The Role of the Professional Nurse in Healthcare: Times Have Changed

We need nurses - ABSN students with instructor in lab

According to the latest Gallup poll, nursing has been the most trusted profession in the U.S. for 19 years running. You might think you have a solid understanding of what nurses do, but the full scope of their practice might surprise you. Let’s take a closer look at the roles and responsibilities of this highly respected calling.

The Role of Nurses in Healthcare

Although nurses have long been respected by the general population, it has taken them decades to garner respect within the medical community. Not so long ago, nurses were thought of as doctors’ personal assistants — delivering meals, giving baths and changing soiled linens. After years of nurses lobbying, organizing and pursuing higher education, the role of the nurse has changed dramatically.

Today, nurses have higher levels of responsibility and independence. They have become an integral part of the healthcare team — made up of doctors, social workers, therapists and others — that collaborates to provide well-rounded, comprehensive patient care. Since patients spend more time with their nurses than with doctors or other healthcare professionals, nurses have become linchpins in the essential communication between patients and providers.

Some of the better-known responsibilities of a nurse in today’s healthcare climate include:

  • Eliciting patient health histories and conducting physical assessments to inform care decisions.
  • Promoting health and wellness through counseling and education.
  • Administering medications, vaccines, treatments and other interventions.
nursing student in practice ER

Universal Practice

No matter what type of nursing they practice, all nurses adhere to the same scientific method to ensure consistent provision of the best patient care. They use these five steps:

  1. Assessment – Evaluating patients’ physiological, economic, social and lifestyle factors.
  2. Diagnosis – Reaching a conclusion after carefully assessing patients’ physical symptoms and behavior.
  3. Outcomes/Planning – Determining attainable goals for the patient’s recovery, then monitoring progress toward those goals.
  4. Implementation – Ensuring consistency of patient care by carefully and accurately carrying out the care plan and documenting patients’ progress.
  5. Evaluation – Analyzing the efficacy of the care plan and studying patients’ responses, then honing the plan to attain the best possible outcomes.

The role of the professional nurse in healthcare today has evolved to include more expansive outcomes such as improving the patient experience, reducing medical errors, lowering costs and decreasing hospital readmissions. In addition to these responsibilities, the nurse role encompasses a variety of other functions, such as:


Nurses manage patient care, ensuring consistent, coordinated treatment in pursuit of successful patient outcomes.

Holistic Healer

Nurses serve patients’ cultural, spiritual and mental health needs. Patients may have needs specific to their religion, ethnicity or gender, for instance. As the diversity of patient populations grows, nurses must exhibit cultural understanding and sensitivity.


As technology develops and medical treatment becomes more individualized, nurses are tasked with instructing patients in the use of medical apps. Currently, some apps monitor glucose and track blood pressure, for example.


In response to the increasing complexity of patients’ health conditions, nurses now specialize in attending to complications stemming from diabetes, heart problems or dementia, for example.


Throughout the pandemic, nurses have collected and analyzed data, identified disease patterns, proposed interventions and evaluated their effectiveness.

The past year has shown that nurses greatly contribute to our understanding of epidemics. Going forward, their role and responsibilities will only increase.

male student studying on a computer


Nurses play a key role in preventing and controlling diseases by:

  • Identifying sources of infection and how they’re spread.
  • Providing health education.
  • Notifying health authorities of COVID-19 cases.
  • Teaching and supervising other healthcare professionals in the surveillance of patients.

Nursing Beyond the Bedside

In addition to traditional patient care, nurses are pursuing careers in emerging fields such as:

  • Informatics: a specialty combining nursing, computer and information science to manage and communicate large amounts of data, incorporating digital knowledge into the practice of nursing.
  • Genetics: a research-based specialty in which nurses care for patients at risk for or diagnosed with diseases with a genetic component — including cancer, heart disease and diabetes. In addition to patient care, genetics nurses conduct risk assessments, analyze results and counsel patients in managing their conditions.
  • Telehealth: delivering nursing care remotely using technology. This practice makes healthcare more accessible to all and alleviates the constraints on nurses’ time associated with in-person visits.

Upholding Ethical Standards

Nurses’ ethical responsibilities govern their interaction with patients and colleagues. They must adhere to the principles of justice, beneficence, nonmaleficence, accountability, fidelity, autonomy and veracity.

Continuous Improvement

Nurses are also responsible for maintaining professional competence by staying up-to-date on developments in their field. They’re expected to grow continually, both personally and professionally, to provide patients with the best possible care.

a UIW nursing student smiling at the camera

Becoming a Nurse: Start Where You Are

Now that you’re familiar with the various roles of nurses in healthcare, you might be curious about what it takes to become a registered nurse (RN). It’s possible to enter the field of nursing after earning a two-year associate degree in nursing (ADN). However, due to the growing scope of nurses’ practice, more and more employers only hire nurses who have attained a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree.

In fact, the Institute of Medicine’s 2010 Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health report called for 80% of nurses to be BSN-educated by 2020. While this goal has not yet been met, states such as New York have enacted legislation requiring all RNs to earn a BSN within 10 years of initial licensure.

In response to this requirement and to address the growing need for nurses nationwide, the University of the Incarnate Word (UIW) in San Antonio, Texas, has created an Accelerated BSN track, allowing those who have already completed a non-nursing bachelor’s degree to earn a quality BSN in as few as 16 months.

At UIW, our ABSN track follows a blended learning model — including convenient online coursework, hands-on nursing labs and in-person clinical placements — so you’ll graduate prepared to sit for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN®) and become a practice-ready nurse.

Learn More About Our Accelerated Nursing Track

If you’d like to know more about the requirements and benefits of the ABSN track at UIW, reach out to us today. An admissions counselor will contact you directly.