatient nurse duties

For nurses, the differences between inpatient and outpatient settings impact how much time a nurse spends with a patient and their primary duties. Below are some common duties for nurses in each setting:

Outpatient nurse duties

Nurses at outpatient facilities usually perform the following duties:

Inpatient nurse duties

At inpatient facilities, nurses often perform the following duties:

What is the difference between inpatient and outpatient settings?

The primary difference between inpatient and outpatient settings is the length of time a patient stays within a healthcare facility. Outpatient settings typically include patients staying at healthcare facilities for a shorter period of time. A patient typically receives the care they require over a few hours or a single day at most. Some examples of outpatient facilities include clinics and urgent care facilities.

With inpatient care, a patient often stays for at least one night and often longer. They may stay at a facility for days or weeks, depending on their needs. Inpatient facilities typically include establishments such as hospitals, rehabilitation centers and nursing homes.

Inpatient nurse work environment

When working at an inpatient facility, such as a hospital, nurses may work a varied range of hours. Due to the fact that hospitals operate 24 hours per day, nurses may work days, nights, weekends and holidays. Shifts may also extend beyond the typical eight-hour workday, with some shifts lasting 12 hours or more.

During these hours, inpatient nurses spend a large portion of their time busy and standing. Whenever they are not directly interacting with patients, they often complete administrative work. Finally, due to the often intense nature of their work, inpatient nurses develop a close connection with their fellow employees. This often results in a collaborative work environment.

Outpatient nurse work environment

Most outpatient treatment facilities operate during normal business hours. There are some, such as urgent care facilities, that extend beyond these hours or operate 24 hours per day. These facilities are also commonly closed on holidays or operate at a lower capacity than normal during those times. However, regardless of the facility, outpatient nurses can generally expect to have a more structured work schedule compared to inpatient nurses.

The type of work an outpatient nurse experiences depends on their employer. For example, a nurse at an urgent care center may see more patients daily than someone working at a physical therapy clinic. A nurse providing home visits may spend more time traveling than a nurse who works at the same facility each day.

Patient relationships in outpatient and inpatient nursing

While both outpatient and inpatient nurses interact with patients on a daily basis, inpatient nurses tend to form stronger relationships with their patients. This is due to the fact that they typically spend more time with patients and their families. They also tend to provide direct and frequent care to patients who stay at healthcare facilities longer.

Outpatient nurses may only see a patient once before they leave. The patient may return for occasional treatment, but they do not typically see a particular nurse as much as a patient at an inpatient facility does.

Outpatient and inpatient nursing skills

While outpatient and inpatient nurses have some differences regarding their duties and how often they interact with patients, there are some skills that both types of nurses have in common. Both inpatient and outpatient nurses typically possess the following skills:


Nurses use communication skills with both their patients and colleagues. They regularly meet with patients or their families to discuss problems and concerns. Nurses also provide clear instructions to patients and discuss treatment options with them. They communicate these details to physicians, who rely on reports from nurses to determine proper treatment. Finally, nurses use written communication skills to create detailed and clear patient reports for future care.

Attention to detail

Nurses often display attention to detail when caring for patients. They follow standard healthcare protocols carefully to ensure a safe and clean environment for patient care. They also closely observe their patients, looking for signs that may be warnings of a potential emergency. Finally, nurses ensure that patients receive the correct dose of medication and carefully record all patient information in their files.


All nurses, including inpatient and outpatient nurses, display empathy to connect with their patients. Many nursing responsibilities include caring for a patient to ensure they are comfortable. To accomplish this, nurses empathize with their patients and develop a connection with them.

Time management

Nurses typically care for several patients simultaneously. This requires proper time management to ensure that each patient receives enough attention and proper care. Its especially important for outpatient nurses to have strong time management skills, as they often help patients receive their care within a single day.


What is the difference between outpatient care inpatient care?


If you receive inpatient care, you will be monitored by a healthcare team in a hospital throughout your treatment and recovery. Outpatient care, also called ambulatory care, does not require hospitalization.

What do nurses do in outpatients?

Outpatient nurses draw blood, check vital signs, monitor blood pressure, temperature and pulse, and ensure that IV lines are maintained. An outpatient nurse may also be required to assist with surgery, supplying physicians with needed surgical tools and instruments.

Is outpatient nursing stressful?

Nursing is, unquestionably, a very high-stress environment. Although most nurses know right off the bat what they’re getting themselves into and are aware that nursing has its challenges, sometimes just how stressful being an RN can get takes a lot of professionals by surprise.

What is the role of a nurse in an inpatient setting?

One of the most important role of the nurse in a hospital is that of a patient advocate. Nurses spend more time with patients than their doctors do. Often nurses might have to step in and advise the doctor to take a different approach due to the unique circumstances of their patient.

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