A nurse is a healthcare professional who, in collaboration with other members of a health care team, is responsible for: treatment, safety, and recovery of acutely or chronically ill individuals; health promotion and maintenance within families, communities and populations; and, treatment of life-threatening emergencies in a wide range of health care settings. Nurses perform a wide range of clinical and non-clinical functions necessary to the delivery of health care, and may also be involved in medical and nursing research.
Both Nursing roles and education were first defined by Florence Nightingale, following her experiences caring for the wounded in the Crimean War. Prior to this, nursing was thought to be a trade with few common practices or documented standards. Nightingale's concepts were used as a guide for establishing nursing schools at the beginning of the twentieth century, which were mostly hospital-based training programs emphasizing the development of a set of clinical skills. The profession's early utilization of a general, hospital-based education is sometimes credited for the wide range of roles nurses have assumed within health care, and this is contrasted with present-day nursing education, which is increasingly specialized and typically offered at post-secondary institutions.
Practice as a nurse is often defined by state, provincial or territorial governments. As an example, the province of Ontario classifies nurses into the roles of Registered Practical Nurse, Registered Nurse (general class), and Registered Nurse (extended class). In this respect, the title "nurse" is protected by law within the province, and regulated by legislative statute. Some regions have legislated different or expanded roles for nurses, generating many potential nurse careers.
Around the world, nurses have been traditionally female. Despite equal opportunity legislation nursing has continued to be a female dominated profession.  For instance, in Canada and America the male-to-female ratio of nurses is approximately 1:19.  This ratio is represented around the world. Notable exceptions include: Francophone Africa, which includes the countries of Benin, Burkino Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Congo, Ivory Coast, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Guinea, Gabon, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, and Togo, which all have more male than female nurses. In Europe, in countries such as Spain, Portugal, Czechoslovakia, and Italy, over 20% of nurses are male.
Currently, a nursing shortage exists within the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, and a number of other developed countries. The majority of analysis refers to a shortage of Registered Nurse staff. The Canadian Registered Nurse shortage has been linked to longer wait times for hospital-based procedures, increased adverse events for patients, and more stressful work environments. As the shortage of Registered Nurses increases, it is expected that there will be an increasing move towards utilizing unregulated healthcare workers to meet demands for basic nursing care within hospitals and the community.
The English word nurse also refers to the act of breastfeeding. A wet nurse is considered someone who provides her own breast-milk to infants. In other languages, the word for nurse comes from the same etymology as the word infirmary, such as in French (infirmier), or Italian (infermiere).
Typically, nurses are distinguished from one another by the area they work in (critical care, perioperative, oncology, nephrology, pediatrics, adult acute care, geriatrics, psychiatric, community, occupational health, etc.). Bodies such as the American Nurses Association and the Canadian Nurses Association have both supported a move towards the creation of national specialty certifications, in order to support more specialized nursing roles. As nursing roles and specialties are continually changing, the International Council of Nurses states that nursing education should always include continuing education activities; while educational preparation is expected to vary between countries, all nursing jurisdictions are encouraged to promote continuing education as an important form of professional education.
Nursing education varies widely, and continues to produce an array of options as nursing roles evolve and also expand in scope. Educational preparation as a nurse may include certificate, diploma, associates, bachelors, masters or doctoral preparation.
 See also
 Nursing around the world
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