What is Nursing? The Beginner's Guide to the "Most Ethical" Profession

What is Nursing

Nursing—the dictionary simply refers to it as the practice of providing care for the sick. Florence Nightingale deemed it her calling in life. Nightingale’s pioneering efforts in the early 19th century led nursing to grow into its own profession.

Nightingale practiced nursing in a way that helped cement the field’s vital place in the healthcare environment. This led others to create a nursing code of ethics, based upon her foundation. Because of Nightingale, nursing has established itself as a vital component of the healthcare field that employs thousands of people across the globe.

Join us as we take a closer look at the profession and the principles it was built upon. You may discover that, like Florence Nightingale, nursing is your calling also.

Why is there a nursing code of ethics?

Nightingale believed one must have some understanding and rooting in morals and virtue to become a successful nurse. Without an ethical center, there could be no standard for proper or improper care. Nursing can be full of ethical controversies, which is why the code is often studied at length and is an ongoing discussion of interpretation.  

This code of ethics could be part of the reason nursing has been rated “the most honest, ethical profession” for fourteen straight years in the U.S. This pristine reputation is part of what draws many, including Amy Yarbrough, to the profession. Yarbrough is an orthopedic nurse at United Hospital.

“All patients deserve comfort and to restore their health in a non-judgmental and unbiased environment,” she says. She adds that the goal of a nurse is to treat a patient’s health holistically, not just physically.

Why are nurses so important?

Nurses care for their patients and advocate for their health. They communicate with doctors, pharmacies and family members on behalf of their patients, as noted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

There are many different kinds of nurses with variances in their roles. Generally speaking, most nurses will monitor their patients, provide patient care, provide emotional support for patients and their families and educate them about their health and care plans. Yarbrough says nurses play a key role in ensuring patients receive quality care.

“[Nurses] focus on the safety and well-being of the patients in their care,” Yarbrough explains. “They stand as a cross check between the doctor’s orders and the patient’s health. Nurses serve as the doctors double set of eyes.”

What types of duties do nurses handle?

So how do the overall objectives of nursing translate in daily duties? According to the BLS, duties of a registered nurse include:

  • Recording patients’ medical histories and symptoms
  • Administering medicines and treatments
  • Establishing or contributing to plans of care
  • Observing patients and recording the observations
  • Collaborating with doctors and other healthcare professionals
  • Monitoring medical equipment
  • Helping with diagnostic tests and analysis
  • Teaching patients and their families how to manage illnesses

Depending on their specific titles and credentials, nurses may be responsible for fulfilling very different duties. For example, some nurses are not qualified to administer medication and some nurses will be responsible for managing others on the floor. Even under the large umbrella of registered nurses (RNs), there are plenty of variations and specialties that can change a nurse’s daily tasks.

Where do nurses work?

Nurses work everywhere that people live. They work in big cities, small towns, nationally and internationally. Nurses can be travel nurses, contracted, temporary or full-time nurses. They can work in hospitals, nursing homes, school clinics and group homes.

Most people picture a nurse clocking in at a clinic or hospital, which is definitely an accurate portrayal. But there are also many other work environments that might surprise you. Some lesser-known nursing settings include: schools, correctional facilities, war zones or even in patients’ homes.

There are also plenty of employers for nurses outside the realm of direct patient care. Nurses might work in health insurance to help process and verify claims or in healthcare administration to improve the efficiency and safety of a hospital. There are even a few options for nurses who want to work from home.

What different kinds of nurses are there?

RNs, LPNs, DNPs—the many nursing acronyms can be pretty baffling to anyone unfamiliar with the field. All those letters flying around can be intimidating. But once you dig into the research, you’ll realize that the abundance of acronyms and nursing titles also equates to an abundance of options for anyone who wants a career in nursing.

There are many different levels of nursing education out there depending on what you are looking for. For example, nurses can earn a Practical Nursing Diploma and become a licensed practical nurse (LPN) in as few as twelve months.* Others may prefer to become an RN after earning either an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Generally speaking, the more education a nurse undergoes, the more options they have for specializations and advancement.

The LPN, ADN and BSN credentials are just some of the most common types of nurses. Nurses can also earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) to become a nurse educator or take on a management position. For the extremely ambitious, a Doctorate in Nursing (DNP) is even available.

This decision doesn’t have to be decided up front, either. Many schools design their nursing curriculum to allow for nurses to advance their education as seamlessly as possible.

But education level is only part of the equation. There’s a host of specializations for nurses to pursue as you advance in your career. Many nurses earn a base of experience as generalists, and then go on to pursue specializations like neonatal nursing or geriatric nursing as they discover where their passion lies.

Why become a nurse?

So what is nursing, exactly? It’s a dynamic field of trusted healthcare professionals spanning a huge range of education levels, specializations and skills. Not only that, nursing is a rewarding career that continues to grow and evolve as we learn how to best care for patients in the healthcare system.

But don’t take our word for it. There are plenty of different reasons people choose nursing as a career. Find out from nursing professionals why they chose their career at: Why Choose Nursing? Experts Reveal Their Reasons.

*Completion time is dependent on transfer credits accepted and courses completed each term.


Annie Jones

Annie researches and writes student-focused articles with Collegis Education on a variety of topics for Rasmussen College. She is passionate about learning, writing, and encouraging students toward success.

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