Nursing Interventions: Defining, Identifying, and Documenting

Aimee Bentley-Henson, Terri Higdon
  • Author
    Aimee Bentley-Henson

    Aimee taught college anthropology, K-12 home school, and secondary world and cultural geography. Aimee has a Master's degree in anthropology and a Master's degree in Nursing

  • Instructor
    Terri Higdon
What are nursing interventions? Learn about nursing interventions with examples, nursing interventions classifications, & learn how to write nursing interventions. Updated: 07/06/2021

Table of Contents


What are Nursing Interventions?

Nursing interventions are one step in the overall nursing process that includes assessment, diagnosis, desired outcomes, interventions, rationale, and evaluation. The nursing interventions are the action steps of the nursing process, the time when the nurse intervenes or provides varying types of care for the patient.

Nursing interventions include anything that nurses directly do to patients and the things done on behalf of patients, improving patient outcomes. For example, notifying a physician that a patient's pain is uncontrolled on their current pain medication and requesting new orders is as much intervention as giving a pain pill. Both actions will hopefully lead to an improvement for the patient.

Types of Nursing Interventions

The nursing intervention classifications (NIC) system outlines the nursing interventions and expected outcomes available to nurses. Created and maintained by the University of Iowa's nursing school, NIC offers standardized language and practices for nurses. It has been adopted as the gold standard across the United States and in many parts of the world.

NIC works in tandem with the nursing outcome classification (NOC) system and the nursing diagnosis association's (NANDA) list of diagnoses. The NIC and NOC systems were developed together, and NOC offers desirable outcome measures from interventions. NANDA develops nursing diagnoses. NIC publishes regular updates of their system, and for every NANDA diagnosis, there are specific interventions from which nurses choose.

In the current edition of the NIC system (7th edition), there are 565 different nursing interventions. These 565 interventions are divided into seven domains and further subdivided into 30 classes.

While NIC is by far the most used intervention classification system, there are others. For example, HCA, a large health care provider, has its own set of interventions from which its nurses work.

Physiologic (Basic)

Basic physiologic interventions involve the essential pieces of life. For example, bathing or feeding a patient would be basic physiologic interventions.

Physiologic (Complex)

Complex physiologic interventions involve both a higher level of skill and are generally out of the ordinary for most people. For example, starting an IV and running fluids for a dehydrated patient would be complex physiologic interventions.

Nurse providing complex physiological interventions to an infant in an ICU setting

What are nursing care plan diagnoses interventions and outcomes complex intervention


Behavioral interventions assist a patient in altering maladaptive behaviors. For example, a nurse setting boundaries or offering coping strategies to a suicidal patient in an inpatient psychiatric unit provides behavioral interventions.


The goal of safety interventions is the prevention of injury. They may include teaching a patient to use an assistive device such as a cane or lowering a bed to the lowest position to prevent damage from a possible fall.


Family interventions are aimed at the family as well as the patient. Most commonly, these interventions fall into a couple of categories: education and support. Ensuring high-quality education of family members regarding procedures and patient needs at home is an essential piece of nursing intervention. Additionally, most health care systems recognize the need for support of the whole family during times of illness. Interventions such as providing supportive listening to a patient's spouse or child or ensuring a meal tray is sent for a family member unable to leave a patient's side are also family interventions.


Community interventions are usually larger-scale interventions aimed at managing public health or well-being. For example, a nurse participating in mass COVID-19 vaccinations would be engaging in community interventions.

Health System

Health system interventions are the interventions that are routinely taken as a matter of course as a piece of a health system's protocols. For example, having a policy of turning and repositioning a dependent patient every two hours to prevent skin breakdown.

Categories of Nursing Interventions

There are three categories of nursing interventions: independent, dependent, and interdependent. Independent nursing interventions are the tasks that a nurse can perform without input from another discipline, particularly without a physician's order. These interventions include many basic comfort care actions such as providing water, repositioning a patient, providing toileting assistance, and bathing.

Dependent nursing interventions are the interventions dependent on another discipline's request or order. Most typically, these will be physician orders or standing physician protocols. These interventions include more advanced care such as medication administration, wound care, formula feeding such as with a peg tube, and advanced toileting management such as urinary catheters or bowel management systems.

Interdependent interventions are interventions performed in conjunction with one or more other disciplines. Outside of emergency resuscitation efforts, which are driven initially by national protocols, interdependent interventions will almost always be based on physician or advanced practitioner orders. For example, a recent surgery patient has a physical therapy session but needs pain medication before the therapy. Nursing works with the physical therapy department to ensure the patient receives the drug at the right time in relation to the physical therapy.

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Nurse providing interdependent interventions while working with a physician and x-ray technician

Nursing interventions definition showing interdependent intervention

Nursing Interventions Vs. Nursing Assessments

The nursing interventions and assessments are very different pieces of the nursing process. Nursing assessments are the initial piece of the process. The nursing assessment takes the various elements of information provided by the patient's vital signs, lab work, physical examination, and verbal and nonverbal statements, puts them together, and develops a list of nursing diagnoses based on what is identified.

Remember, nursing does not diagnose specific diseases or illnesses, such as the flu or cancer. However, nurses take the assessments they develop and diagnose patient needs based on their symptoms such as pain, risk of infection, or risk for falling.

With the assessment and diagnoses in mind, the nurse develops the action steps to help manage those concerns and includes the action steps ordered by prescribing professionals to address the specific disease or illness.

For example, the assessment shows that a patient's heart rate is elevated, they have facial grimacing, and they state that they are experiencing headache pain on a scale of 8 out of 10. The nursing diagnosis is pain related to a headache. Independent intervention might include turning out the lights, turning down the tv, and encouraging the family to speak softly. Dependent intervention might consist of giving medication based on a physician order of 600 mg ibuprofen every 6 hours as needed for a pain greater than 4.

Nursing Interventions Examples

Nursing interventions can be wide-ranging and reach far beyond the direct care provided to patients. Here are a few more examples of nursing interventions in operation.

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