Nurse Job Description - Requirements, Duties, Skills and Career
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What Does a Nurse Do?
A nurse is a healthcare professional who provides care and support of a clinical, emotional and educational nature in the fields of preventive, curative, palliative and rehabilitative medicine.
Nurses provide patients with a wide range of care and support services during the diagnosis, treatment and recovery process. These include monitoring the patient’s condition, administering the prescribed treatment, updating the patient’s medical records and meeting the patient’s basic needs. Nurses need to show empathy towards and an understanding of a patient’s pain and suffering, but at the same time should come across as confident and competent and instil in patients a sense of trust in their healthcare actions and decisions. Nurses also mediate between patients, families and doctors and as such can act as a point of contact with regard to a course of treatment.
Nurses work with patients of all ages - from newborns to the elderly - and with conditions of all kinds - including wounds and injuries, acute diseases and chronic illnesses, and temporary and permanent disabilities. In all cases, their aim should be to provide competent and professional nursing care and support.
The most common tasks of a nurse include administering medicines, taking a patient’s vital signs (i.e. heart and respiratory rate, level of consciousness, body temperature and blood pressure), giving injections, writing up medical records, preparing intravenous infusions and setting up and checking medical equipment. Nurses also collect patient samples (blood, urine, feces and tissues) for medical tests, apply dressings and bandages, prepare patients for surgical procedures and treatment and assist doctors during check-ups, examinations and operations - for example handing surgeons instruments and other medical material and equipment in an operating theatre (as a scrub nurse).
Nurses need to be familiar with and proficient using a range of medical instruments, including thermometers, syringes and needles, blood pressure monitors and intravenous drips and should also have a knowledge of treatment, moving and handling techniques for patients with limited or impaired mobility and of emergency medicine.
Another key aspect of the job of a nurse is patient education. Nurses need to be able to provide patients with advice on following their treatment plan, as well as on how they can adopt a healthier lifestyle. They also play a fundamental role in helping patients deal with the emotional aspects associated with the various stages of an illness (treatment, healing, convalescence, rehabilitation) and should be able to communicate with the patient and family members using empathy, understanding and compassion.
Nurses may work on an employed or self-employed basis for a wide range of both public and private healthcare and residential care organizations and facilities, including hospitals and clinics, rehabilitation centres, outpatient clinics and day case surgeries, residential units for the elderly and disabled and nursing and retirement homes.
Nurses may also provide healthcare services in patients’ own homes. Nurses may work both on their own or together with other healthcare professionals (such as physiotherapists and medical social workers) but always receive supervision from a medical doctor. Despite the great responsibility they have for their patients’ physical and mental health - a mistake by a nurse in implementing a prescribed treatment can after all have major consequences - the amount of autonomy nurses enjoy in their work is actually very limited.
Nurses are typically required to wear a uniform when working. Nurses’ uniforms should meet the prescribed hygiene and safety criteria, be bacteria free and render nurses immediately recognisable.
Healthcare facilities such as hospitals need to stay open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. To provide the necessary coverage, nurses’ working hours are usually split into shifts, designed to ensure the presence of medical personnel at any time of the day and night.
Nursing is a profession that places huge demands on its practitioners. Having to walk and stand for long periods at at time and move and lift sometimes heavy loads requires great physical effort, while taking decisions that may put a person’s health or life in danger can be extremely mentally taxing.
Nurses also have to cope with the emotional strain that comes from having to deal with situations of great distress and suffering - providing support and assistance to the patient and/or their family members, while at the same time seeking to maintain a professional manner, even in the event of a patient’s death.
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Nurse Duties and Responsibilities
The main duties of a nurse include:
- Providing care to wounded, sick, convalescent and disabled patients during medical checks-ups, examinations and treatments
- Administering treatment prescribed by doctors and surgeons
- Monitoring patients’ health and response to treatment
- Assessing patients’ physical, psychological and social needs
- Planning and managing nursing care based on needs
- Collecting patient samples for tests
- Educating patients on the importance of following their treatment
- Mediating between doctors, patients and family members
- Providing psychological support and information to patients and family members
- Organizing the work of support staff
How to Become a Nurse - Education, Training, Requirements
Aspiring nurses require a degree in nursing to enter the field. Nursing degree courses provide graduates with both theoretical knowledge (e.g. of anatomy, physiology, psychology, hygiene, patient-nurse communication, the application of nursing techniques and practices in a range of medical and surgical field) and practical hands-on experience, through a clinical placement in a hospital or other health setting.
Nurses also need basic IT skills and a knowledge of the ethical principles for professional nursing practice, as set out in the relevant professional code of conduct. It is also essential that nurses keep their skills and knowledge updated, by staying on top of the latest developments in the field.
Finally, in some countries, nurses may be required by law to gain a professional license in order to practice.
Nurse Skills and Qualifications
In addition to medical knowledge, working as a nurse requires a wide range of other skills and personal qualities, including:
- Nursing care skills
- Ability to develop and implement a nursing care plan
- Knowledge of emergency healthcare techniques
- Health and social care counselling skills
- Empathy and strong interpersonal skills
- Flexibility and adaptability
- Ability to cope with stress and fatigue
- Ability to work without supervision
- Reliability, accuracy and patience
Career Path and What to Expect
Whatever their personal preference and professional skills, when deciding what direction they want their career in healthcare to take, nurses have a vast range of specialist areas to choose from, including orthopedics, oncology, pediatrics, geriatrics, obstetrics and psychiatry.
Alternatively, a nurse may decide to acquire the specialist skills and expertise required to fulfil a specific role, for example, working as an assistant to an anaesthetist (as an anaesthetic nurse), assisting a surgeon in an operating theatre (as a scrub nurse), or providing nursing care in a patient’s home (as a home care nurse).
A further career option for nurses who acquire the necessary skills is to take on a coordinating role as a nursing manager.
Top Reasons to Work as a Nurse
Working as a nurse is ideal for energetic, dynamic individuals who want to turn a passion for looking after others into a career and who realize that the chance to make a difference in someone’s life is worth the professional difficulties and challenges a nurse may face.
The patient-nurse relationship lies right at the heart of modern nursing practice, with the ability to build effective and fruitful relationships, that strike the right balance between professionalism and compassion, representing an important facilitating factor in patient treatment and rehabilitation.