Bedside Nursing: Key Roles and Responsibilities for Nurses

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A hospital nurse checks on her patient.Bedside nurses take pride in their reputations as the ones who provide day-to-day compassion, support, care, and understanding to patients during their most vulnerable times. The roles and responsibilities of their demanding jobs require them to balance efficiency with intimacy, providing expertise but also building trust.

Whether they want to develop their career through clinical specialization, advanced practice, a management track, or something else, students who are interested in a bedside nursing career must start in the same way: by equipping themselves with a strong education. Working nurses who wish to advance their careers, bedside nursing skills, and leadership experience should consider earning a master’s degree in nursing.

What Is Bedside Nursing

Bedside nurses are medical practitioners who provide direct care to patients in hospitals, clinics, ambulatory centers, nursing and residential care homes, and other medical facilities. Physicians, nurse practitioners, and registered nurses each play critical bedside roles when it comes to providing effective health care. In the often-frantic environment of most hospitals and clinics, however, bedside nurses are the anchor for everyone who passes through their care. They must use that connection of trust and empathy to facilitate comfort for both the patients and their families.

Bedside nurses are more than a comforting presence. If patients have any requests for changes in their treatment or their hospital room, bedside care professionals do what they can to accommodate. They are responsible for taking vitals, monitoring a patient’s progress, recording changes in symptoms, and keeping communication clear between patients and the health care organization.

In modern bedside nursing practice, empathy and communication skills are emphasized — ensuring less confusion between patients and staff by avoiding medical jargon, making steady eye contact, and demonstrating confidence and honesty through body language. Bedside nurses are also encouraged to use humor and technology where appropriate in improving the quality of patient-centered care.

The Importance of Bedside Nursing Skills

Bedside nurses thrive when outfitted with a wide set of skills. Best practices for effective, modern patient care come from a thorough knowledge and implementation of both technical and soft skills that are learned through education and practical experience. Several examples of each are listed below.

Technical Skills

  •  Patient assessment
  • Telemetry
  • Catheterization
  • Infection control
  • Diagnostic testing
  • Setup and/or execution of treatment plans

Soft Skills

  • Bedside nurses deal with patients who are sick and often scared, confused, and vulnerable. These feelings must be acknowledged and respected.
  • Effective communication. One of the most valuable skills in bedside nursing is effective communication, which is imperative for relaying information in a simple yet thorough manner.
  • Critical thinking. The bedside nurse knows that situations can change quickly, and that problems aren’t always simple. Critical thinking is needed to diagnose a symptom or properly execute a patient’s treatment.
  • Calm under pressure. Any medical profession is intrinsically linked to the well-being of others, which can be unpredictable. Remaining calm in all circumstances keeps the mind clear, and greatly increases the chances of creating a positive outcome.
  • As bedside nurses accumulate experience, they will be entrusted to lead and guide others around them.
  • Physical and emotional endurance. Stress and long hours are not unusual for bedside nurses, and neither is the possible decline of a patient’s health. Physical and emotional endurance is vital for combating frustration and fatigue.

Bedside Nursing and Leadership

Regardless of the type, position, or level of care involved, bedside nursing skills are foundational for growth. Many bedside nurses begin as entry-level registered nurses. Here, they commonly find more autonomy and responsibility as they gain experience and their careers progress.

Over time, nurses will often develop a passion for a specific niche within the profession, consider an advanced practice position, or try their hands at non-clinical options such as commercial or academic medical research. The skills and experiences developed at the bedside are very important in helping nurses pursue these leadership opportunities.

Bedside nurses who do return to school may be considering a range of careers. These may include nurse educator; nurse anesthetist; or nurse practitioner in family, psychiatric, or gerontological practice areas, among others.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs for advanced practice nurses are expected to grow 45% between 2019 and 2029. This is much faster than the average growth for all occupations (4%) as well as for registered nurses (7%). The BLS cites the aging population powered by baby boomers and increased demand for preventive care as reasons for the strong growth in opportunities.

Maximize the Impact of Your Bedside Nursing Skills

Bedside nurses are on the front lines of patient care. The skills they develop and the experiences they gain can serve them well as they progress through their careers and possibly move into advanced nursing positions.

Ohio University’s online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is designed for working registered nurses who want to learn new skills and expand their career opportunities. Its strong core curriculum combines evidence-based nursing practices with advanced nursing theories. Students can choose specialties in nurse education or one of three nurse practitioner concentrations.

Learn how an Ohio University MSN degree can help you leverage your bedside nursing and other skills in leadership and advanced practice positions. 

Recommended Readings

The Importance of Nursing Theory in Nursing Education
Millennials and Nursing Leadership
The New Normal: Men in Nursing


American Journal of Nursing, “Nurses at the Bedside – Who Will Be Left to Care?”
The Balance Careers, “Best Nursing and Nurse Practitioner Skills for Your Resume”
Daily Nurse, “How Medical and Nursing Schools Are Teaching Bedside Manner Today” HealthLeaders, “Want to Keep Nurses at the Bedside? Here’s How”
Houston Chronicle, “What Are the Promotion Opportunities of Being a Registered Nurse?”
NCBI, “The Secrets to Successful Nurse Bedside Shift Report Implementation and Sustainability”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners