The Advantages & Disadvantages of Functional Nursing

Although the job duties of nurses generally are wide and varied, within the context of functional nursing the nurses have only one and maybe two responsibilities that they are charged with performing throughout their work day. The primary purpose of functional nursing is to ensure that no patient goes without a vital component of care.


Functional nursing was designed around an efficacy model that seeks to get many tasks accomplished in a short period of time. It is task-oriented in scope. Instead of one primary nurse performing many functions, several nurses are given one or two assignments. For example, there is a medicine nurse whose sole responsibility is administering medications. A treatment nurse is charged with giving patients diagnostic tests as well as providing accurate diagnoses according to the patient's symptoms and test results. A charge nurse works in tandem with the physician and ensures that the patient receives optimum care. The principal idea of functional nursing is for nurses to be assigned tasks, not patients.


Functional nursing arose during the Great Depression in the United States when there were not enough trained nurses available. Before this time, registered nurses generally did not work in public health care facilities such as hospitals. They were, by and large, private practitioners. During the Depression, many nurses became employees rather than independent contractors. In doing so, they would be guaranteed income. During World War II, hospitals saw their nursing staffs drastically decrease. Skilled licensed nurses went overseas or volunteered at Veterans Administration hospitals to care for injured soldiers. To supplement this shortage, hospitals began using less qualified personnel, such as nurse's aides. It was more practical to teach the ancillary personnel one skill rather than inundating them with several, thereby causing a deterioration in care.


When functional nursing was introduced, there were many advantages. For example, nurse's aides, only trained to provide a certain level of care and could only do what they were proficient in doing. The repetitive nature of only doing one thing lends itself to the staff member acquiring the skill faster. This is an efficient way to provide care that has translated to more modern times. It is a cost-efficient model because fewer registered nurses are needed.


Functional nursing arose out of necessity and, arguably, this model is no longer needed. Insofar as the efficient way tasks are carried out by multiple nurses, it leads to an impersonal relationship with patients. The assembly line approach is fragmented and the nurse-patient relationship does not flourish. Also, it limits the growth of registered nurses. If a nurse only performs one job duty, she limits the application of the education and training that she received.