The Changing Role of Today’s Nurses

Yuri Arcurs – Fotolia.com

In the Huffington Post, Charles Tiffin writes about the many ways that nursing “has become more complex in ways that couldn’t have been imagined a generation ago.”

To begin with, the nurses are tasked with an ever-wider range of health care responsibilities. And they’re not just caring for the sick — they’re giving TED talks, publishing scientific research, addressing health care policy, and more.

New health care technology has a place in the changing role of nurses as well. Many things are moving to electronic versions — X-rays, blood work, ordering medications. Many new technological devices, such as the use of mobile devices and electronic medical records “invite nurses to be digitally ambitious,” as Tiffin puts it.

Technology is giving a boost to basic medical instruments too. Tiffin points to new bandages for heart patients that have built-in sensors that measure vital signs. Nurses will increasingly be responsible for tracking and synthesizing multiple sources of comprehensive patient information. The emerging field of nursing informatics involves connecting nurses with technology developers to make these systems efficient and user-friendly.

Nurses will also confront the growing costs of health care in America. For example, a major challenge is how to curb the large expenditures for chronic disease patients in hospitals. One proven way is to treat patients before they need a hospital visit. New at-home monitoring programs, where nurses see patients on live webcasts, will soon play a larger role in patient care. Because these emerging tools are at the forefront of more cost-efficient care delivery, nurses who can adapt and implement technology will become sought-after leaders.

Patient behaviors are also evolving in a digitalized world. Patients are using online resources to research and treat their symptoms. Health and wellness are consistently among the most searched-for topics on Google. Nurses will need to double as health technology librarians, directing patients to trustworthy websites and useful applications.

New technology won’t preclude traditional care, but it will open up more creative options to teach patients about their health. Nurses will no longer be limited to one-size-fits-all safety pamphlets. Patient education can become more personalized, with hundreds of new medical apps, from glucose monitors to basal body temperature trackers.

Nurses will still need to be culturally wise too. Hospitals are increasingly diverse, cultural melting-pots where nurses work on the front lines of race, religion, and gender. Doctor time is limited, but nurses deliver hour-to-hour care and interact with the families of patients. It requires the ability to listen and understand people from all walks of life.

Nursing has become more complex in ways that couldn’t have been imagined a generation ago. Now there’s an imperative to be not just a great caregiver but a great innovator too. The demands of health care are calling for a new generation of thinkers who want to be agents of care innovation. It’s a profession for the intellectually curious, lifelong learner.

However, as nursing continues to evolve with new hospital structures, fancier gadgets, and political challenges, the heart of the profession stays the same. Whatever the tools and technologies, the job of the nurse will remain caregiver and advocate for the most sick and vulnerable members of our communities.

Great nurses take what they’ve learned in their formal education — the key concepts, the research, the policy and societal considerations — and apply it to make surprising, difficult, life-or-death decisions every day. And that’s why nursing education has such a crucial role to play. Getting an advanced nursing degree means preparing yourself for a changing world of possibility. With the right skills and knowledge, the next generation of nurses can make a bigger difference for patients, communities, and our national health care environment.

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