Nursing is the protection, promotion, and optimization of health and abilities, prevention of illness and injury, alleviation of suffering through the diagnosis and treatment of human response, and advocacy in the care of individuals, families, communities, and populations (ANA, 2009).
The Nursing Process
The common thread uniting different types of nurses who work in varied areas is the nursing process—the essential core of practice is to deliver holistic, patient-focused care.
Nurses use a systematic, dynamic way to collect and analyze data about a patient, the first step in delivering nursing care. Assessment includes not only physiological data, but also psychological, sociocultural, spiritual, economic, and life-style factors as well.
The nursing diagnosis is the nurse’s clinical judgment about the patient’s response to actual or potential health conditions or needs. The diagnosis reflects not only that the patient is in pain, but that the pain has caused other problems such as anxiety, poor nutrition, and conflict within the family, or has the potential to cause complications—for example; respiratory infection is a potential hazard to an immobilized patient. The diagnosis is the basis for the nurse’s care plan.
Outcomes / Planning
Based on the assessment and diagnosis, the nurse sets measurable and achievable short- and long-range goals for this patient that might include moving from bed to chair at least three times per day; maintaining adequate nutrition by eating smaller, more frequent meals; resolving conflict through counseling, or managing pain through adequate medication. Assessment data, diagnosis, and goals are written in the patient’s care plan so that nurses as well as other health professionals caring for the patient have access to it.
Nursing care is implemented according to the care plan, so continuity of care for the patient during hospitalization and in preparation for discharge needs to be assured. Care is documented in the patient’s record.
Both the patient’s status and the effectiveness of the nursing care must be continuously evaluated, and the care plan modified as needed.
What Nurses Do
- Perform physical exams and health histories
- Provide health promotion, counseling and education
- Administer medications, wound care, and numerous other personalized interventions
- Interpret patient information and make critical decisions about needed actions
- Coordinate care, in collaboration with a wide array of healthcare professionals
- Direct and supervise care delivered by other healthcare personnel like LPNs and nurse aides
- Conduct research in support of improved practice and patient outcomes
Licensed Practical Nurses
Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) complement the healthcare team by providing basic and routine care consistent with their education under the direction of an RN or MD/DO in a variety of settings.
Where Do Nurses Practice
Nurses practice in all types of healthcare settings: hospitals, nursing homes, medical offices, ambulatory care centers, community health centers, schools, and retail clinics. They also provide health care in more surprising locations such as camps, homeless shelters, prisons, sporting events, and tourist destinations.
How to Become a Nurse
Every state and the District of Columbia have a board of nursing with a mission of protecting the public from harm. Governance of the practice of nursing includes:
- Establishing requirements for initial licensure and retaining: basic education, continuing education and/or competency
- Interpreting scope of practice parameters, defined by state statute (nurse practice act)
- Investigating complaints of licensees and disciplinary actions
There is more than one educational pathway leading to eligibility to take the standardized National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).
Practical Nursing (PN) is a one-year certificate of proficiency offered by vocational schools and community colleges.
Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) is a two-year degree offered by community colleges and hospital-based schools of nursing that prepares individuals for a defined technical scope of practice.
So if helping people appeals to you, a career in nursing can provide rewarding opportunities in numerous health care settings, as well as excellent salaries and fringe benefits. See Department of Nursing Education home page for specific program links.