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5 emerging roles in nursing

As the U.S. health system evolves to meet the demands of aging baby boomers — as well as changes required by health care reform and new technologies — the roles of medical practitioners, especially nurses, are shifting, too.

According to Andrea Warwick, an instructor in the University of Phoenix nursing program, these are some of the most popular new roles in nursing:

Patient nurse navigator

Given the complexity of today’s health care system, it’s important to have a human point of contact to guide patients through it. “A nurse navigator is an RN whose job is literally to walk patients though every aspect of the system so that there are no surprises or road blocks,” Warwick explains.

“If you’re an ongoing heart patient, for instance,” she adds, “the navigator would be the one to do your preoperative screening to see if you’re a candidate for a ventricular device. They will sit in the operating room during your surgery and be your point of contact after you go home.”

Informatics nurse

Medical workers interact with increasingly more computer equipment and systems to track and treat patients. So it’s important to have a professional health care worker who can bridge computer systems and patient care.

“An informatics nurse is typically [a nurse practitioner] who went back to school to focus on informatics,” explains Warwick, an emergency nurse for the National Disaster Medical System who treated victims of Hurricane Sandy. “Informatics nurses are trained to design, improve and explain computer systems that support health care.”

Nurse leader

In the past, nurses who managed other nurses did so with a top-down authoritative approach, in which mistakes were blamed on the individual.

Today’s nurses have a more equitable management style called “shared leadership,” according to Warwick, in which the nurse in charge looks at how to improve processes rather than at reprimanding individuals.

“Nurses who manage others are now called ‘nurse leaders,’ and they typically have a master’s degree, which teaches them how to give effective feedback and have thoughtful conversations to help lead people,” she says.

Transitional care nurse

It’s the job of these hospital-employed RNs to visit patients in their homes for one to three months after they leave the hospital.

“In the past, this role was handled by independent outside agencies, which meant there was less communication and continuity of care,” Warwick says. “The way health care is moving, we’re tasked to not only treat patients, but make sure they can maintain their health status once they’re discharged from the hospital.”

Electronic intensive care unit nurse

Electronic intensive care unit nurse

Now that technology allows patients to be monitored via high-resolution camera lenses, health care workers can keep tabs on how patients are doing from a distance.

“An electronic intensive care unit nurse monitors screens remotely and can even work from her home,” Warwick notes. “Most often with a post-graduate degree, the eICU nurse is an advanced-practice nurse who is trained to pick up on subtle changes in patients so that she can alert the nurses on the ground and make medical decisions to provide care.”