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The Key Role of Nurses in Multidisciplinary Healthcare Teams




The role of nurses is not simple and straightforward. The skills they possess are wide and varied, and this leads to them taking on many different roles. As healthcare becomes more personalized, multidisciplinary teams become larger and more common, and nurses are a key component in making sure these teams work effectively.

The History of Nursing

Before we talk about multidisciplinary healthcare teams, let’s first take a look back at the history of nursing and how nurses got to where they are today. Understanding the historical context of nursing is important to appreciate the pivotal role of nurses within multidisciplinary healthcare teams today.

Nurses have been at the forefront of care delivery since ancient times, but their role has continually changed. Initially, all that was asked of them was that they provide comfort and basic care to the ill or injured without any formal training or recognition.

This evolved into largely what we know as modern nursing in the mid-19th century. There was an increased focus on things like hygiene and sanitation practices, and this period laid the groundwork for professional nursing.

Then, during times of war in the 20th century, there weren’t enough physicians to deal with the sick and wounded, leading to nurses taking on a bigger role again. The role of nurses was expanded to include things like wound dressing and anesthesia administration.

In more recent times, changes in society have led to changes in nursing. Aging populations and the increased prevalence of chronic diseases are just two examples of how the roles of nurses have had to change and adapt. This is something that we’ve seen all throughout history, and it is why nurses are so relied on in many different areas of healthcare today.

Nurses and Team Settings

In team settings, the core competencies that nurses possess make them crucial members. Nurses bring clinical expertise and sharp patient assessment skills to the table, and they have a comprehensive understanding of disease processes. Coupled with that, they are experienced in treatment protocols and are proficient in performing a number of different medical procedures.

A healthcare team will fall apart without strong communication, and that’s something else that nurses are often skilled in. As they interact with other healthcare professionals, patients, and the families of patients on a daily basis, they act as liaisons of sorts. They are able to bridge gaps between all the different parties involved in patient care.

Patient advocacy is another area where nurses can excel. They are often uniquely positioned to understand the minutiae of a patient’s needs, and they can bring that knowledge to the team. They can voice concerns and suggest different ways of doing things, ensuring that patients’ voices are heard.

Nurses and Physicians

In the past, hierarchical structures often placed doctors at the top, and, in this environment, nurses were expected to just follow orders. This has changed in recent years with an encouraging shift towards more of a partnership model where the ideas and input of nurses are valued.

The important change in this dynamic comes down to clarity of role. Doctors and nurses both understand and respect each other’s boundaries, and this can lead to better patient outcomes. An example of this is how doctors are responsible for diagnosis and prescribing treatment plans, while nurses are relied on to monitor patients’ progress. They help them to manage their symptoms and educate them about their condition.

As well as understanding each other’s perspectives, joint decision-making is another crucial aspect of enhancing the quality of patient care. Not only does doing this leverage the skillsets of each, but it also creates a shared ownership of outcomes. Taking this approach all the way from diagnosis to treatment planning to aftercare is a good idea.

Given how closely they work together, there are some ways that both nurses and physicians could strengthen this relationship even further. Communication training programs that focus on building understanding are one idea, as are more joint rounds that provide opportunities for collaboration on cases in real time. Setting up structured feedback mechanisms is something else that could help to grow the relationship.

Nurses and Pharmacists

As with physicians, nurses also need to work closely with pharmacists. Besides dispensing medications, pharmacists provide expertise on drug interactions and potential side effects. They are also responsible for ensuring that prescribed treatments align with patients’ specific situations.

In this context, nurses are effectively the link in the chain between pharmacists and patients. Their collaborative efforts contribute significantly to both medication safety and adherence – two critical aspects of effective treatment plans. Nurses are also well-positioned to identify potential problems with medication and liaise on the patient’s behalf.

Another important aspect of this collaboration is medication reconciliation. This is a process where nurses work closely with pharmacists to ensure accurate medication histories for each patient. This involves reviewing all current medications against new prescriptions in order to avoid potentially harmful drug interactions or duplications. In this role, nurses may also gather data about over-the-counter drugs that patients are taking, as well as things like dietary supplements.


The collaboration between nurses and pharmacists can also help to inform education programs for patients. For example, if nurses are finding that patients are frequently having the same kinds of concerns, this may be a signal that there’s a problem in how the pharmacist is communicating about the medication to the patient.

That information could then be used to change the way things are presented to new patients to ensure that there’s less confusion. This is just one simple example of the symbiotic relationship between nurses and other health professionals, and it highlights how multidisciplinary collaboration can lead to better patient outcomes.

Technology and Nurse Collaboration

Technology has greatly shaped the primary healthcare space, so much so that it’s often difficult to imagine how nurses and physicians were able to do their jobs effectively without some of the tools they rely on today.

One of the main benefits of technology in healthcare is that it allows for instantaneous data-sharing. Instead of having to go back and forth to double-check things, there are now centralized points that health professionals can refer to for information. This means they can be confident they are making decisions based on current and accurate information.

Communication is another area that’s been touched by technology. This is particularly the case in relation to multidisciplinary teams, as all members of the team can now be easily reached in one place, allowing other members of the team to ask questions to clarify anything they don’t understand. Gone are the days of having to use a pager to get someone’s attention.

Another technology tool that is changing some parts of healthcare is telehealth. Although this isn’t a brand-new technology, it has certainly risen in influence in the past few years. It is uncertain at present whether this trend will continue, but it is currently providing a lot of flexibility to patients, as well as to nurses.

These types of developments have coincided with the growth of the nursing informatics field. This is an interdisciplinary field where nursing science, information management, and analytical sciences all come together. The benefit to nurses from this field is that it helps them to understand complex medical data more easily.

Nursing Training and Education

In order to fully embrace collaboration and comprehensive patient care in nursing, it needs to be a core part of education. One avenue for this is through interdisciplinary education in nursing schools. By exposing students to different disciplines within medical care early on, they gain a broader perspective on patient care. This approach can help break down silos between professions, as well as encourage mutual respect and understanding among future health professionals from different specialties.

Some accredited online nurse practitioner programs have recognized exactly this, including the University of Indianapolis. Their online MSN-FNP program teaches advanced practice care nurses to use leadership skills and to recognize the value of collaboration in delivering healthcare. It’s also a part-time course designed in a way that suits the lives of working nurses.

Continuous professional development opportunities are also an important part of the equation. They are vital in both reinforcing collaborative skills in practicing nurses and teaching them new skills. Through workshops, seminars, or online courses that focus on team-building or problem-solving, nurses can continue to refine their ability to work within multidisciplinary teams.

To add another component to the theoretical training, simulation training should also be a part of this process. In controlled environments replicating real-life scenarios, nurses can practice collaboration-based situations that they may face one day. These situations allow nurses to gain firsthand experience in managing complex situations, all while there is no actual risk to a patient.

As well as embedding collaboration in both education and professional development, we may also see nursing education embrace a more international approach in the future. Many countries have pioneered innovative ways to facilitate collaboration among various healthcare providers, and there are things that we can learn. It could be anything from policy changes to new approaches to management structures.

Nurses and Allied Health Professionals

The role of the nurses sees them interacting with allied health professionals, too. These professionals include physiotherapists, dietitians, social workers, occupational therapists, and more. Each professional brings unique expertise from their field to the table in managing patient care.


A good example of where this plays out is when patients have complex needs. Such patients often require a range of different types of care from diverse disciplines. Nurses are, once again, the link that coordinates this care. Everybody right across the team must be on the same page about the patient’s condition and treatment plan, and nurses can help make sure that happens.

The concept of holistic care is also relevant. Instead of just the physical side of health, nurses are often the ones who can identify potential emotional and social health issues in patients. For example, if a nurse notices signs of depression in a patient recovering from surgery, they might coordinate with mental health specialists to provide necessary support.

Ethics and Multidisciplinary Collaborations

The ethical considerations that come into play in multidisciplinary collaborations are as complex as they are important. While they are considerations for all members of a multidisciplinary team and not just nurses, they’re important to acknowledge in relation to nursing.

Firstly, upholding patient privacy and confidentiality within these team settings is non-negotiable. This means ensuring that sensitive information is shared only when necessary for patient care, respecting the boundaries of informed consent.

Conflicts of interest will inevitably arise within multidisciplinary teams, especially as they get bigger. It is normal for each member to have their own professional goals or biases. As a nurse, you will need to play a role in helping to navigate these potential conflicts with integrity, always keeping the well-being of your patients as the main priority.

Being an advocate for your patients is another non-negotiable in a collaborative healthcare team. You might encounter situations where difficult ethical decisions need to be made, like end-of-life choices or treatment options that come with significant risks. If you do face these situations, you must not just consider clinical factors but also respect and incorporate the patient’s values into the decision-making process. If you feel the team is not doing that, then speaking up is part of advocating for your patient.

Cultural competence is already very important in healthcare, and this extends to multidisciplinary teams. In the same way that you should expect there to be biases present in your team, you should also expect there to be different cultural backgrounds. Understanding these differences can help make things move smoothly and keep everyone focused on the same goal.

Nurses are indispensable to healthcare teams. Since ancient history, nurses have been relied on and called on, and this will continue in the future. The nurses who prioritize teamwork and continual learning will be the ones who are well-prepared for whatever comes next.

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