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Delegation in Nursing: A Comprehensive Guide

This article was written in collaboration with Christine T. and ChatGPT, our little helper developed by OpenAI.



Delegation is the process by which a nurse assigns specific tasks or responsibilities to other healthcare team members, such as nursing assistants, licensed practical nurses (LPNs), or other registered nurses (RNs), while maintaining accountability for the overall patient care. Effective delegation ensures that the right person performs the right task in the right manner, optimizing patient outcomes and promoting efficient use of healthcare resources.

Synonyms, Definitions, and Examples

Synonym Definition Example
Task allocation The process of assigning specific tasks to healthcare team members based on their skills, competencies, and scope of practice. An RN allocates the task of checking vital signs to a nursing assistant, while they administer medications to multiple patients.
Responsibility sharing The act of distributing responsibilities among healthcare team members to ensure efficient and effective patient care. An RN shares the responsibility of wound care with an LPN, allowing the RN to focus on more complex tasks.
Authority transfer The process of granting authority to a team member to perform specific tasks or make decisions within their scope of practice. An RN transfers authority to an LPN to administer certain medications under their supervision.

Assessment Techniques and Tools

Before delegating tasks, nurses must assess the following factors:

  • Patient’s needs: Determine the complexity and acuity of the patient’s condition and the level of care required.
  • Task complexity: Evaluate the task’s complexity, the potential for harm, and the degree of critical thinking and problem-solving required.
  • Healthcare team member’s competence: Assess the knowledge, skills, and experience of the team member to whom the task will be delegated.
  • Supervision requirements: Consider the level of supervision and guidance needed for the delegated task.

Delegation Frameworks

Various frameworks can guide nurses in the delegation process. Some common delegation frameworks include:

  • Five Rights of Delegation: Right task, right circumstances, right person, right direction/communication, and right supervision/evaluation.
  • DECIDE Model: Define the task, Evaluate the patient, Clarify the available resources, Identify the delegatee, Direct and Communicate the task, and Evaluate the delegation process.
  • Delegation Process Model: Assessment and planning, communication, surveillance and supervision, evaluation and feedback.

Delegation Documentation

Proper documentation of delegated tasks is crucial for maintaining accountability, communication, and continuity of care. Here are some tips for effective delegation documentation:

  • Record the delegated task, including the date, time, and the healthcare team member to whom the task was delegated.
  • Document any specific instructions or guidelines provided to the team member regarding the delegated task.
  • Include any follow-up actions or supervision provided by the delegating nurse.
  • Note any relevant outcomes or changes in the patient’s condition related to the delegated task.

Legal and Ethical Considerations

Delegation in nursing involves various legal and ethical considerations, including:

  • Scope of practice: Delegate tasks only within the scope of practice of the healthcare team member to ensure patient safety and adherence to professional standards.
  • Accountability: Maintain accountability for the overall patient care, even when tasks are delegated to other healthcare team members.
  • Patient-centered care: Ensure that delegated tasks are in the best interest of the patient and contribute to optimal patient outcomes.
  • Communication and collaboration: Foster open and effective communication among healthcare team members to promote collaboration and coordinated care.

Real-Life Examples or Case Studies

In a real-life scenario, an RN working in a busy medical-surgical unit is assigned to care for six patients. To manage their workload and provide safe and efficient patient care, the RN decides to delegate some tasks to other healthcare team members. The RN assigns a nursing assistant to check vital signs and assist patients with personal care tasks, while an LPN is delegated the responsibility of administering oral medications and performing wound dressings. The RN maintains accountability for the overall patient care, supervises the delegated tasks, and communicates regularly with the nursing assistant and LPN to ensure coordinated care and optimal patient outcomes.

Resources and References

  • American Nurses Association. (2015). Nursing: Scope and Standards of Practice. Silver Spring, MD: Nursesbooks.org.
  • National Council of State Boards of Nursing. (2020). National Guidelines for Nursing Delegation. Chicago, IL: NCSBN.