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This article focuses on the training and regulation of nurses. See the article Nursing for more information on the practice of nursing.
A nurse is a health care professional who is engaged in the practice of nursing. Nurses are men and women who are responsible (along with other health care professionals) for the treatment, safety and recovery of acutely or chronically ill or injured people, health maintenance of the healthy, and treatment of life-threatening emergencies in a wide range of health care settings. Nurses may also be involved in medical and nursing research and perform a wide range of non-clinical functions necessary to the delivery of health care.
Nurses develop a plan of care, sometimes working collaboratively with physicians, therapists, the patient, the patient's family and other team members. In the US (and increasingly the United Kingdom), advanced practice nurses, such as clinical nurse specialists and nurse practitioners, diagnose health problems and prescribe medications and other therapies. Nurses may help coordinate the patient care performed by other members of a health care team such as therapists, medical practitioners, dietitians, etc. Nurses provide care both interdependently, for example, with physicians, and independently as nursing professionals.
According to the US Department of Labor's revised Occupational Outlook Handbook (2000), "Registered nurses (R.N.s) work to promote health, prevent disease, and help patients cope with illness. They are advocates and health educators for patients, families, and communities. When providing direct patient care, they observe, assess, and record symptoms, responses, and progress; assist physicians during treatments and examinations; administer medications; and assist in convalescence and rehabilitation. R.N.s also develop and manage nursing care plans; instruct patients and their families in proper care; and help individuals and groups take steps to improve or maintain their health."
The nursing career structure varies considerably throughout the world. Typically there are several distinct levels of nursing practitioner, distinguished by increasing education, responsibility and skills. The major distinction is between task-based nursing and professional nursing.
In various parts of the world, the educational background for nurses varies widely. In some parts of eastern Europe, nurses are high school graduates with twelve to eighteen months of training. In contrast, Chile requires any Registered Nurse to have at least a bachelor's degree.
At the top of the educational ladder is the doctoral-prepared nurse. Nurses may gain the PhD or another doctoral degree such as Doctor of Nursing Science (DNSc) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), specializing in research, clinical nursing, etc. These nurses practice nursing, teach nursing and carry out nursing research. As the science of nursing has advanced, so has the demand for doctoral-prepared nurses.
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