The role of nurses in patient education

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Good healthcare goes beyond simply treating a patient. Education can also play a major role in disease prevention, recovery and management. Although all healthcare professionals play a part in educating patients, nurses are at the forefront. Through their role as patient educators, they play a major part in improving both the patient’s condition and their physical and mental health as a whole.

A holistic role

Nurses become key players in patient education thanks to the holistic approach they take to healthcare. While some healthcare professionals focus on treating the symptoms and conditions of a patient, nurses look at the patients as a whole and encourage them to be active participants in their healthcare with a focus on psychological, emotional, spiritual and social health as well as the physical side.

Taking this holistic, patient-based approach is something that begins in the nurses’ own education, with many nursing programs highlighting their commitment to this approach. This is a hallmark of the high-quality online nursing programs at the University of Indianapolis. The Indiana online nursing program at all levels, from their ABSN program to their DNP, prepares nurses in this holistic approach and enables them to gain expertise in their role as patient educators.

Family nurse practitioners

While all types of nurses can play a role in patient education, family nurse practitioners (FNP) in particular often serve as educators. FNPs work with patients at all stages of their lives and frequently work with whole families. This means they can offer support and advice at specific times, such as with a new baby or when coping with the challenges of aging. They will also provide general advice to patients that is not related to a particular condition. This allows them to educate patients on aspects of their life such as a good diet, reducing alcohol consumption and increasing exercise as part of a drive to improve their general health.

When patients are suffering from a chronic condition – whether it is a physical one such as asthma, epilepsy or arthritis or a mental health condition – the FNP can help them learn to manage it, providing education and guidance on coping with symptoms and aspects of their lifestyle that can help reduce the impact of the condition.

Community initiatives

Nurses are often active in the community, running programs to improve health. These might be initiatives to counter drug, alcohol and substance abuse or programs to encourage exercise or greater dietary awareness. One of the goals of these programs is to educate people on the healthcare benefits they can bring through changes in their lifestyle, empowering them with the knowledge to improve their own health.

Good communication

When patients are in the hospital, it is generally nurses who provide the greatest continuity of care. As a result, they are often the ones who patients and their families turn to for information and advice. As good communicators, nurses can help educate patients about their condition, illness or injury and the implications for their long-term health.

If the condition is going to require long-term management, such as diabetes, nurses can start educating the patient throughout their hospital stay on issues such as monitoring blood sugar levels or injecting insulin. This means that by the time they are discharged, they will have greater confidence in their ability to manage their condition.

When discharging patients from the hospital, nurses can also make sure they understand where to go for further help and advice if they need it by providing leaflets or putting them in touch with outpatient programs. If they are being discharged with medication, the nurse can explain the medicine schedule, making sure they know how to take it safely and any side effects they should be aware of.

The importance of patient education

Good health education can lead to better overall health. A healthier lifestyle is associated with fewer health problems, fewer visits to the emergency room, and shorter hospital stays. It helps patients to manage health concerns, reducing the need for intervention from healthcare professionals and ultimately decreasing fatalities.

Nursing is a career that makes a difference in people’s lives every day, and it is perhaps in their role as patient educators that they can make the biggest difference. When patients learn to manage their own health, they are less likely to become ill, and prevention is most certainly better than a cure.

As our second lead editor, Anna C. Mackinno provides guidance on the stories Great Lakes Ledger reporters cover. She has been instrumental in making sure the content on the site is clear and accurate for our readers. If you see a particularly clever title, you can likely thank Anna. Anna received a BA and and MA from Fordham University.