As a nurse, you’re a key component of any healthcare industry. You provide outstanding patient care and assist doctors, surgeons or other healthcare professionals. Autonomy in nursing is a vital component of a successful healthcare facility.
Autonomy allows nurses to make critical decisions and tend to patient needs based on their immense medical knowledge without the need to consult doctors or surgeons. Autonomy in nursing can save time, relieve pressure on medical staff, improve patient care and elevate the status of the profession.
In this article, we discuss what autonomy in nursing is, share examples of autonomy in nursing, discuss its benefits and explore some nursing jobs with high-level autonomy.
What is Autonomy in Nursing?
Professional autonomy is having the authority to make decisions and the freedom to act in accordance with one’s professional knowledge base. In the nursing profession, this means having the competence, knowledge base and trust of other medical practitioners to make decisions. It involves having the freedom to make clinical judgements and choices and take actions appropriate to the care of the patient.
While nurses are valued by patients and the public, they’re typically undervalued within the health care system. The value placed on nurses is at the root of autonomy. By encouraging collaboration with nursing staff, nursing autonomy can be increased.
An understanding of nursing autonomy is needed to clarify and develop the nursing profession within rapidly changing healthcare environments. The core elements of nursing should be rigorously considered when focusing on the expansion and extension of specialist nursing roles. Autonomy in nursing generally has four key themes; to have a holistic view, to know the patient, to have the confidence in your knowledge and expertise, and to have the competency and courage to take charge in situations where you can be responsible.
Examples of Autonomy in Nursing
There are many areas in which you can demonstrate autonomy within the health care system. Whether within a hospital, specialist care services or a doctor’s practice, you’re an invaluable and integral part of the medical profession. Below is an inconclusive list of examples where you can demonstrate autonomy in nursing:
- administering pain medications, treatment plans and post-operative care
- giving vaccinations and taking blood to send to the pathology
- monitoring vitals (blood pressure, oxygen statistics, heart rate and pulse) during hospitalisation
- providing non-critical care in underserved populations and referring patients to a more critical care facility when needed
- providing in-home care and on-site support to the elderly
- delegating aide to assist with ambulation
- checking and dressing wounds
- knowing when to seek advice and assistance from other health professionals such as a dietician, lactation consultant and physical therapist
What Are the 3 Benefits of Autonomy in Nursing?
There are a number of benefits of autonomy in nursing. Most importantly, autonomy provides improved patient outcomes and reduces stress on staff. There’s also a distinct link between positive work environments with higher levels of autonomy to improved patient outcomes. Below, you can find some of the benefits of autonomous nursing:
1. Improves patient welfare
The care of the patient is paramount within any medical organisation. Hospitals and healthcare providers are expected to deliver patient-centred and value-based care to avoid being negatively impacted by financial penalties. Autonomy in nursing can improve patient welfare because it allows you to administer appropriate medical treatment without waiting for approval to do so.
The care you administer may be providing pain relief, redressing a wound or simply raising the head of a bed so a patient can breathe better. You are also there to assess the vitals of patients and can assess quickly whether a patient requires urgent critical care. Autonomy can provide stronger nurse-patient relationships ensuring that the patients can have their needs met in a timely manner.
2. Enhances job satisfaction and performance
Autonomy in the workplace can increase your job satisfaction and performance and reduce stress. It provides you with empowerment to take on the roles and responsibilities for which you have been trained. It also provides other medical practitioners with the time to address other patients for which you may not have the appropriate medical knowledge. You can provide the necessary day-to-day administrations and support for those at care facilities without the need for approval. Providing autonomy can lead to greater satisfaction in your career and ultimately greater performance in your role.
3. Encourages effective communication of interprofessional teams
Effective communication between interprofessional teams can lead to greater autonomy. With greater nurse-physician communication, your patient can receive the care they need in a more timely manner. The patient’s physician can be assured that they’ll be contacted by you in the event that a critical issue arises and they can place trust in you that appropriate medical analysis, judgement and treatment can be provided. Autonomy can often help you establish relationships with your patients which leads you to a better understanding of their situation. In turn, you can be better positioned to advocate for your patients’ needs and provide better holistic care.
3 Tips on How to Improve Your Autonomy in Nursing
Knowledge, the ability to communicate and being proactive are key elements to improving your autonomy as a nurse. As medicine and technology evolve, ensuring continued learning can be vital. Continuous evaluation of the communication and collaboration with your team can lead to better nurse practices within the organisation and develop a workplace where autonomy is valued. Below, we discuss several ways to improve your autonomy in nursing:
1. Enhance your knowledge base
As a nurse, you’re expected to continuously learn and apply your knowledge to demonstrate your awareness of new practices. Advancements in the medical field and technology are ongoing, so it’s imperative to keep up with improvements and continue to improve your skills and knowledge base. Take action to advance your knowledge through relevant courses and training. Seek a mentor and help to develop a learning environment where knowledge is shared through formal and informal educational opportunities.
2. Communicate and collaborate
An effective workforce is often one where there’s effective communication and collaboration of roles, responsibilities and general behavioural expectations. Involve yourself in key organisational committees that establish patient care policies and procedures. Offer insights into how nursing knowledge can be embedded into clinical practice. To enhance autonomy, you can seek responsibility and the opportunity to provide input and make decisions related to your practice. By involving yourself in the decision-making process and actively working with your team to collaborate on best practices, a cohesive work environment can be established for the benefit of all members.
3. Demonstrate the ability to work independently and be proactive
Have courage in your knowledge and be proactive by asking for responsibility for patient care where you can. Start small and demonstrate your capabilities over time. By demonstrating that you’re capable of working independently, you may be provided with greater job satisfaction and a happier work environment that is built on trust. Make sure that you have open communication with superiors and can present opportunities for your department to upgrade their care environment. Present possible solutions to problems, build your nurse-patient relationships and ensure that you can advocate for patients when needed. You can become invaluable by proactively asking and voicing where you can lend additional support.
5 Nursing Roles with High-level Autonomy in Nursing
There are a number of roles within nursing where there can be a high level of autonomy in nursing. Some examples are:
1. Nurse practitioners
These are advanced registered practised nurses needing at least a master’s degree in Nursing. As a nurse practitioner, you can specialise in a specific area of nursing such as mental health, family practitioner, clinical nurse, or gerontology.
2. Home health nurse
This type of nurse is often the only medical professional in the vicinity and can complete their duties without scrutiny from superiors. As such, autonomy here is due to the environment in which the nurse operates.
3. Nurse anaesthetists
Specialisation in anaesthesia requires extensive education and certification processes which enables these nurses to make independent judgements related to anaesthesia care.
Midwives are well trained and have the authority to act independently or through collaboration with a physician to assist women through pregnancy, childbirth and beyond.
5. Telehealth nurses
Telehealth nurses provide assistance and care to patients using virtual healthcare platforms. In these situations, the nurse has a high level of autonomy as they judge and assess the situation and make decisions on the most appropriate course of action based on their phone assessment.
When nurses act autonomously, patients receive better care, and nurses experience higher job satisfaction. Strive to further develop your knowledge base and expertise by involving yourself in courses, forums and discussions, and collaborate with other nurses and physicians.
How Nurses Now Can Help
Finally, join a nursing agency that promotes and encourages working autonomously – your patients, your colleagues, and most importantly, you, will be thankful for it.