School of Nursing

May 7, 2019

What Do Nurses Really Do?

It’s National Nurses Week, and I hope you will join me in acknowledging, celebrating, and respecting all those who’ve made nursing their profession.

In April, the UW School of Nursing teamed up to launch the Nursing Now USA initiative, which is focused on elevating the role that nurses play across the entire spectrum of the nursing work force. This is an important initiative because so many people think of nurses as the person who provides clinical care in a hospital setting. Of course, this is true, but nurses play a great variety of roles in many venues. It is nurses who comfort patients and family members who are distress. It is nurses who translate the sometimes cryptic language of medicine to something understandable for both patients and families. It is nurses who watch for signs that a patient’s status is changing. It is nurses who are the final safety check on medication being administered, and it is nurses who watch for telltale signs of infection, assuring prompt treatment.

If you go to an emergency room, most likely it will be a nurse who first sees you and determines the urgency of your need for attention—is your chest pain possibly a heart attack, or more likely indigestion? If you have a baby in the neonatal intensive care unit, it is a nurse who will be there 24 hours a day, guarding your infant’s life with her knowledge, skill, and compassion.

There are many other, less visible yet vital roles that nurses hold in the healthcare system. Public health nurses, for example, focus on community health. They are educators, demonstrators, and advocates. They place an emphasis on prevention of disease at the community and individual levels. It is public health nurses who are on the forefront of current efforts to contain the measles outbreak.

School nurses are grounded in evidenced-based practice and are leaders who bridge health care and education. This is a specialized practice of nursing that advances the well-being, academic success, and lifelong achievement and health of students. They provide care coordination, advocate for quality student-centered care, and collaborate to design systems that help students develop their full potential.

Nurses are providing an ever-increasing percentage of the primary care in this country, often serving in rural areas and underserved communities that would otherwise have no access to someone who can capably assess and treat the majority of healthcare concerns. At the UW School of Nursing we are educating an ever-expanding corps of Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) students. These nurses are licensed to practice independently and prescribe medication.

Many nurses are researchers. Some work in an academic setting, while others are part of research teams in commercial companies and other settings. These nurses are at the forefront of medical science, discovering knowledge that will become the diagnostic and treatment options of the future.

Some nurses are managers in healthcare organizations large and small, while others are policy makers everywhere from the United Nations to private aid organizations and foundations focused on healthcare. You will find nurses in government, private industry, and the nonprofit sector, always bringing to their work a unique and important perspective on healthcare.

And of course there are thousands of nurses nationally and internationally who are educators. These nurses are focused on educating the next generation of nurses. They bring to the job their nursing knowledge and expertise and combine it with excellence in communications skills. Without them, the nursing pipeline would be empty.

According to the annual Gallup Honesty and Ethics Poll released in January 2019, the nursing profession is the most trusted profession and has been ranked as number one for 17 consecutive years!  So, if you know a nurse, or see a nurse this week, take a moment to say, “thank you.” No matter what their role or where they are employed, they are working to make healthcare better for everyone.