Beyond the Bedside: The many roles of nurses

Natalie DeSouza
July 01, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As nurses stand on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic every day, it is apparent to the world that strengthening and recognizing nursing is pivotal for improving health worldwide. The World Health Organization has deemed 2020 the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife to spotlight the roles nurses have in our society and the achievements of nurses that have helped in bettering healthc are across nations. This is the first time the nursing profession has been included in the annual recognition of professions by the World Health Organization. 

This year is the 200th anniversary of Florence Nightingale, who is widely recognized as the founder of modern nursing, and was the first woman to receive the Order of Merit. Nightingale helped pave the way for modern nurses and midwives today with her institute training. With International Nurse Day falling on her birthday, organizations worldwide agreed to honor the many achievements and hard work nurses do by dedicating an entire year to celebrating them. 

What does a nurse do? According to the most recent Gallup poll, nurses have ranked as the most ethical profession in the United States for 18 consistent years. As a result, they are often entrusted with some of humanity’s most difficult ethical questions, triaging patients in life and death situations for example.  

Nurses are often the first and only point of care in their communities; however, the public perception of nurses' roles, according to the Journal of Nursing, falls short of the different roles nurses actually hold in health care.  

“The public perceive a nurse as just someone who assists the doctor during and after treatment of the illness, assisting the patient in keeping up their personal hygiene, giving the medications as prescribed by the doctor, dressing the wounds when there is a need for ensuring the welfare of the patient” (Nicole, Knyan, Journal of Nursing, 2017).  

This year, the College of Nursing joins the World Health Organization and many others in shedding light on the many position’s nurses hold in contributing to better healthcare. These roles range from researchers, educators, scientists, and many more. 

Nurse researcher and scientist

Nurse researchers are scientists in the health care field that work every day studying various aspects of health and our health care system. They implement full scientific studies that help the world gain better insight into the patients’ and providers’ viewpoint. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 19% growth rate for nurse researchers between the years 2012 and 2022, a relatively faster rate than many other professions. 

Topics of research for these nurse researchers range from every aspect of healthcare to external concepts that affect health care, like social determinants of health. The College of Nursing has over 20 nurse researchers affiliated with the Center for Nursing Research. Some current projects of nurse research being conducted at the college range from addressing and minimizing health care disparities to the development of age-friendly health care systems. 

Nurse educator

Nurse educators specialize in translating best-practices and evidence-based approaches into curriculum that is designed to educate the next generation of nurses. This role is vital to the future of nursing and the quality of patient care. According to, “Nurse educators play a pivotal role in strengthening the nursing workforce, serving as role models and providing the leadership needed to implement evidence-based practice.” Currently, there are over 50,000 nurse educators in the United States. 

Penn State's College of Nursing, through Penn State World Campus, offers a master’s-level program for aspiring nurse educators. Through the program, students are prepared to assume educator roles in academic and health care settings.  

Forensic nurses

Forensic nurses provide a unique service in bridging a gap between health care and the criminal justice system. They are trained to treat and help patients who have experienced trauma and provide care even after the experience. Forensic Nurses can work in a variety of fields including sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, elder mistreatment, death investigations, and in the aftermath of natural disasters.  

The College of Nursing is home to the Sexual Assault Forensic Examination Telehealth Center (SAFE-T Center), which specializes in the use of telehealth technology to provide expert forensic care to sexual assault survivors in rural areas. Their approach also enables expertly trained sexual assault nurses to provide guidance and support to the on-site nurse who is at the point of care, ensuring a supportive environment for all involved. 

Nurse administrators

Nurse administrators encompass skills they have learned in the nursing field with executive-level professional skills to provide strategic management of nursing personnel, patient care, and facility resources in a health care setting. They strive to ensure that the health care facility they manage operates in the safest and most cost-effective manner. The job-outlook growth rate according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics for Nurse Administrators and managers was 18% for the years between 2018 and 2020, a faster rate of growth than most other professions as well. 

The College of Nursing, also through the World Campus and also at the master’s level, delivers a nurse administrator program. With this program, students learn marry their organizational leadership with evidence-based delivery and health policy.  

These roles are a few of the many career paths offered in the nursing profession, demonstrating just how impactful nurses can be. Nurses are stepping into leadership roles across many disciplines recognizing their special positioning to influence public health and patient experience.  

Join the College of Nursing at Penn State this year in celebrating the many roles and achievements our fellow nurses accomplish every day.


(Media Contacts)

Last Updated July 28, 2020