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Back to Basics: The ABCs of Nursing

Nurse remembering the ABCs of nuring

In nursing, we have come to rely on our ABCs for a variety of needs. The most widely known use of the acronym was originally in CPR for unconscious or unresponsive patients: A=airway, B=breathing, C=circulation. But in 2010, the American Heart Association changed the order for cardiac arrest to CAB: C=chest compressions first, then A=airway and B=breathing in order to get the blood flowing more quickly.

Healthcare professionals use the ABCs to remember important information in other ways as well:

ABCD for nurses

Nursing priorities can also be remembered using your ABCs: assessment, basic vitals, charting, and drugs. It is essential that nurses in all settings are able to accurately assess and recognize patients who are at risk of becoming critically ill at an early stage and to effectively manage their care.

A = Assessment

Assessment begins with — what else — another set of ABCDEs: A=airway, B=breathing, C=circulation, D=disability, and E=exposure. The first three are self-explanatory; disability refers to the level of consciousness; and exposure includes a visual head-to-toe check of the patient, looking for signs of trauma, bleeding, skin reactions, and other abnormalities.

A friendly nurse caring for a patient

B= Basic vitals

Next, check basic vitals: The main vital signs typically monitored are body temperature, pulse rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, and oxygen saturation. Other vitals that should be considered include assessments of pain, level of consciousness, and urinary output.

C = Charting

Charting is the most reliable source of information we have to determine care given. Chart everything that is factual — what you see, hear, and do — including observations, nursing actions, patient’s response to treatment, safety precautions, and attempts to reach the doctor. Do not chart subjective opinions, just the facts. Be accurate. Time, date and sign your entries. Try to chart as you go.

D = Drugs

When you administer drugs, always observe the eight “rights” of medication administration:

  1. Right patient
  2. Right drug
  3. Right dose
  4. Right route
  5. Right time
  6. Right documentation
  7. Right reason
  8. Right response

Finally, respect the patient’s right to refuse the drug. The Joint Commission recommends reading back and verifying all medication orders given verbally or over the telephone.

The ABCs are more than just a convenient way to remember your basic training, they’re a great reminder of the valuable role of nurses in evaluating, treating, and protecting the patients you have been called to serve.

You may also be interested in: Top scrubs for nurses

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Last updated Dec. 17, 2021

About the author

Gerry Carpenter

Gerry Carpenter is the managing editor for CHG Healthcare. He is a 20-year marketing veteran who loves to write, edit, and play with words. He enjoys visiting new places, speaks fluent French, and is slowly learning Portuguese and Japanese.

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