What is a Primary Care Nurse?

D. Jeffress

A primary care nurse is a licensed health care professional who provides direct care to patients with all different types of illnesses and ailments. People often seek the guidance of primary care doctors and nurses to diagnose their symptoms, offer direct medical services when possible, and refer them to specialists for further treatment. Some nurses work in general hospitals and doctor's offices, though many professionals specialize in a hospital or clinic with a certain population of patients, such as the elderly, women, or people with mental health issues.

A primary care nurse is usually required to complete one or two years of supervised nursing services in a hospital emergency room.
A primary care nurse is usually required to complete one or two years of supervised nursing services in a hospital emergency room.

Often the first medical professional a new patient encounters, a primary care nurse welcomes the patient, asks about his or her medical history, and conducts an initial clinical evaluation. The nurse often relays the information gathered in interviews to a primary care physician, and assists the doctor in performing more intensive physical exams and screenings. Once a patient's illness or injury is identified, the primary care nurse is responsible for explaining the diagnosis and available treatment options.

In many cases, primary care physicians and nurses can provide immediate medical care for a patient. Nurses usually have extensive knowledge of a wide range of injuries and illnesses. They are fully trained to treat common ailments, such as broken limbs, swelling, burns, and cases of hypertension, among many other syndromes. After treatment, a nurse might monitor the patient to ensure his or her condition and explain how he or she can prevent future problems. An individual with a severe medical condition, such as a heart condition or cancer, is often referred to a particular facility or specialist to provide acute care.

To become a primary care nurse, a person must typically receive a master's degree from an accredited university or nursing school. He or she is usually required to complete one to two years of supervised nursing services in an emergency room or critical care center. New nurses must pass rigorous written and practical examinations administered by a nationally recognized nursing organization. Some hospitals and doctors' offices require individuals to obtain additional nurse practitioner certification before working independently.

A primary care nurse who works in a doctor's office or primary care clinic typically works during regular business hours, either part- or full-time. Nurses employed by hospitals may be required to work day, swing, or overnight shifts to accommodate patients' needs. Overtime hours and on-call shifts are common for hospital nurses, who may be required to address emergency situations and lengthy medical procedures.

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Discussion Comments


@backdraft - I could not agree more and it is nice to hear someone speaking up for nurses. There are so many nurses in this country doing so much good work but we often get ignored or degraded. People think that we are just ladies in funny shirts who hand out band-aids and fill up water cups. That could not be further from reality.

I have been a nurse for almost 20 years and it has been both rewarding and heartbreaking. Rewarding because you do good work every day and make meaningful connections with the people you meet and serve. But it's also been heartbreaking because you have to deal with death, injury, pain, and gore to degrees you would have never imagined in nursing school.


Primary care nurses are really on the front lines of the health care industry. They have to deal with more of the stress, strain and mess of medicine than any doctor does. They also have to provide a level of care and sympathy to patients that can rival that shown by relatives. They are the unsung heroes of our hospitals and clinics.

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