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(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)

The responsibilities of nurses are many and varied. In basic terms, they are responsible for the treatment and recovery of sick and injured patients, as well as health maintenance and education, and treating people in life threatening situations. They do this across all their specialties and different work settings. Many decisions made by nurses are made independently of doctors.

Nurses assess and treat patients, carry out procedures under the instruction of doctors, and collaborate with various health professionals. They often coordinate the work of others involved in patient care and liaise with the patient’s family. Another important responsibility is to protect the patient, ensuring a healthy and safe environment free of infection. Educating the patient and their family on health issues gives the patient the best possible chances of a recovery and ongoing good health. They may also give grief counseling to family members of patients who are critically ill.

Their responsibilities might include many tasks sometimes performed by a doctor. While a doctor will usually conduct the surgery, a nurse usually arranges intravenous therapy. They will set up an intravenous drip and provide the fluids and drugs needed. Nurses will give the patient an injection if required. Changing the patient’s dressing and monitoring the progress of the wound lies with nurses. Medication for pain will be given by a nurse. Another responsibility is to monitor the patient for any signs of complications.

The nurse coordinates the overall care of the patient, working closely with other members of the patient’s health care team, including doctors, other nurses, therapists, and so on. Making sure appointments are kept with doctors and technicians, that medications are given, and that housekeepers keep the patient’s room clean and tidy are part of this coordinating role. Lifestyle and diet of the patient, both during and after institutional care, is an important responsibility.

Nurses are responsible for protecting the patient. Someone who is sick is more prone to infection or injury, and nurses make sure the patient’s environment is safe and healthy. This includes making sure the patient and his or her room is clean, water is boiled, needles are sterile and safe, and nurses and other health professionals wash their hands before and after tending to the patient. Nurses are responsible for the patient’s physical safety so they won’t fall out of bed or slip on a wet floor.

Monitoring a patient’s vital signs is a responsibility of nurses. Temperature, blood pressure, and pulse might be taken several times a day. Other tasks may include weighing a patient, monitoring their bowel movements, and measuring their blood pressure in various positions. Nurses also make sure patients can breathe properly, are hydrated, and get sufficient rest. Their comfort is also a priority as is the elimination of wastes from their body, and preventing pressure sores and stiff joints.

Record keeping is an important responsibility of nurses. Accurate records of all aspects of care are taken, and might include medical history, symptoms, what the patient has eaten and had to drink, medication, pulse, temperature, blood pressure, bowel movements, and visits by specialists.

In health facilities in some communities where doctors are few, nurses will diagnose and treat basic illnesses, prescribe medications, and conduct minor surgery. They might conduct immunization clinics, health screening, blood drives, and seminars on health issues. Health promotion is an increasingly important role where nurses educate and assist patients and the public to maintain a healthy lifestyle and diet.

Not all the responsibilities of nursing are conducted within health care institutions and facilities. When patients go home, they often still need professional health care. Nurses will visit them in their homes and provide similar care to that in hospital. Indeed, nurses increasingly look after people in their own homes. They will assess the home environment, and care for and give advice to the patient and their family.

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