Home Health The critical role nurses play in healthcare

The critical role nurses play in healthcare

by Cameron James Connor

Providing healthcare is a team effort with every professional involved playing a vital part. When thinking of a healthcare setting, there are many professionals who come to mind, such as the doctors, radiographers, physiotherapists and midwives, as well as those who may not be directly involved in patient care but who nonetheless ensure the healthcare setting can safely operate, such as admin staff, cleaners and cooks. But integral to the team are nurses. These dedicated professionals are often the ones that patients have the most contact with and who play many different healthcare roles.

Nursing is a growing profession with the likelihood increasing that we will need additional nurses in the upcoming years and decades. This makes it even more essential that society recognize the critical role of the nurse and to show how highly nurses are valued.

Patient care

While nurses play many roles, perhaps the most important and certainly the one we’re most familiar with is in providing direct patient care. Anyone treated in a hospital will know that nurses are the ones who provide the greatest continuity of care. They are the ones monitoring the patient and are likely to be the first to notice if prompt medical action is required, playing a vital role in saving a patient’s life. While it may be a physician who delivers the life-saving treatment, they may not have had the opportunity without the careful vigilance of nurses.

Less dramatically, yet still hugely important for patient care, is that nurses provide the regular attention that helps keep a patient as comfortable as possible and provide a reassuring presence at a difficult time. If a patient needs assistance or support, it is likely that it is a nurse that will be the one who is there. Providing this emotional and psychological boost to patients’ wellbeing can help facilitate their recovery.

Advice, information and education

With their wealth of knowledge and experience, nurses are an excellent source of advice and information. If patients have any questions regarding their condition or treatment plan, nurses will generally be able to provide that information. This can be particularly beneficial if in the course of a busy round, the patient has not had the chance to question their doctor or has not fully understood everything they have said.

Often patients are discharged from hospital with medicines or follow-up care that the patient is expected to administer themselves, or they may have a long-term condition such as asthma or epilepsy that requires ongoing management. Nurses take on the role of educator, making sure patients fully understand everything they need to do to manage or improve their condition. They can also direct patients to further information and support groups for their condition.

While we often think of nursing as a hospital role, many nurses work in the community and may be part of community health initiatives to improve general aspects of health, such as diet and exercise or tackling alcohol dependence. Family nurse practitioners (FNP) often see patients at many different stages of their lives and are responsible for ensuring they get the correct treatment. Nurses usually take a holistic approach to patient health, focusing on the entire patient rather than simply on a collection of symptoms. They are uniquely placed to give advice on ways to improve general health and, in doing so, reduce the incidence of illness or, at the very least, reduce the severity.

A patient advocate

When feeling unwell, in pain, frightened and vulnerable, patients can find it difficult to advocate for themselves. Being in a hospital is often a bewildering experience that makes it hard for patients to speak up. With nurses providing the greatest continuity of care and having extensive medical knowledge, they can often take on the role of the patient advocate. This can mean verifying patient safety, interpreting the medical jargon of the doctors if the patient is confused, speaking up for the patient if family members disagree with a treatment decision and making sure that the social and cultural background of the patient is respected.

Having an advocate can be enormously beneficial for patients as it helps them feel more informed and in control. This boost to their psychological and emotional wellbeing can contribute to their recovery and make the illness or injury less traumatic than it might otherwise have been.

Patient care plans

It is often assumed that doctors alone make the decisions on patient care, but this is not the case. Nurses work closely with their patients and have spent considerable time in observations, so they are also key participants in making care plans. While it may be the doctor who makes the final decisions, the input of the nurse is vital in ensuring that appropriate decisions are made.

End of life care

Death is not something we like to talk about and yet it comes to us all eventually. At a time that is frightening and sad for both patients and their families, nurses are often at the forefront of their care. Doctors making suggestions of different treatment options to alleviate symptoms or prolong life can only add to the bewilderment, making the nurse a trusted individual that patients and families can turn to for comfort and guidance on the best decisions. Among their other roles, they may arrange for a chaplain or other religious figure to provide spiritual support.

While nothing can make end of life care easy, a good nurse can help the patient enjoy the time they have left and can do a great deal to help alleviate the fear. It will always be a bad time for families, but they can take comfort in knowing that the end was as peaceful as possible.

Death, even for the terminally ill, is unpredictable and it is not always possible for loved ones to be present when a patient breathes their last. When this happens, it is often the nurse who provides that last vital service of sitting with the patient, holding their hand as the patient slips away.

In demand

With nurses playing such a critical role in so many aspects of healthcare, it is hardly surprising that good nurses are always in demand. This demand is expected to increase. With an aging population, these skilled, compassionate professionals are going to be needed even more in the future.

In order to ensure the profession continues to attract dedicated people, it is important that nurses are viewed with the respect they deserve and that society finds ways to demonstrate that they are valued.

Good pay

It seems mercenary to put a price on all nurses do, but while most nurses enter the profession to make a difference and care for others, they still need to live. They will have rent or mortgages to pay, families to support and dreams to realize. A generous salary is also a good way to encourage others to enter the profession.

The amount nurses are paid will vary depending on their experience and the position they are working in. There are also regional differences with salaries varying from state to state and even within different regions in the same state.

If you are considering entering the nursing profession or are already a nurse and are wondering if it is worth earning additional qualifications, a good place to find out is from the nursing schools in the state where you are hoping to work upon qualification. Anyone wanting to know the nurse practitioner salary in Texas can find out by visiting the Texas Women’s University website. Institutions such as TWU offer a wide range of opportunities for both those aspiring to become nurses and working nurses looking to advance in their careers. With many online courses now available, it is easier than ever to complete studies while working or caring for family.

Promotion opportunities and advancement

Many people like to have a clear career pathway with goals they can aim for. By providing opportunities for nurses, it demonstrates the high status of the career. Today, nurses can take on leadership roles in the hospitals where they work, specialize in particular medical areas, and operate practices of their own as family nurse practitioners. Long gone are the days when the nurse was seen as just a doctor’s assistant. Today, being a nurse is a valuable career in its own right.

Accompanying these opportunities, there also needs to be easily accessible training so nurses can gain the qualifications they need to demonstrate their expertise. In addition to courses being readily available at universities across the country, they are also easily accessible online and are just as thorough as anything available in person. These online courses are worth consideration by anyone who wants to be able to study for further qualifications without abandoning their existing commitments.

Flexibility and a good work-life balance

A good way to demonstrate to nurses how highly they are valued is to improve their working conditions. Many nurses are also juggling family commitments, and even for those who are not, a good work-life balance is being seen as increasingly important.

Offering flexibility is a good way to provide this. It can help prospective nurses find a way to fit their work into their life rather than the other way around. With greater choice in shift patterns, nurses can work hours that suit them and fewer nurses may leave the workforce because of scheduling issues.

A duty of care

Nursing is an incredibly rewarding profession, but it is also a challenging one. Shifts can be busy with little time for breaks and the patients the nurses are working with can also be difficult. People who are unwell, in pain or anxious are likely not to be at their best and this can add to the challenges that nurses must face. 

Nurses go into the profession to make a difference and to help patients recover, but not all patients do. Between the joyful moments of seeing a patient go home, there are also sad occasions.

All this can make nursing a stressful profession with an increased risk of burn out. A good way for employers to demonstrate how highly they value their nurses is to be aware of this and to find ways of mitigating stress. This can include promoting self-care and offering workplace programs that support it. Providing counseling can also help nurses through some of the tougher days.


Excellence in nursing, just as in any other career, is worth celebrating. Every year, there are a number of nursing award programs designed to do exactly that. In addition to celebrating the individual nurses who are nominated for and receive the awards, they help lift the profile of the entire profession. Through these awards and the publicity surrounding them, we can demonstrate how highly good nursing is valued.

Everyday recognition

While most of the ways we demonstrate how highly nurses are valued take place on a societal level and often remain in the control of professional bodies and employers, everyday recognition is something we can all give to nurses. Most of us will need treatment at some point in our lives and will experience for ourselves the excellent healthcare nurses provide. No matter how difficult the circumstances, we can all make sure we treat nurses with respect and value their professional voice.

Many patients like to demonstrate their gratitude with gifts for the nurses who have cared for them. However, while small tokens such as cookies or chocolates will be gratefully received, large, expensive gifts are problematic, and cash or cash cards are a definite no in most workplaces. 

Generally, nurses would be delighted with a thank you card or note expressing recognition for the high level of professional care they have received. For nurses, the best gift of all is seeing the patient they have cared for well enough to go home and saying ‘thank you’ with a smile is enough to remind them of how grateful you have been for their expert care.

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