To do what nobody else will do,
a way that nobody else can do,
in spite of all we go through;
that is to be a nurse
– Rawsi Williams –
Nurses are one of the oldest and one of the largest roles in the healthcare system. Nurses play an active role in just about every aspect of healthcare, from the Emergency Department to Mental Health Clinics, to home health care, to Acute Care. So, what do nurses do? Perhaps an easier question to answer would be what doesn’t a nurse do?
The image people have in their head of a nurse has varied throughout time from the ‘doctor’s handmaiden’ to the hardened and mean Nurse Ratchett characters. The media often presents and perpetuates a stereotyped image of nurses without truly understanding the nurse’s role in the healthcare system. Nurses are autonomous practitioners working within a health care system where they carry out procedures, act as assistants, protect patients from complications, teach patients and staff about health issues and treatment, and above all, provide care for the health and well-being of patients by using both subjective and objective data.
Nurses as Practitioners
Constant attention by a good nurse may be just as important as a major operation by a surgeon.
-Dag Hammarskjold –
Gone are the days where a nurse’s role was to carry out the orders of the doctor. While carrying out ‘doctor’s orders’ are certainly a part of the job, a nurse only completes a task that he or she feels is correct and safe to do. If there is any question about the accuracy or safety of an order, a nurse is responsible for researching the issue and clarifying the order with the physician. Since nurses spend the most time with the patient, often decisions and treatment plans are guided by the nurse’s assessments and analysis of the patient’s condition
Despite what prime time television would have you believe, nurses working in the acute care setting do most tasks and procedures that patients require confidently, competently, and with compassion. From starting IVs to inserting NG tubes, to titrating a cardizem drip, there are few tasks that nurses don’t do. Nurses can also receive training in more complex procedures such as inserting central lines and assisting in surgeries.
While no longer the ‘handmaidens’ of years past, nurses continue to play an essential role as assistants in complex procedures. From spinal taps to relocating joints, nurses play an important role assisting the physician to perform these tasks. Assisting is much more complicated than just following directions. A nurse must understand the procedure and anticipate what the physician will need for their next step. Many physicians will talk about the nurse as an extension of their hands, already having the tool or doing the maneuver before being asked to.
Nurses are also responsible for protecting patients from the effects of illness or disease. Sometimes this means noticing subtle changes in a patient’s condition, protecting the patients from potential complications such as fluid overload or septic shock. Other times a nurse might protect the patients from complications by implementing preventative strategies in care, such as turning a bed-ridden patient to prevent skin breakdown. A warm and cheerful manner can protect a patient from loneliness, and a quiet and respectful approach can help a grieving family member come to terms with loss.
Nurses are autonomous practitioners and are essential members of the healthcare team. They perform and assist with procedures, and contribute crucial assessments and analysis to the healthcare team, guiding appropriate care for the patient.
Nurses as Teachers
Tell me and I forget.
Teach me and I remember.
Involve me and I learn
– Benjamin Franklin –
Nurses play a critical role as an educator to both their patients and their families. Nurses have the unique privilege of spending the most time with the patient than any other health professional and as such are able to build a close therapeutic relationship with them, establishing trust and understanding the patient’s challenges and barriers. Receiving a new diagnosis can be scary. Nurses must educate the patient about their condition and help them learn to treat themselves, whether it is learning how to give themselves insulin or following a cardiac diet. Research shows that patient outcomes are significantly improved when patients are educated on their condition and are involved in decisions made about their health. Nurses are able to provide information to their patients at their learning level and are able to recognize their learning needs.
Nurses as Caregivers
When I think about all the patients and their loved ones that I have worked with over the years,
I know most of them don’t remember me nor I them,
but I do know that I gave a little piece of myself to each of them and they to me
and those threads make up the beautiful tapestry in my mind that is my career in nursing.
– Donna Wilk Cardillo –
The essence of nursing is caring. Caring for our patients, acting as an advocate, supporting a family through a difficult time. Listening to and supporting an alcoholic on their road to recovery. Holding the hand of a dying patient when they are scared to be alone. Explaining to the family of a dying patient what “there’s nothing more we can do” really means. The true essence of nursing the care we provide our patients, be it physical, emotional, mental, or educative.
While caring can be very sentimental, it encompasses all aspect of patient care. Building a caring and trusting relationship with a patient helps a nurse to perform procedures while considering patient comfort and fear. By caring for a patient, a nurse carefully analyses the patient’s condition and recognizes and prevents potential complications. A close and caring relationship with a patient also helps a nurse identify any barriers and the need for education about their current condition.
There are many things that nurses do. Nursing is an incredibly varied job that can be mentally stimulating, technical, and also emotional and caring. Nurses are the ‘jack-of-all-trades” in the healthcare system, covering every aspects of medical, patient finance, psychological, and emotional. Nurses care for your body and mind and help you navigate a system known for its pitfalls and roadblocks.