How nurses have become the pillars of modern healthcare  

If you asked a group of people what they see as the primary attribute of nurses, it is highly likely that the top answer would be compassion.

Nurses are often seen as the ultimate caring professionals. It is widely understood that they provide invaluable empathy and help for everything from prenatal care to end-of-life support. In hospitals, they are constantly available and engaged with their patients, offering a reassuring presence to address immediate needs and reach health goals.

What is perhaps less understood in the general population is how much more modern hospital nurses do and how vital they are to healthcare provision now and in the future.

Why nurses have grown in relevance

Before investigating the ever-widening role nurses play, it is important to look at the background to this.

The whole of healthcare has undergone a transformation in recent years. Rapid advances in medical research and new technologies have enabled far more powerful diagnostic and treatment abilities. Devices are now available that can be inserted into the human body to monitor physiological functions or intuitively dispense drugs.

On the other hand, our healthcare system is being stretched by finite resources and the demands of an aging population. The number of US residents over the age of 65 is projected to increase from 58 million in 2022 to 82 million by 2050. These statistics run alongside others that show obesity is still endemic, that preventable cardiovascular deaths are widespread, and that economic disparity is also having a serious impact on health outcomes nationwide.

A ‘new breed’ of healthcare professionals was inevitably needed to meet these and other challenges. To facilitate this, in 2021, the American Association of Colleges of Nurses published new guidelines entitled “The Essentials: Core Competencies for Professional Nursing Education.”  These guidelines set up core competencies for nursing practice that must be reflected in the training they receive.

A similar initiative happened in Europe—the Bologna Declaration. According to one study into both of these nursing models, they “describe curriculum outcomes” in the context of “the dynamic combination of attributes regarding knowledge, skills, attitudes, and responsibilities.”

The same study also concluded that, though there are new standards and goals for nurse education and training, “the competences attributed by society to nursing professionals do not match the set of competences described in the professional profile of nurses.”

So, what advantages do nursing professionals deliver that are not always fully appreciated? They play a vital role in good practice development and delivery, health management, research, leadership, and policy making. Much of this is based on the unique relationship of nurses with their patients.

The first point of contact and an essential relationship

The pivotal role of nurses often starts during first contact with patients in every type of clinical setting. Whether this is in a hospital or community healthcare practice, there is likely to be a nurse who ensures each patient engages fully with their service provider. They will also take responsibility for end-to-end care services, assisting with everything from an initial diagnosis to a patient’s post-treatment progress.

Has technology and online support ‘watered down’ this one-to-one clinical help nurses provide? Far from it.

There are ever-emerging ways to get initial help and advice online. For instance, you can do clinical evaluations online if you feel you are not coping well. These can provide reassurance that your symptoms or emotions are ‘normal’ and guide you to self-help methods for some health issues.

However, for the majority of the time, for all sorts of ailments and concerns, getting one-to-one help from a medical professional is still vital.

That is when nurse practitioners and teams of registered nurses become essential, opening up the possibility of in-person medical help and support. This is particularly true as physicians can be in short supply or stretched in some healthcare settings. So, a patient may find themselves in the capable hands of a family nurse practitioner or hospital-based nurse practitioner.

These nursing professionals are trained in history-taking, diagnosis, and even treatment decisions and, therefore, play an active role in achieving positive patient health outcomes.

Communication skills and better healthcare

To support healthcare service accessibility and excellence, modern nurses don’t just need a sophisticated level of clinical skills. They must also develop and deliver advanced communication abilities to create that essential relationship with patients.

A good illustration is a professional nurse’s acumen in getting patients to open up and discuss issues. Patients who seek help with a diagnosis, access immediate treatment, or manage a health issue may even find themselves discussing symptoms and other topics they were barely aware of themselves.

That is because modern nurses are not only trained to explain things clearly but are also given opportunities to develop active listening skills.

In other words, they know the questions to ask. They are also adept at ‘reading between the lines’ and carrying out in-person examinations. Even your body language and tone of voice may help them develop a clearer picture of your mental or physical health issues.

When you go to the hospital as an in-patient or out-patient, this process is continuous. Your hospital nurse will monitor and evaluate you, keeping a watchful eye on your progress against your treatment goals or your need for tests.

In other words, the person tasked with making sure a patient responds appropriately to treatment is usually a nurse, and they will consult with physicians as and when necessary. It demands a level of attention and patient interaction that cannot be underestimated.

Nurses will also establish a relationship with each patient to enable them to be honest about their overall health challenges and current status. Monitoring the output of machines and devices runs alongside conversations with patients to gather vital anecdotal information.

What this all comes down to is that hospital nurses are not just using the latest technology to monitor your vital signs and such things as your mobility and dexterity. Using their interpersonal and communication skills, nurses ensure you are receiving responsive and appropriate personal care and being treated with the respect and consideration you deserve.

Developing these personal and professional skills

Establishing this vital relationship with patients is no easy task, particularly when these individuals may be distressed, stressed, in pain, or in denial.

To play such a central and wide-ranging role in today’s healthcare services, it is clear that nursing professionals need a comprehensive set of personal and professional skills, along with advanced clinical knowledge.

Put it this way: you can be naturally empathetic and caring, but even then, you would need to gain abilities specific to nursing, for example, a sound understanding of patient ethics and firm decision-making to meet a patient’s best interests.

How do nurses get that level of training and experience?

Much depends on whether the individual has a specific level of nursing or medical field that inspires them. For instance, even the most experienced and clearly competent nurse may struggle to move up the career ladder without a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).

Do hospitals hire associate degree nurses? While an Associate of Science in Nursing degree (ADN) is a way graduates may prepare for a further career in nursing, a BSN offers a more comprehensive curriculum for a higher level of education. Holy Family University’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) trains students with the skills and evidence-based practice knowledge needed for a career in nursing. Grounding students in the fundamental concepts of nursing and the key practices in nursing interventions, Holy Family offers a thorough online program that can be completed in as little as 14 months.

Nurses as leaders

One of the areas of competency taught within BSN programs is the ability to be a leader as a nurse and manage teams successfully. This would also focus on such skills as critical analysis and problem-solving to back up assured decision-making.

It is another illustration of the more subtle role nurses play in the delivery of healthcare services. They don’t simply provide that much-appreciated compassion and care to patients; they also support their colleagues.

Communication and collaboration can ensure that a patient gets the full support of a care team, including any post-hospital stay services required for long-term recovery, for example. These nursing attributes can also ensure that all the colleagues and external professionals involved in a patient’s care are constantly updated and supported in their roles.

Health protection and education

It is another aspect of modern nurses that extends well beyond their traditional tasks and capabilities. Nurses in the US now contribute immeasurably to preventative healthcare initiatives.

It could cover a far-reaching set of activities, for instance, speaking to groups of young people about risk-taking behaviors and investing in their long-term health and well-being, or nurses could be the healthcare professionals taking the lead on patient engagement with regular screening or vaccination programs.

Preventative healthcare may also cut across a modern nurse’s organizational role and responsibilities. They may be the professionals in hospitals and health centers managing infection control and training others in this and other patient welfare topics

Nurses are also to be found upfront and central in initiatives to improve patient or community lifestyles, guiding people towards better choices about diet and realistic exercise options, as well as smoking and substance cessation support.

Humanistic healthcare and the role of nurses

There is another ‘layer’ to the services provided by modern nursing professionals, which is perhaps not always fully acknowledged or appreciated.

There has been a massive focus on providing more personalized, humanistic healthcare. Person-centered care aims to reduce the risk of treating people purely as a group of symptoms or a diagnosed illness. Instead, individuality is noted, respected, and taken into account throughout the healthcare cycle.

That includes recognizing the importance of the patient’s “physical, cognitive, psychological, emotional, social, and spiritual dimensions,” according to one study on this topic.

So, healthcare delivery would take account of personal preferences and beliefs, as well as the wider context of that individual’s family and social circumstances, for example.

Whole-person healthcare is designed to create better and more fruitful engagement between patients and professionals to improve the care experience and health outcomes. It can also help to support a better workplace culture, as more time is spent getting to know patients. It inevitably leads to a new understanding of patient needs and behaviors, which can help inform the development of healthcare services.

As you would imagine, the health professionals usually tasked with underpinning humanistic care are nurses, particularly, as their role is already so closely bound up with establishing a strong relationship with each patient. It can require that nurses expand this relationship-forming and maintenance process to incorporate a patient’s family. It certainly involves them in collaborating with colleagues and other agencies to deliver joined-up, whole-person care.

Advocacy and nursing professionals

One of the important roles played by today’s nurses runs through many of the activities already explored in this article. When delivering whole-person care and being leaders in healthcare provision, nurses are constantly advocating for their patients.

It is only possible thanks to the relationship-building process, which forms a vital part of modern nursing.


The advocacy could be for an individual patient with specific healthcare needs that their nurse communicates and champions. However, advanced nursing professionals can also be found at the forefront of work to represent patient cohorts or communities whose healthcare needs are not being fully met.


It is all bound up in a nurse’s duty to protect healthcare equality and provide access to services without prejudice or limitation due to gender, age, ethnicity, or belief, for example.


Best practice champions in multiple settings


Clearly, the role of modern nurses is far deeper and wider than simply caring well for their patients. It then demands far more advanced personal and professional skills and understanding. This progression has naturally led to nurses taking on crucially important roles, both within and beyond hospitals and primary healthcare settings.


This ever-evolving set of contributions made by nursing professionals means they can be found carrying out important tasks in many niches. For instance, nurses can focus their training and experience on everything from labor and delivery to palliative and end-of-life care. They may specialize in delivering healthcare services in prisons, the military, and educational establishments.


Other examples of niches for advanced nursing professionals include flight services, traveling with ill patients as they are transported by air, and nurse anesthetists providing surgical, post-surgical, and pain relief support.


You even have the option to influence healthcare development at the state, national, or international level as an advanced nursing professional. Proven leadership skills can take you to policy-development roles, for instance.


Also, informatics nurses play an important part in gathering and analyzing research, which then underpins new healthcare technology, systems, and advances.


Public health nurses provide communities with wellness and health protection opportunities, but they are often tasked with gathering data that can further develop effective healthcare services in that area. It could be especially true in underserved and at-risk communities when nurses responsible for public health use their unique patient engagement abilities to uncover unmet needs.


From training and experience comes trust


The comprehensive and essential role of nurses in healthcare development, delivery, and excellence does not go wholly unnoticed. Not only is this profession considered one of the most caring and important, but it also earns high marks for trustworthiness.


In fact, nursing is credited as being the most trusted occupation in the US. According to Gallup, for over two decades, nurses have been judged to be the most ethical of all professionals.


With some trust from both the public and their colleagues, the influence and impact of nursing professionals is set to expand further. Especially due to an aging population and ever more complex technology, the demands placed on healthcare delivery are becoming tougher.


That means the role of a professional nurse may well further evolve and become even more demanding in terms of training and education, not least as they now have so much choice about which direction to take after acquiring advanced skills and knowledge.


These far-ranging roles and responsibilities can perhaps be best summed up with the overview of modern nursing priorities and standards of competency publicized by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) for England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. It said that nurses must “seek out every opportunity to promote health and prevent illness” and “act to protect the public and be responsible and accountable for safe, person-centered, evidence-based nursing practice.”


That reflects the importance of modern nurses and their level of impact. All of that must go along with providing the care, compassion, and communication traditionally associated with the nursing role.