What exactly does a nurse do? This lesson explores some of the different roles a nurse plays in patient care, including caregiver, decision maker, communicator, manager of care, patient advocate, and teacher.
Roles and Functions of the Nurse
What exactly does a nurse do? Your answer probably depends on the experiences that you have had in the past. Most people think a nurse is someone who gives a shot at the doctor’s office – or simply is a doctor’s assistant. Furthermore, images of nurses in the media also paint a different picture of who a nurse really is.However, a nurse has a number of roles that he or she performs, often at the same time, depending on a patient’s needs. With all of the changes in healthcare over the last few decades, that role has expanded even more. Let’s explore a few of these roles.
As a caregiver, a nurse provides hands-on care to patients in a variety of settings. This includes physical needs, which can range from total care (doing everything for someone) to helping a patient with illness prevention. The nurse maintains a patient’s dignity while providing knowledgeable, skilled care.
In addition, nurses care holistically for a patient. Holistic care emphasizes that the whole person is greater than the sum of their parts. This means that nurses also address psychosocial, developmental, cultural, and spiritual needs. The role of caregiver includes all of the tasks and skills that we associate with nursing care, but also includes the other elements that make up the whole person.
Another role of the nurse, as a decision maker, is to use critical thinking skills to make decisions, set goals, and promote outcomes for a patient. These critical thinking skills include assessing the patient, identifying the problem, planning and implementing interventions, and evaluating the outcomes.
A nurse uses clinical judgment – his or her ability to discern what is best for the patient – to determine the best course of action for the patient.
As a communicator, the nurse understands that effective communication techniques can help improve the healthcare environment. Barriers to effective communication can inhibit the healing process. The nurse has to communicate effectively with the patient and family members as well as other members of the healthcare team. In addition, the nurse is responsible for written communication, or patient charting, which is a key component to continuity of care.
Manager of Care
The nurse works with other healthcare workers as the manager of care and ensures that the patient’s care is cohesive. The nurse directs and coordinates care by both professionals and nonprofessionals to confirm that a patient’s goals are being met.The nurse is also responsible for continuity from the moment a patient enters the hospital setting to the time they are discharged home and beyond. This may even include overseeing home care instructions. For nurses in the hospital setting, the nurse is responsible for prioritizing and managing the care of multiple patients at the same time, which adds another dimension to this process.
Being a patient advocate may be the most important of all nursing roles. As a patient advocate, the nurse’s responsibility is to protect a patient’s rights. When a person is sick, they are unable to act as they might when they are well. The nurse acts on the patient’s behalf and supports their decisions, standing up for his or her best interests at all times.
This can empower a patient while recognizing that a patient’s values supersede the health care providers’.
As a teacher, nurses help patients learn about their health, medications, treatments, and procedures as well as deal with challenges they may face during and after their illness. Patients often have questions and might be confused about all that is happening to them. As a teacher, the nurse may also need to instruct family members about how they can help a patient.
In addition, discharge instructions, or instructions about what to do once they are not in a hospital setting, are important so that a patient can easily care for themselves at home.
Example of Roles
Now that we have discussed these roles, let’s look at a patient example of how these roles are illustrated.Mr. Jones was playing basketball, and fell on the court. He broke his right hand and will have surgery tomorrow. The nurse comes in and gives him pain medicine, checks his hand for swelling, and offers him something to eat. She is his caregiver.
Next, she sees that his swollen hand is dangling off the bed. She uses critical thinking skills to place a pillow under his arm to support it, which will reduce swelling. She is a decision maker. While doing these things, she is a communicator, as she speaks with him in an empathetic, supportive tone.
She sets up an occupational therapist to work with him at home, as he is right handed and will need help with his computer work. She is his manager of care. Mr. Jones asks her not to wake him up at night, as he is very tired and wants to sleep. As his patient advocate, the nurse stands up for his wishes and communicates with the rest of the healthcare team.
Finally, as his teacher, the nurse explains to him what to expect before and after surgery, as well as the directions for his pain medication at home.
As you can see, a nurse wears many hats, and the role has many aspects that make it a rewarding, challenging, and complex profession. In summary, as a caregiver, a nurse provides hands-on care to patients.
This includes holistic care, which emphasizes the whole person is greater than the sum of their parts, including a patient’s psychosocial, developmental, cultural, and spiritual needs.As decision maker, nurses use critical thinking skills to make decisions, set goals, and promote outcomes for a patient. As a communicator, the nurse has to communicate effectively with the patient and family members as well as other members of the healthcare team.As a patient advocate, the nurse’s responsibility is to protect a patient’s rights, act on the patient’s behalf, and support their decisions.
Finally, as teacher, nurses help patients learn about their health, medications, treatments, and procedures as well as deal with challenges they may face during and after their illness.
After watching this lesson, you should be able to summarize the different roles that a nurse can fill in the health profession.