SUN President, Rosalee Longmoore, talks to the Leader Post about the changing role of nursing

Everyone's life has been touched by a registered nurse at some point, but many do not understand the full scope of the role nurses play within the health care system. The media and popularized TV shows such as ER and Grey's Anatomy may have created a public image of who registered nurses are, but this picture is far from complete.

Registered nurses are educated to provide expert care in a variety of settings, from hospitals, public health care and rehabilitation centres, to mental health and long-term care facilities. They are with patients and their families through every stage of care, from preto post-discharge.

"The role of the registered nurse is constantly evolving and has adopted a more holistic approach to patient care with a greater emphasis on prevention and education," explained Rosalee Longmoore, president of the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN). "It's about collaborating with patients, families, physicians and other health care professionals in developing, implementing and evaluating individualized plans of care."

"Registered nurses are also educators and listeners - they build relationships, teach the patient and family about the care they will receive, and address their concerns. This reduces the pain, anxiety, suffering and burden on the family," she said.

External forces such as an aging population, increased chronic disease, rising costs, growing competition for health care workers, and new, expensive technologies and treatments have placed greater demands on the health care system and resulted in heavier and more complex workloads for registered nurses.

These factors have influenced the changing roles of registered nurses in modern-day health care. To meet these new demands, new educational opportunities have been developed, such as the Registered Nurse (RN) First Assist program, where a qualified RN may be able to scrub in for surgery to assist a doctor. Another example is the Registered Nurse Practitioner (RN (NP)), who is able to provide expanded health services to clients and their families. They are able to diagnose and treat common medical disorders, prescribe medications and treatments, and provide referrals to specialists. RN(NP)s work in rural and urban hospitals and clinics and improve access to care.

"These roles are not about replacing a physician," said Longmoore, "it's about harnessing the knowledge and expertise of registered nurses in order to strengthen the health care system in the interest of providing high quality and safe patient care." Research has shown that optimizing the registered nurse's role improves patient outcomes, reduces mortality and improves treatment experience.

With many changes on the horizon in the health care system, new registered nursing roles will continue to develop.

"It's an exciting time in nursing - full of opportunity," said Longmoore.