Roles and Functions of the Nurse

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  • 0:07 Roles and Functions of…
  • 0:46 Caregiver/Decision Maker
  • 2:18 Communicator/Manager of Care
  • 3:33 Patient Advocate/Teacher
  • 4:46 Example of Roles
  • 6:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Leslie Jennings

Leslie has taught college level nursing courses, both in the classroom and online and has a master's degree in nursing with specialization in education.

What exactly does a nurse do? This lesson explores some of the different roles a nurse plays in patient care, including caregiver, decision maker, communicator, manager of care, patient advocate, and teacher.

Roles and Functions of the Nurse

What exactly does a nurse do? Your answer probably depends on the experiences that you have had in the past. Most people think a nurse is someone who gives a shot at the doctor's office - or simply is a doctor's assistant. Furthermore, images of nurses in the media also paint a different picture of who a nurse really is.

However, a nurse has a number of roles that he or she performs, often at the same time, depending on a patient's needs. With all of the changes in healthcare over the last few decades, that role has expanded even more. Let's explore a few of these roles.


As a caregiver, a nurse provides hands-on care to patients in a variety of settings. This includes physical needs, which can range from total care (doing everything for someone) to helping a patient with illness prevention. The nurse maintains a patient's dignity while providing knowledgeable, skilled care.

In addition, nurses care holistically for a patient. Holistic care emphasizes that the whole person is greater than the sum of their parts. This means that nurses also address psychosocial, developmental, cultural, and spiritual needs. The role of caregiver includes all of the tasks and skills that we associate with nursing care, but also includes the other elements that make up the whole person.

Decision Maker

Another role of the nurse, as a decision maker, is to use critical thinking skills to make decisions, set goals, and promote outcomes for a patient. These critical thinking skills include assessing the patient, identifying the problem, planning and implementing interventions, and evaluating the outcomes. A nurse uses clinical judgment - his or her ability to discern what is best for the patient - to determine the best course of action for the patient.


As a communicator, the nurse understands that effective communication techniques can help improve the healthcare environment. Barriers to effective communication can inhibit the healing process. The nurse has to communicate effectively with the patient and family members as well as other members of the healthcare team. In addition, the nurse is responsible for written communication, or patient charting, which is a key component to continuity of care.

Manager of Care

The nurse works with other healthcare workers as the manager of care and ensures that the patient's care is cohesive. The nurse directs and coordinates care by both professionals and nonprofessionals to confirm that a patient's goals are being met.

The nurse is also responsible for continuity from the moment a patient enters the hospital setting to the time they are discharged home and beyond. This may even include overseeing home care instructions. For nurses in the hospital setting, the nurse is responsible for prioritizing and managing the care of multiple patients at the same time, which adds another dimension to this process.

Patient Advocate

Being a patient advocate may be the most important of all nursing roles. As a patient advocate, the nurse's responsibility is to protect a patient's rights. When a person is sick, they are unable to act as they might when they are well. The nurse acts on the patient's behalf and supports their decisions, standing up for his or her best interests at all times. This can empower a patient while recognizing that a patient's values supersede the health care providers'.

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