Utilization of Registered Nurses in Primary Care Teams

A Systematic Review

Published in: International Journal of Nursing Studies [Epub May 2017]. doi: 10.1016/j.ijnurstu.2017.05.013

by Allison A. Norful, Grant R. Martsolf, Krystyna deJacq, Lusine Poghosyan

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Registered nurses are increasingly becoming embedded in primary care teams yet there is a wide variability in nursing roles and responsibilities across organizations. Policy makers are calling for a closer look at how to best utilize registered nurses in primary care teams. Lack of knowledge about effective primary care nursing roles and responsibilities challenges policy makers' abilities to develop recommendations to effectively deploy registered nurses in primary care needed to assure efficient, evidence-based, and quality health care.


To synthesize international evidence about primary care RN roles and responsibilities to make recommendations for maximizing the contributions of RNs in team-based primary care models.


Systematic Review.

Data Sources

The Meta-Analysis and Systematic Reviews of Observational Studies framework guided the conduct of this review. Five electronic databases (OVID Medline, CINAHL, EMBASE, PubMed and Cochrane Library) were searched using MeSH terms: primary care, roles, and responsibilities. The term "nurs*" was truncated to identify all literature relevant to nursing.

Review Methods

The initial search yielded 2,243. Abstracts and titles were screened for relevance and seventy-one full text reviews were completed by two researchers. Inclusion criteria included: 1) Registered nurses practicing in interprofessional teams; 2) Description of registered nursing roles and responsibilities; 3) Primary care setting. All eligible studies underwent quality appraisal using the Integrative Quality Criteria for Review of Multiple Study Designs tool.


Eighteen studies met eligibility across six countries: Australia, United States, Spain, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa. Registered nurses play a large role in chronic disease management, patient education, medication management, and often can shift between clinical and administrative responsibilities. There are a limited number of registered nurses that participate in primary care policy making and research.


Integrating registered nurses into primary care has the potential to increase patient access to a primary care provider because registered nurses can supplement some of the provider workload: they renew prescriptions, address patient questions, and provide patient education. Clear practice protocols and nursing policy should be written by registered nurses to ensure safe, and effective nursing care. The use of a medical assistant or nurse's aide to perform non-nursing tasks allows registered nurses to take on more complex patient care. Future research should expand on emerging payment models for nurse-specific tasks.

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