The profession of nursing encompasses a wide range of responsibilities – from taking care of individuals/patients to the education and promotion of health practices, management of health policies, and research activities, to name a few of them.

Basically, the word ‘nurse’ has gotten its root from the Latin word ‘nutricius’ meaning ‘someone (a person) who nourishes’. In its very general definition, a ‘nurse’ is a person who is authorized to practice nursing after completion of the basic nursing education and training.

The fundamental purpose of this being the preparation of nursing students and professionals in such a way so as to build their foundation in a wide spectrum of responsibilities which can go from general to advanced nursing practices.

The main and common responsibilities of general practice nurses include working and collaborating with primary healthcare teams for patient care, performing diagnostics tests, administering medications and educating patients about disease management.

In accord with these roles, the advanced practice nurses perform additional functions which include differential diagnoses, interpreting results of lab tests and performing physical and psychological tests and diagnostics.

Typically, candidates enrolled in programs to become registered nurses take the following common courses: microbiology, anatomy, nutrition, chemistry, physiology, psychology, gerontology, bioethics, nursing theory and practice, apart from the advanced courses.

Among these, chemistry holds its special place because of its high relevance not only for the medical field but also for anything that surrounds life. Moreover, chemistry goes hand in hand in anything that happens in the body – from sub cellular level to performing the movements as I type this text and controlling our emotions and behavior as well.

What comes under this branch of chemistry if looked at with respect to nursing?

As this field relies on critical thinking combined with good practical expertise, the chemistry courses can be further broken down into some general branches which are essential across various nursing programs.

These are: general and organic chemistry, biochemistry and pharmacology. Not only these are to build the basic foundations of chemistry but also for a comprehension of the subjects for the implementation in practice and real life.

For example, while general chemistry gives knowledge of the chemical composition of the world that surrounds us, organic chemistry is more focused about the carbon-containing compounds which constitute the organic matter and hence its usefulness for nursing students.

In addition, biochemistry provides an understanding of the chemical processing taking place in living milieu between carbohydrates, proteins, lipids and nucleic acids.

Focusing more on pharmacology, it is an advanced level course focused on medicines, their interaction with other salts as well as within the body. This is a particularly important branch of chemistry enabling nursing students and professionals to gain knowledge of the effects have on body, how medicines affect and alter disease processes, and the study of adverse reactions in the body leading to allergies and other complications that might arise.

When someone talks about the importance of chemistry in the field of nursing, it means the importance of the knowledge of pharmacology in the literal sense. Besides understanding drugs and their effects of the body, a precise knowledge of the right dosage and conditions which do not necessitate drug administration is also important.

Let’s look at some examples of how a lack of the knowledge of chemistry can lead to serious consequences in patients including reduced and unwanted effects. As one example, when NSAID and Marcumar are simultaneously administered, they show an additive interaction leading to enhanced effect of both the drugs.

Quite contrastingly, aspirin and ibuprofen show antagonistic interactions resulting in reduced efficacy of both when simultaneous administration is done. Therefore, a systematic knowledge of the medicine’s chemistry, metabolism and interactions could help in the prevention of their adverse side effects.

Besides drug-drug interactions, it is also important for nurses to have a good knowledge and understanding of the chemistry of medicine food / medicine-beverage interactions.

For example, some vitamins, iron pills and antacids can have interaction with common foods thereby interfering with one another. Similarly, the efficacy of drugs is affected when taken along with some beverages.

An example includes slow reactions and tiredness felt by a person mixing and taking medications with alcoholic beverages. In this respect, proper guidance to patients can come only if the nurses are educated well about these complicated chemistries.

What are the challenges faced by nursing students in learning chemistry?

As much as a good and practical knowledge of chemistry with its implications is necessary, it is also equally important to facilitate the acquisition of chemistry knowledge. One challenge for nurses is the thinking of the students that they cannot learn chemistry, this being an especial case for students having nonscience background.

Therefore, it is essential that efforts should be put in creating motivational and interacting learning environments. Not only this would help easing the acquiring of knowledge but also an interacting environment will help others motivate in coping up with the competition.

Nurses hold an integral place in the society being important part of our health care system. While the education of chemistry is of prime importance in the training of a good practitioner nurse, making this education easy for them is of equal status too.

By this, the gap between the chemistry concepts and their application in practice can be overcome which is the current demand of the hour.

Sana Riaz

Sana has just completed her MPhil in Microbiology. She loves reading books and the latest discoveries in sciences.

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