Let's get one thing straight: nursing is nursing. There aren't a lot of differences between the way a nurse one one floor cares for a patient than in any other part of a hospital. You assess your patient, you administer medication, you document what you did.
The working environment of each department is where the difference is felt. Choosing what type of nurse you want to be can be a confusing process, but it is important because it means what you want your work day to feel like. So to see where you fit in, here is a breakdown of four basic types of nursing available to new nurses, based on how they would fit into Hogwarts School Of Witchcraft and Wizardry from the "Harry Potter" series. There are other types of nursing than what are mentioned here, of course; oncology isn't included because that requires extra training, and pediatrics and neonatal are pretty self-explanatory for nurses who want to work in those areas. And also, I ran out of houses.
Want to see in which hospital department the Sorting Hat would place you?
Hufflepuff: Medical Surgical, Med/Surg
Hufflepuffs are loyal, patient, kind, and they work hard. It was claimed that Hufflepuff House would take any student, and that made it nothing more than a refuge for those who simply didn't fit in to any other house, but that perceived weakness is unfair. Hufflepuffs like being surrounded by lots of friends, they don't judge who you are or where you're from as long as you're good peeps, and they're happy for anyone to come hang out and chill with a butterbeer or two. It's a lot easier to get what you want when you're nice to people and you aren't ready for a fight all the time. (Perhaps this is why Hufflepuff House has graduated the least amount of Dark Wizards and Witches from Hogwarts.) But don't let that friendly demeanor fool you. Nymphadora Tonks was a Hufflepuff and she could kick your ass.
The Med/Surg floor of any hospital is where patients go when they don't have a specific problem to put them somewhere else. Med/Surg nurses handle a little bit of everything: infectious diseases, geriatric psych, alcohol detox, gall bladder removal, they've seen it all. They must be very thick-skinned, and the good Med/Surg nurses know how to smile through the chaos. That smile makes a big difference to the patients. Walking from a room where an elderly patient is sundowning and is trying to escape the hospital, and then going directly into another room with a patient with C. Diff. with uncontrolled diarrhea, can be emotionally taxing. But Med/Surg nurses must not only treat what ails their patients, but preserve their patients' dignity.
On a Med/Surg floor, you will run constantly and get yelled at from all angles, but you'll learn a lot about nursing, healthcare, and life in general. Just be ready, because it can be rough.
Gryffindor: Emergency Room, ER
Gryffindors are well-known for being adventurous and courageous, and are often looked at as being natural leaders. They won't hesitate to rush off to battle, ready to save the world, and they will do it all with great aplomb. And they're really good at what they do. Albus Dumbledore, Grand Sorcerer and all-around best badass wizard on the planet, was a Gryffindor. People love Gryffindor. Gryffindors are winners.
ER nurses get all the excitement. Broken bones and gun shots, pregnant women in labor, all the action is happening in the ER. They'll run around the room and treat 10 patients at the same time, and remain totally calm while a patient is brought in by helicopter and is laying on a bed screaming in pain. Although don't be fooled — just as Gryffindors must endure taking classes in Ancient Runes and Numerology, ER nurses must also treat people who come to the Emergency Room with headaches and rashes. There can be long lags of those mundane patients before anything exciting is seen. And just as Gryffindors had to do a lot of homework, ER nurses spend a lot of time charting incoming patients and the many details of their health. Charting, charting, charting.
Things certainly move along fast in the ER. The patients don't stay there for long before they are wheeled away to the appropriate hospital department, so there isn't as much emotional bonding going on. But who has time? Next!
Ravenclaw: Ortho/Neuro/Trauma, or Tele
Ravenclaws are the intellectuals of Hogwarts. They enjoy learning just as much as they enjoy the competition of academic achievement. However, they are also fiercely logical, as they recognize that it doesn't matter how much anyone learns as whether a person knows how to use that knowledge. Sometimes Ravenclaws are a bit introverted, but it's just because they'd rather be reading books than playing with the stupid toys from Weasley's Wizard Wheezes. And they don't really care if you think they're nerds. They too busy being successful to care what you think.
The ONT floor is for more complex recoveries from bone surgeries, back/neck injuries, or other traumatic situations in need of intensive treatment. The Tele floor is for patients on telemetry, the system of electronic heart monitoring, who have perhaps had a heart problem or have even undergone cardiac surgery. These two departments are completely different in techniques used to treat their patients, but the ideology is the same. Care here is very complex, and nurses must perform lots of documentation and follow strict procedural guidelines.
Each pin site holding a bone together after any reconstructive surgery must be assessed and documented. The EKG strips of a heart failure patient must be constantly analyzed and interpreted, for the nurse to choose and administer proper medication. Each medication's intended effects and side effects must be known perfectly, to watch for any sudden changes in a patient's status. And those changes happen very, very fast and can be deadly.
Doctors aren't there telling the nurses what to do; the nurses must use their heads to know when a patient is healing properly, or when to alert the doctors that changes need to be made in a patient's plan of care. There isn't a lot of time for antics and goofing off when you're on one of these floors. But for those nurses who thrive in a situation of structure and well-defined expectations, ONT or Tele is a place where a nurse can make excellent use of his/her critical thinking skills.
Slytherin: Intensive Care Unit, ICU
Slyterins are cunning, resourceful, ambitious, and independent. Some people think the Slytherins are difficult to work with, and it is true they can come off a bit frosty, but it is only because they are determined to do whatever it takes to achieve their goals.
Although they can sometimes be uninterested in being friendly, Slytherins really do have the best of intentions. Severus Snape is perhaps the greatest hero of the Harry Potter world, despite his scowling demeanor. His critical diatribes against Hogwarts students were harsh, but Snape usually wasn't being mean; he just didn't sugar-coat anything.
Nurses in the Intensive Care Unit must be tough. On other units, a nurse works with support staff to assume partial responsibility for patients, but in ICU the nurse serves the patient one-on-one. They need to know how to do everything. These nurses must think quickly on their feet, they must be resourceful and entirely self-sufficient, and above all else they have no choice but to do whatever it takes to keep their patients alive. Everyone else, just get out of the way. ICU nurses don't have time for your nonsense.
It should be noted that when nurses on other floors need to accomplish difficult tasks, such as starting IV lines, they usually call a nurse from ICU to come help.