Nurses' pivotal role

Who will care for you and yours? When you or your family needs urgent medical care, whose face will you see most often?

If you or a loved one is hospitalized by sickness, disease or injury, who is always there? Who is the one constant? Who is the face of 24/7 care?

Nurses are the glue of health care — whether treatment comes in an emergency room, doctor's office, med center, community clinic, homeless shelter or, especially, school clinic and nursing home.

Precisely because they're always there, nurses are sometimes taken for granted. Sometimes undervalued. Next time you or you loved ones need medical help, please consider the many levels of care that nurses provide.

The crucial roles of nursing in modern health care

1.   Act as patient advocates.

As the largest of the health professions — with the most patient contact — nurses are a powerful voice for their patients as well as for broader health care reform.

2.   Form the hub of health care.

Beyond managing the patient's prescribed care, nurses are the hub connecting the whole medical team. They must communicate expertly with doctors, pharmacists, therapists and other health professionals.

3.   Blend vast knowledge with nimble skills.

Modern nurses must call on vast nursing knowledge backed by nimble skills in health informatics, medical technologies and hands-on procedures.

4.   Make critical care decisions.

Today's nurse is routinely expected to exercise swift clinical judgment — to make key care decisions based on evidence and keen observation.

5.   Shift focus to wellness & prevention.

Nursing is predicated on health promotion, disease prevention and illness management — an affordable, proactive model often lost in an expensive, reactive health care system that often defaults to emergency treatment and intensive care.

6.   Widen access to basic health care.

Nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists and nurse-managed health centers are increasingly the first line of care, especially in small towns and underserved metro areas.

7.   Stand as sentinels of patient safety.

Nurses must be forever vigilant, must anticipate patient risks, must act quickly in preemptive treatment, must intervene early to prevent medical errors.