IdentificationThe group with the largest number of nurses is registered nursing (RN), because it has many subcategories of individuals who work in a wide variety of areas in health care organizations and medical centers. Most RNs closely relate to the patients and their families, acting as a liaison between the patient and the institution and/or outpatient environment. RN responsibilities include assessing patients, such as monitoring and keeping track of vital signs; handling medical procedures, such as giving medicine and replacing intravenous bags; and taking blood. The RN is also the person who usually is the first to notice any changes in symptoms and alert the doctor when needed. RNs oversee the daily care of the patients, so they also fill out specific nursing care plans for the hospital stay and for health care after discharge.
SignificanceNurse practitioners (NPs) are registered nurses who complete advanced education--a minimum of a master's degree--and are trained to diagnose and manage common medical conditions that include chronic illnesses. These NPs actually provide some of the same duties as physicians and, as a result, work very closely with physicians. In fact, some patients only see an NP for their regular health care professional and only see physicians when they need a specialist in an area of care.
The NP sees patients of all ages and with all ailments. Her goal is to provide individualized care and focus in a preventative manner on the conditions of the patient as well as the impact of the illness on the patient and his family. It is hoped that with this close care, there is less need for pharmaceuticals and costly treatments. The medical field also hopes that such individualization will encourage patients to take better care of themselves and place more of an effort on overall wellness. NPs also conduct research and play an important role in patient advocacy. NPs provide a significant amount of the care provided in hospitals and doctors' offices, as they provide most of the direct patient care.
FunctionLicensed practical nurses (LPNs), or licensed vocational nurses (LVNs), work under the direction of doctors or RNs to care for patients in myriad ways. In addition to providing bedside care, they record vital signs, such as how tall a patient is and her weight. They also take temperatures, blood pressure and pulse readings. To support the RNs or doctors, they will prepare and administer shots and enemas, monitor IVs and catheters, change dressings and help the patient with personal hygiene. Sometimes, they may help a disabled patient eat. Often, they provide basic bedside care. To help keep patients comfortable, they assist with bathing and dressing moving in and out of the bed, standing and walking.
LPNs collect and record samples after testing, conduct typical lab tests, and monitor and measure food and fluid digested and and output. If they see adverse effects to drugs or treatments, they immediately notify the RNs or doctors.
TypesIncreasingly, as the population gets older, more people need help in their homes rather than in a hospital or nursing home situation. Personal and home care or home health aides, also called homemakers, companions and personal attendants, provide help to the elderly, disabled, chronically ill or mentally challenged. In the majority of cases, the home care aides help the family or other caregivers with health care needs, such as helping their patients in and out of bed, getting bathed and dressed, and taking care of personal hygiene.
In many cases, these home companions also run errands, take the patients to the doctor's office, clean the house, do the laundry, change the linen and make meals. They often provide respite care to the family members, so the family can have some free time while someone else watches their loved one.
Although the home health aide is in the house to make sure that the patient is safe and physically comfortable, he is also making the patient feel much better psychologically and emotionally. Too often, older or disabled people are left alone and spend most of their time watching television. When they are with a home care provider, they can do different enjoyable activities and spend more time talking and sharing with others.