What is Nursing?
Nurses save and improve lives as front line members of the health care delivery team. They independently assess and monitor patients, and taking a holistic approach, determine what patients need to attain and preserve their health. Nurses then provide care and, if needed, alert other health care professionals to assist. For instance, emergency department nurses triage all incoming patients, deciding which are the sickest and in what order they require the attention of other health care professionals. Thus, nurses coordinate care delivery by physicians, nurse practitioners, social workers, physical therapists and others. Nurses assess whether care is successful. If not, they create a different plan of action.
One of the most important roles of the nurse is to be a patient advocate--to protect the interests of patients when the patients themselves cannot because of illness or inadequate health knowledge.
Nurses are patient educators, responsible for explaining procedures and treatments. For instance, nurses teach patients and their families how to eat in a healthier way, take medicines, change wound dressings, and use health care equipment.
Nurses empower patients, guiding them toward healthy behaviors and support them in time of need. When patients are able, nurses encourage and teach them how to care for themselves. Nurses provide physical care only when patients cannot do so for themselves.
As patients near the end of their lives, nurses provide dignity in death by advocating for sufficient pain medication and the opportunity to die at home to allow them to spend meaningful time with family members in their final days.
Hospital nurses are responsible for discharge planning, deciding together with other health professionals when patients can go home, and helping patients adapt to their conditions and work toward full recovery.
Nurses, especially those working in community settings, work to prevent illness through education and community programs designed to decrease transmittable illnesses, violence, obesity and tobacco use, and provide maternal-child education--to prevent some of the leading health problems of our time.
Some nurses are independent scholars whose work is at the forefront of health care research. Many nurses obtain Master's and Ph.D. degrees in nursing, then work as scholars, educators, health policy makers, managers, advanced practitioners such as Clinical Nurse Specialists or Nurse Practitioners, or sit on Boards of Directors.
Please see our FAQ on why nursing is dramatic and deserves to be portrayed in Hollywood products, where we post a very small list of things that nurses do to make the world a healthier place.
Also see "What Does a Nurse Do?" -- one patient's account of how his view of nursing was changed by an extended stay in the hospital.
First published January 11, 2002