It would be easy to think of the nursing profession in terms of daily care, treatment, and monitoring in mainstream healthcare settings. That’s because their presence within clinics, emergency departments, hospital wards and social care facilities is often focused on practical support for patients and colleagues, in a myriad of ways.
However, as healthcare becomes ever more demanding and complex, so does the role of nurses. They now have a broader and more far-reaching role than any other professional in this sector.
There is no aspect of human health that isn’t supported, enhanced, or even advanced through the contribution of nursing professionals.
They play a crucial role in spotting the early signs of disease and injury, in reaching a diagnosis as well as dispensing treatment and monitoring progress. Nurses are often present at births, deaths, and everything in between.
This article digs deeper into why nurses are important, and the role they are playing to advance healthcare globally.
If you’re interested in making an impact in a high-value field, learn more about how to advance your career in nursing.
Nurses make intangible contributions
Much of the value nurses bring to healthcare situations is based on the relationship they establish with their patients.
From greeting you when you arrive at a medical facility, to reassuring you as you leave, nursing professionals are usually the healthcare personnel we see most of. They are often the people we remember long afterwards too, if they helped us through a particularly traumatic or distressing experience.
That’s because nurses don’t just dispense information and medicine. They provide vital empathy, reassurance and understanding to their patients. Having someone willing to listen to your questions and concerns can make the whole process of receiving health services less stressful.
Nurses invest endless hours creating good relationships with their patients to help open up a two-way exchange of information. A foundation of trust help nurses gain important insights and histories from their patients; information that can play a key part in diagnosis and treatment. Over time, they can gather open and honest information from patients that enable clinicians to accurately monitor progress through treatment protocols.
A patient who feels comfortable and supported is more likely to alert a nurse to an issue or concern, something that can be crucial to timely intervention and healing.
This reassurance and understanding can extend to a patient’s family too. A good illustration is a nurse taking time to guide parents through a diagnosis and treatment for their child, so they stay calm, and are therefore in a better position to keep the young patient calm.
It is not really that surprising then, for decades, the most trusted profession in the US has been nursing.
Nurses gather and provide information
As outlined above, nursing professionals spend a lot of time with their patients. This is not just about putting them at ease and making them comfortable with sharing often personal and sometimes distressing information. It can facilitate the exchange of information that is more practical in its nature too.
Nurses are often the first point of contact when you arrive in emergency departments, on a ward or in clinics. They will manage your expectations, provide triage care and talk you through the initial stages of your healthcare. It is likely to be a nurse who talks you through the initial information about a procedure or operation for instance.
They are often tasked with guiding patients towards informed consent to a procedure or operation too and will secure vital information that ensures a patient’s health is at the right level to make it possible to deliver a health intervention of some kind.
Your health status details will be recorded by nurses regularly during day care or in-patient procedures or operations. Nurses are likely to be the healthcare professionals who provide you with written and verbal information about your aftercare and medication regime.
In a modern healthcare setting, this means nurses must be up-to-date on the latest technology and methods of documentation and record keeping.
Nurses are observers and decision makers
Another important reason that nurses are so important to healthcare is that some of the information they gather from their patients is non-verbal.
That is not simply the ability to monitor a patient’s four primary vital signs, which are body temperature, blood pressure, pulse or heart rate, and breathing rate. It can be as fundamental as a nurse observing a patient who is unable to speak, looking for subtle signs that they are in pain or distress.
Another illustration would be when a nurse is taking a patient’s blood pressure and maintaining a seemingly light conversation, to get a sense of the individual’s mental and emotional wellbeing. Or, looking for changes in skin color for indications of health issues when they are washing a patient, or simply checking up on them.
This is when the nurse’s relationship with a patient can be crucial. They can’t look for signs that things are not ‘normal’ unless they know what ‘normal’ looks like for that individual patient!
From these professional observations and non-verbal cues, a well-trained and intuitive nurse can make decisions about the patient’s best interests, sometimes without them ever actually flagging up an issue or asking for help.
They can then take the necessary remedial actions themselves, and get specialist help to tackle the patient’s changing needs.
Nurses are patient advocates
As there is such a high level of both comfort and trust in the relationship between nurses and their patients, these are often the healthcare professionals tasked with sharing information and insights with others.
This is no doubt why the American Nurses Association lists advocacy as a pillar of nursing. This organization says that nursing professionals “instinctively advocate for their patients, in their workplaces, and in their communities”. It points out that nurses are equally important in legislative and political advocacy. In this way, nurses play a significant role in “advancing the profession and patient care.”
On a more basic level, nurses are often information conduits between patients and doctors, for example. They can be important in sharing information with family members, and representing a patient who is struggling to share updates with their loved ones.
This is another instance when a seemingly casual interaction can have great significance. By chatting to family members in their advocacy role, nurses can sometimes pick up on additional details that clinicians need to be aware of.
It may fall to a nursing professional to collaborate not only with other departments in their own healthcare facility, but also with third party providers of essential services and equipment. They may need to negotiate and persuade, in order to find robust solutions for their patients.
Nurses are educators
As modern nursing professionals are an integrated and vital part of healthcare teams and regularly gather and assimilate a great deal of information—naturally this leads them to play an important role in disseminating knowledge and experience.
Senior nursing staff who mentor trainees can be an essential part of a healthcare organization’s recruitment and development processes. Doctors can often learn a great deal from their nursing colleagues.
Nursing professionals are key to health prevention and protection initiatives, and campaigns to encourage healthier lifestyles or smoking cessation.
This educator role for nursing professionals goes along with crucial relationship they form with their patients. In response to questions and concerns, nursing professionals can pass on understanding and awareness to the patient and their families.
Nurses are champions of quality
It is not necessarily the role of nurses to monitor and assess the activities of their colleagues. However, as they are the true ‘backbone’ of healthcare provision worldwide, it makes sense that their ability to evaluate quality of service is optimized.
Nurses are responsible for supporting patients towards a positive outcome, so they are often encouraged to constantly evaluate all aspects of care, constantly checking if it is meeting individual needs correctly.
Ensuring that their colleagues and support services are delivering the required interventions and activities to achieve appropriate and effective outcomes is all part of a nurse’s obligations to their patient.
This important role as a champion of healthcare quality could cover being tasked with alerting doctors to occasions when medications and other treatments are not bringing robust or fast enough results. Of course, nurses would flag up when a treatment protocol is leading to significant side effects. However, they can use their verbal and non-verbal information gathering skills to evaluate the ‘worth’ of treatment routes, so adjustments can be made to achieve a better outcome for the patient.
Nurses are varied in their skills and specialties
A vivid reflection of the immense importance of nurses, throughout health and social care, can be found by scrolling down a list of nursing job roles in the US and across the world.
There are generally four main categories of nursing: adult, children, learning disability and mental health. However, beneath those general nursing fields is a vast range of specialties and niches.
For example, there are Licensed Practical Nurses (LPN), Registered Nurses (RN), emergency room nurses, oncology nurses, nurse anesthetists and nurse midwives. Further illustrations from a very long list of specialisms include pediatric nurses, neonatal/NICU nurses, cosmetic nurses, home health nurses and cardiac nurses.
Some people want the high energy setting provided by large city center hospitals, for instance. Alternatively, some nursing professionals find their skills and personal characteristics are better suited to community healthcare settings or palliative care facilities. You have a wide range of choices available within the umbrella of the nursing field.
The sheer volume of options in nursing careers shows just how essential they are, in all aspects of human health. You can create your dream career as a nurse, with education from trusted institutions like The School of Nursing & Health Sciences at Holy Family University. To get more information on how additional education can support you, click here.
As the demands on healthcare have increased and become more complex over time, there has been a shift in the level of intervention a nurse can provide in many healthcare settings. They are increasingly trained and tasked to do procedures, tests and processes that would previously have been the remit of doctors.
Nurse Practitioners (NPs) are tasked with dispensing advanced care. This can include health prevention and promotion, as well as diagnosis and treatment, and disease management. Family Nurse Practitioners (FNPs) are Nurse Practitioners who work with patients who can be both adults and children.
How much responsibility and decision-making authority a nurse has depends in their clinical setting and can vary from institution to institution. However, the level of autonomy they are given depends on them being given the correct level of training and trust, to fulfil their duties with confidence.
Rehabilitation and nursing
The important role nurses play in building patient relationships and dispensing care and treatment can be especially crucial in assisting individuals who are recovering from a substantial illness or injury.
Nurses can work with occupation and physical therapists to give patients the determination and confidence to engage successfully with their rehabilitation goals and activities. The empathy and encouragement of nurses – and the trust factor mentioned earlier in this article – can be the difference between a patient who is overwhelmed or over ambitious, and one who reaches recovery milestones confidently.
Problem solvers and critical thinkers
Modern nursing professionals are trained to be responsive, rising to a multitude of challenges swiftly and robustly. There are many occasions when it is a nurse who must assess a patient’s critical needs, and action a rapid response to protect their health or even their life.
Clear, logical thinking, alongside confidence and calmness under pressure, are vital attributes in many areas of professional nursing. This includes trauma care. Nurses are thoroughly trained to have the insights and abilities needed to cope well with situations that would create immense stress in many other people.
This is why the best trained and most in demand nurses are those who have taken advantage of both personal and professional development opportunities.
The School of Nursing & Health Sciences at Holy Family University, for example, trains nurses to not only be professionals, but also critical thinkers and collaborators. You can learn more about the programs offered at this private Catholic institution especially the Second-Degree Distance Hybrid Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program.
The future of global healthcare
You will see that advanced nursing educators like those at Holy Family University put a strong emphasis on enabling nurses to respond to ever-changing healthcare needs.
That is because central to the importance of the nursing profession is the role they play in innovation and advancement in global healthcare.
This is partly because nurses must be competent in one of the key features of modern medical practices; technology. Nursing professionals use digital records and knowledge databases frequently. The information they input goes towards the colossal amounts of data being gathered, sorted and analyzed to better understand disease, trauma response and treatment outcomes for example.
Nurses in the front line of modern healthcare are often in the ideal position to provide anecdotal evidence, and professional perspectives too, that can be used as a hotbed of new research and developments.
Leadership skills are now a much-valued asset, and these create nursing professionals at the forefront of continuous improvement in the healthcare sector. This extends from developing new and better ways to communicate and collaborate with patients and colleagues, to ideas for how scientists and technicians can improve health-based products, equipment and services.
There are countries and regions where nurses are crucial to healthcare provision due to acute shortages of doctors. They are gathering an understanding of the communities they serve, and shaping the services people need.
One report entitled “Our future is global: nursing leadership and global health” explains that modern nurses are “more motivated and effective as leaders, practitioners, managers, teachers, researchers, policymakers and activists.”
Clearly, nursing organizations are operating worldwide and have never been more important, making this the ideal time to consider nursing as a first or second career.