Roles of a Nurse

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Patient care
Patient advocacy
Planning of care
Patient education and support
Nursing in the COVID-19 pandemic
Future outlook for nursing
Further reading 


Nurses serve their communities in many ways and have essential roles in healthcare. Nurses promote healthy lifestyles, advocate for patients, provide health education, and directly care for many patients. The exact functions of nurses have changed somewhat over the years; however, their importance in healthcare remains evident.

Since the advent of modern medicine, nurses' role has shifted from being comforters to modern healthcare professionals who provide evidence-based treatment and wellness education. Nurses have a multifaceted role as holistic caregivers, patient advocates, specialists, and researchers.

Image Credit: Gorodenkoff / ShutterstockImage Credit: Gorodenkoff / Shutterstock

Patient care

The primary role of a nurse is to be a caregiver for patients by managing physical needs, preventing illness, and treating health conditions. To do this, nurses must observe and monitor the patient and record any relevant information to aid in treatment decision-making processes.

Nurses care for injuries, administer medications, conduct frequent medical examinations, record detailed medical histories, monitor heart rate and blood pressure, perform diagnostic tests, operate medical equipment, draw blood, and admit/discharge patients according to physician orders. Nurses also ensure patients' comfort, change bandages, report any changes in a patient's condition to other nurses or doctors, document patient activities, and assume other relevant tasks.

Nurses must often pay close attention to every detail of the patient's treatment and how they respond. If a problem is identified, nurses will often be the first to notice; thus, they must be able to quickly report a problem, particularly in the event of an emergency, to a physician.

Throughout the treatment process, the nurse follows the progress of the patient and acts accordingly with the patient's best interests in mind. The care provided by a nurse extends beyond the administration of medications and other therapies. Nurses are often responsible for the holistic care of patients, which may encompass the individual's psychosocial, cultural, and spiritual needs.

Patient advocacy

In addition to their role as a clinician, nurses often provide emotional support for their patients and families. This can include ensuring that the patient understands and is prepared for their treatment, listening to patients and assessing their physical, emotional, cultural, mental, and spiritual needs.

Nurses often help patients and their loved ones process their feelings and frustrations towards their illnesses. Through counseling and patient education, nurses may also be of assistance in explaining treatment options to patients and their family members, as well as advocating for the health and well-being of their patients.

A nurse often serves as a patient advocate in protecting a patient's medical, legal, and human rights. Since many sick patients may be unable to comprehend medical situations and act accordingly, it is often the nurse's role to support the patient.

This may involve representing the patient's best interests, especially when treatment decisions are being made. Furthermore, nurses will often inform and support patients when they have questions or are apprehensive about treatments, procedures, or any other aspect of their care. Nurses may also make suggestions for patients' treatment plans in collaboration with the patient, their families, and other health professionals.

Planning of care

A nurse is directly involved in the decision-making process of treating patients. Thus, it is essential that nurses think critically when assessing patient signs and identify potential problems to make the appropriate recommendations.

Although clinicians like physicians, physician associates, and nurse practitioners typically make final treatment decisions, nurses also have a crucial role in patient treatment plans. This is because nurses are typically most familiar with the individual patient, as they monitor their signs and symptoms on an ongoing basis. Thus, nurses should collaborate with other medical team members to promote optimal patient health outcomes.

Patient education and support

Nurses are also responsible for ensuring that patients can understand their health, illnesses, medications, and treatments to the best of their ability. This is particularly important when patients are discharged from the hospital and are responsible for continuing their treatments at home.

A nurse should take the time to explain to the patient and their family or caregiver what to do and expect when they leave the hospital or medical clinic. Nurses should also ensure that the patient feels supported and knows where to seek additional information if needed.

In every aspect of healthcare, nurses provide education, promote healthy practices, share their expertise, and help patients heal. By guiding patients and their families, nurses can also provide patients with appropriate referrals for other services, resources, and classes.

In addition to when patients leave the hospital, nurses also educate patients about their care plan daily. This is essential for the success of the treatment, as patients must be prepared for all steps of their treatment and recovery. Nurses are also responsible for training and helping other nurses.

Nursing in the COVID-19 pandemic

Throughout the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, nurses have remained at the front line of hospital patient care. In addition to their everyday responsibilities, nurses have also acquired various additional roles to mitigate the transmission of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus responsible for COVID-19.

Image Credit: Halfpoint / ShutterstockImage Credit: Halfpoint / Shutterstock

For example, during the numerous waves of COVID-19, wherein community transmission rose, and hospitalization rates subsequently increased, nurses were often responsible for assisting in the planning of how these outbreaks would be managed at the patient level. This often involved maintaining the supplies and appropriate usage of sanitation materials and personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as offering patients screening information, quarantine guidelines, and triage protocols based on the most recent guidance.

Since nurses often have immediate contact with potentially infectious COVID-19 patients, they have frequently been at risk of infection throughout the pandemic. Thus, nurses must abide by specific infection prevention measures to protect not only themselves against infection, but also their families, co-workers, and other patients. Some of the PPE limiting the spread of SARS-CoV-2 to nurses caring for COVID-19 patients include ventilators, masks, robes, goggles, face shields, and gloves.

Due to the spread of misinformation that has become increasingly prevalent throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, nurses have also been considered distinguished healthcare workers capable of discrediting myths and other conspiracies. Thus, nurses have also increased public awareness of effective disease prevention methods, guided others to available healthcare services, provided evidence-based patient care, and practiced important infection-reducing measures.

The increased demand for healthcare services throughout the pandemic led many clinicians to transition their services to virtual visits. Thus, nurses must now possess a wide range of technical skills that allow them to provide patient care through these different avenues. Nurses should also have the communication skills that will enable them to assess and support their patients through various media sources.

As patient advocates, nurses must also be aware of the potential risk that certain patient groups, particularly those of older age or lower income, may not be comfortable with technology-mediated healthcare services. Thus, in these situations, nurses should continue to ensure that patient-centered care is achieved by adapting the treatment approach to accommodate each patient's specific needs, abilities, and characteristics.

Future outlook for nursing

The demand for qualified nurses is growing in many regions worldwide, particularly in light of nursing shortages that increased throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the increasingly complex role of nurses following the pandemic, allocating specific roles, such as medication administration and patient education, to specific nurses may reduce burnout among current nurses while also allowing nurses to focus their efforts on specific aspects of patient care that they are most suited for.

In addition to a growing aging population, the demand for nurses will also increase due to the increasing number of patients who have contracted COVID-19 and now experience long COVID, as well as patients who will still contract COVID-19 and require hospitalization. Furthermore, it remains unclear how delayed care throughout the COVID-19 pandemic will affect inpatient hospitalizations in the future, as well as outpatient procedures.  

It should be noted that COVID-19 has taken the lives of over 6.4 million individuals throughout the world to date, with millions of individuals who have recovered from the disease, despite experiencing severe effects. Thus, it is inevitable that nurses, as well as many other healthcare professionals, have experienced a wide range of psychological and physical effects from their experience in caring for patients during this global health emergency.

As a result, it is vital that hospitals and clinics offer comprehensive support for the existing nurse workforce to retain current nurses, as well as encourage others to pursue this profession. Several different initiatives have been proposed to reduce the burden on nurses through digital, clinician, regulatory, and labor union collaborations.

The Role of the Nurse | Brigham Health


Further Reading

Last Updated: Sep 4, 2022

Pooja Toshniwal Paharia

Written by

Pooja Toshniwal Paharia

Pooja Toshniwal Paharia is an oral and maxillofacial physician and radiologist based in Pune, India. Her academic background is in Oral Medicine and Radiology. She has extensive experience in research and evidence-based clinical-radiological diagnosis and management of oral lesions and conditions and associated maxillofacial disorders.


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  1. Sawjanya Emanuvelu Sawjanya Emanuvelu Philippines says:

    What are the two medical principles that should be observe by the nurse for safe and effective bed making?

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