Nursing includes a range of specialties and definitions that vary from country to country.
Broadly speaking, a nurse is a person who has formally been educated and trained in the care of the sick or disabled.
Nursing includes several fields of medicine, including the prevention of disease, caring for and monitoring the sick, and advising pregnant women, to name but a few.
This article will cover information about the role of nurses, how to become a nurse, and information about what it is like to be a nurse.
Contents of this article:
Fast facts on nursing
Here are some key points about nursing. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.
- Nursing is an incredibly varied profession
- Each year in America 653,000 nurses, aides, orderlies, and others are injured or fall ill while at work
- Nurses can work anywhere from hospitals to cruise ships and from summer camps to military facilities
What does a nurse do?
According to the International Council of Nurses:
"Nursing encompasses autonomous and collaborative care of individuals of all ages, families, groups and communities, sick or well and in all settings. Nursing includes the promotion of health, prevention of illness, and the care of ill, disabled and dying people.
Advocacy, promotion of a safe environment, research, participation in shaping health policy and in patient and health systems management, and education are also key nursing roles."
Nursing is often referred to as the most trusted profession.
Some agencies highlight the duty of nurses to assist individuals in performing activities that contribute to health, recovery, or peaceful death that the patients would perform if they had the strength, will, or knowledge required.
Nurses strive to achieve the best possible quality of life for their patients, regardless of disease or disability.
Using clinical judgment, nurses protect, promote and optimize health, prevent illness and injury, alleviate suffering, and advocate in healthcare for individuals, families, communities, and populations.
Nursing is a demanding role; each year, in the United States, 653,000 nurses, aides, orderlies, and others are injured or fall ill in the workplace - a report published in Public Citizen (July 2013 issue) wrote that healthcare is the most dangerous industry for workplace injuries and illnesses.
A nurse is a healthcare professional who is focused on caring for individuals, families, and communities, ensuring that they attain, maintain, or recover optimal health and functioning.
Nurses are capable of assessing, planning, implementing, and evaluating care independently of physicians; they provide support from basic triage to emergency surgery.
Nurses may practice:
- Cruise ships
- Hospice facilities
- Industry (occupational health settings)
- Long-term care facilities
- Military facilities
- Pharmaceutical companies (for example, as researchers)
- Physician offices
- Private homes
- Retirement homes
Some nurses may also advise and work as consultants in the the healthcare, legal, or insurance sectors. Nurses can work full- or part-time, and many work on a per diem basis or as traveling nurses.
Different types of nurse
The formal classification for nurses differs from country to country.
Nurses in the United States
Nurses can be broadly classified as:
Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) - usually have 18 months to 2 years of training and must pass state or national boards to renew their license. These nurses perform both simple and complex medical procedures, but they must operate under the supervision of an RN or physician.
LPNs can administer most medications, take measurements, keep records, perform emergency life-saving techniques like CPR, and administer basic care.
In 1860, Florence Nightingale defined nursing as "the act of utilizing the environment of the patient to assist him in his recovery."
Registered nurses (RNs) - have a diploma, associate's, bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree in nursing, many hours of clinical experience, and they must pass state board examinations before earning the title of registered nurse.
These nurses often supervise LPNs, orderlies, and nursing assistants.
RNs provide direct care and make decisions on the care required for healthy, ill, or injured people.
They provide scientific, psychological, and technological knowledge in the care of patients and families in several health care settings.
Advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) - are RNs with advanced education, knowledge, skills, and scope of practice. These professionals usually possess an advanced graduate degree in nursing and have additional qualifications.
As certified nurse midwives (CNM), nurse practitioners (NP), clinical nurse specialists (CNS), or certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNA), APRNs perform primary health care, provide mental health services, diagnose and prescribe, carry out research, and teach the public and other medical professionals.
Nurses in the UK
Nurses are classified as:
- First level nurse
- Second level nurse
- Specialist nurse
Most nurses are first level nurses, and the second level nurse category is being phased out. Nurses with more experience and extra education or training may be considered specialist nurses.
Specialties include nurse practitioners who work in a role similar to doctors in primary care and emergency departments, specialist community public health nurses such as school and occupational health nurses, clinical nurse specialists who provide clinical leadership and education, nurse consultants who provide clinical education and training and conduct research, lecturer-practitioners who work for the NHS and universities, and lecturers who work full time at universities. Other nurses choose to become managers, working in NHS administration.
How do you become a nurse?
To become a nurse, you must earn one of the various nursing credentials.
Common paths to the RN designation in the U.S. include:
- Associate of Science in Nursing - 2-3 years of college level study with a strong emphasis on clinical knowledge and skills
- Diploma in Nursing - 3 years of study at a hospital-based school of nursing
- Bachelor of Science in Nursing - 4 or 5 years that lead to the BSN/BN degree with emphasis on leadership, research, and clinical practice
At the top of the educational ladder is the doctoral-prepared nurse. Nurses may earn a Ph.D. or another doctoral degree, specializing in research, clinical nursing, and so forth. These nurses practice nursing, teach nursing, and carry out nursing research.
In other parts of the world, nursing education varies.
In the United Kingdom, aspiring nurses attend a university to obtain a High National Diploma or a Bachelor's degree in order to become a nurse.
The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) determines the course requirements and qualifications. A typical student nurse completes three 42-week academic years, splitting time between theoretical and practical training.
During training, students are placed in rotations where they gain experience caring for older adults, medical and surgical patients, communities, and patients in critical care. Nurses in the U.K. register in at least one of four branches: adult, child, mental health, or learning disability.
What is it like to be a nurse?
If you're interested in becoming a nurse, this video by Indiana University East explains the benefits of a career in healthcare.