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The Role of Nurses in Patient Education

Nurses play many roles in healthcare, but one of the most important and lasting roles is that of patient educator. When patients come to the hospital, they are often frightened, full of questions and eager to return to their normal lives. Nurses can help soothe patients and their loved ones by providing thorough patient education.

The role of a nurse spans the gamut from emergency lifesaver to nurturing companion. Though patients may only see their doctors for a few minutes at a time, patients interact with nurses constantly. From bringing a cup of water to contacting family members in times of crisis, nurses do it all.

Because nurses play so many roles in a patient’s life, they are a source of comfort and information during a very difficult time. Therefore, nurses can serve as the best source of patient education.

Initial Diagnosis

When faced with a new illness or medical condition, patients are often overwhelmed with questions and a confusing amount of information. Great nurses take the time to explain the diagnosis to patients and their families. Following a diagnosis, patient education should focus on what the diagnosis means for the patient. Nurses answer questions about how the disease or condition came about, how the patient is affected and what the diagnosis means in terms of a prognosis.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, “The first step is to assess the patient’s current knowledge about his or her condition. Some patients need time to adjust to new information, master new skills, or make short- or long-term lifestyle changes.”

Medical jargon and complex procedures can make the experience even more mind-boggling. Words like “autoimmune,” “chronic” and “NSAID” may be familiar to the practicing nurse but are foreign to many patients. When communicating with patients, nurses can use layman’s terms and focus on helping patients understand what is happening to them.

A new diagnosis often comes with a whirlwind of emotions for patients and their families. Nurses can set a good example of how to handle difficult news calmly and productively. By remaining calm, polite and compassionate, nurses extend patient education beyond providing information.


For some patients, treatment is quick and simple. But for others, the treatment process can be an arduous one of trial and error. Through every stage of the treatment process, nurses are there to inform, support and care for patients and their families.

Though oral medications are often seen as the easiest form of treatment, there is a vast amount of knowledge that nurses can and should pass on to patients about medications. Patients must be taught when to take their medications, if they should take their medications with or without food, if they should avoid alcohol, and if they should look out for any serious side effects. Along the way, nurses must check in with patients to ensure they are following their medication protocols accurately and that they are not experiencing any adverse symptoms.

Other treatment pathways may involve surgery, chemotherapy or other serious interventions. In such cases, patient education should be ongoing and thorough. Nurses inform patients of any preparations they need to make, such as not eating or drinking the night before a procedure, making lifestyle changes to accommodate chemotherapy treatment, and anything else patients can do to make sure their treatment is as successful as possible.

Getting a serious diagnosis can be scary enough, but sometimes, the treatment process can be even more daunting. By educating patients about their specific treatment plan, nurses can dispel many fears and help to ensure the greatest success for their patients.

Recovery and Moving Forward

Following treatment, patients may experience great relief from their symptoms, but they may also experience a new set of symptoms caused by the treatment. It is the responsibility of the nurse to help the patient move through the recovery process as smoothly as possible. Often, recovery means adjusting to a new medication regimen or making lifestyle changes.

For patients with chronic conditions such as heart disease or diabetes, nurses must provide a great deal of information in an easy-to-understand manner. Whether it is teaching patients how to test their blood glucose levels or educating them about proper diet and exercise to reduce cholesterol, it is up to the nurse to simplify the experience and give actionable information to each patient.

For patients who have undergone surgery, nurses must provide education about how to best care for incisions, proper diet during recovery and how to cope with new limitations or physical needs. Nurses must stress the importance of follow-up care and adequate hygiene. Whether a patient thrives or experiences complications depends largely on the nurse’s involvement and ability to provide education.

Patient education includes teaching patients about their illness, helping patients understand how their life will be different after recovery, and connecting patients and their families to valuable community resources. The online RN to BSN program at Purdue University Northwest will teach you about the role of nurses and how you can make a powerful difference through accurate patient education.

Learn more about the Purdue Northwest online RN to BSN program.


Medscape: Patient Education: The Nurse as a Source of Actionable Information

U.S. National Library of Medicine: Choosing Effective Patient Education Materials

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