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What is Nursing

21st Century nursing is the glue that holds a patient’s health care journey together. Across the entire patient experience, and wherever there is someone in need of care, nurses work tirelessly to identify and protect the needs of the individual.  

Beyond the time-honored reputation for compassion and dedication lies a highly specialised profession, which is contantly evolving to address the needs of society. From ensuring the most accurate diagnoses, to the ongoing education of the public about critical health issues; nurses are indispensible in safeguarding public health.

Nursing can be described as both an art and a science; a heart and a mind. At its heart, lies a fundamental respect for human dignity and an intuition for a patient’s needs. This is supported by the mind, in the form of rigorous core learning. Due to the vast range of specialisms and complex skills in the nursing profession, each nurse will have specific strengths, passions and expertise.

However, nursing has a unifying ethos:  In assessing a patient, nurses do not just consider test results. Through the critical thinking exemplified in the nursing process (see below), nurses use their judgment to integrate objective data with subjective experience of a patient’s biological, physical and behavioral needs. This ensures that every patient, from city hospital to community health center; state prison to summer camp, receives the best possible care regardless of who they are, or where they may be.

What exactly do nurses do?

In a field as varied as nursing, there is no typical answer. Responsibilities can range from making acute treatment decisions to providing inoculations in schools. The key unifying characteristic in every role is the skill and drive that it takes to be a nurse. Through long-term monitoring of patients’ behavior and knowledge-based expertise, nurses are best placed to take an all-encompassing view of a patient’s wellbeing.

What types of nurses are there?

All nurses complete a rigorous program of extensive education and study, and work directly with patients, families and communities using the core values of the nursing process. In the United States today, nursing roles can be divided into three categories by the specific responsibilities they undertake.

Registered Nurses

Registered nurses (RN) form the backbone of health care provision in the United States. RNs provide critical health care to the public wherever it is needed.

Key Responsibilities

  • Perform physical exams and health histories before making critical decisions
  • Provide health promotion, counseling and education
  • Administer medications and other personalized interventions
  • Coordinate care, in collaboration with a wide array of health care professionals

Advanced Practice Registered Nurses

Advance Practice Registered Nurses (APRN) hold at least a Master’s degree, in addition to the initial nursing education and licensing required for all RNs. The responsibilites of an APRN include, but are not limited to, providing invaluable primary and preventative health care to the public. APRNs treat and diagnose illnesses, advise the public on health issues, manage chronic disease and engage in continuous education to remain at the very forefront of any technological, methodological or other developments in the field.

APRNs Practice Specialist Roles

  • Nurse Practitioners prescribe medication, diagnose and treat minor illnesses and injuries
  • Certified Nurse-Midwives provide gynecological and low-risk obstetrical care
  • Clinical Nurse Specialists handle a wide range of physical and mental health problems
  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists administer more than 65 percent of all anesthetics

Licensed Practical Nurses

Licensed Practical Nurses (LPN), also known as Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVNs), support the core health care team and work under the supervision of an RN, APRN or MD. By providing basic and routine care, they ensure the wellbeing of patients throughout the whole of the health care journey

Key Responsibilities

  • Check vital signs and look for signs that health is deteriorating or improving
  • Perform basic nursing functions such as changing bandages and wound dressings
  • Ensure patients are comfortable, well-fed and hydrated
  • May administer medications in some settings

What is the nursing process?

No matter what their field or specialty, all nurses utilize the same nursing process; a scientific method designed to deliver the very best in patient care, through five simple steps.

  • Assessment – Nurses assess patients on an in-depth physiological, economic, social and lifestyle basis.
  • Diagnosis – Through careful consideration of both physical symptoms and patient behavior, the nurse forms a diagnosis.
  • Outcomes / Planning – The nurse uses their expertise to set realistic goals for the patient’s recovery. These objectives are then closely monitored.
  • Implementation – By accurately implementing the care plan, nurses guarantee consistency of care for the patient whilst meticulously documenting their progress.
  • Evaluation – By closely analyzing the effectiveness of the care plan and studying patient response, the nurse hones the plan to achieve the very best patient outcomes. 

Nurses are Key to the Health of the Nation

  • There are over 4 million registered nurses in the United States today.
  • That means that one in every 100 people is a registered nurse.
  • Nurses are in every community – large and small – providing expert care from birth to the end of life.
  • According to the January 2012 “United States Registered Nurse Workforce Report Card and Shortage Forecast” in the American Journal of Medical Quality, a shortage of registered nurses is projected to spread across the country between 2009 and 2030. In this state-by-state analysis, the authors forecast the RN shortage to be most intense in the South and the West
  • Nurses' roles range from direct patient care and case management to establishing nursing practice standards, developing quality assurance procedures, and directing complex nursing care systems.

Watch and Listen:

Tim Porter-O'Grady Listen to Tim Porter-O'Grady audio

ANF "Nurses as Leaders"

2012 ANA HOD video

The nursing profession was founded to protect, promote and improve health for all ages.

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