What is the difference between a nursing diagnosis and a medical diagnosis?

Nurses General Nursing



I'm starting NS in August. With all the science classes I've taken I was a bit surprised to learn that a medical diagnosis is different than a nursing diagnosis. I know (now) that nurses cannot diagnose a medical condition, so what is the purpose of a nursing diagnosis? Also, what are some of the roles unique to nursing vs. the roles of other medical professionals? (I hope these questions makes sense!)

Thank you for your time!


985 Posts

Specializes in Med/Surg, ICU, educator.

Medical diagnosis is based on the physiologic or medical condition. Nursing diagnosis on the other hand is based upon the response to the alteration in health (medical condition). I hope this helps, but you'll learn about it more in NS when creating care plans.


195 Posts

The previous post is correct. I'd like to add that nursing diagnosis have to do with things that nurses have autonomy to take action about.

For example, bacterial pneumonia is a medical diagnosis. A medical practitioner can diagnose and treat pneumonia with, for example, antibiotics.

Altered airway clearance (inability to clear secretions from the airway) is a nursing diagnosis. It is a human response to the medical condition of pneumonia. It is a condition that an RN can treat autonomously (without need of an order from the doctor) through things like positioning and suctioning.

As the previous poster said. Nurses do not treat diseases (though they carry out some treatments on behalf of the doctor). Nurses treat all the human response to those diseases... including physical, mental, and spiritual responses.

Specializes in Med-Surg/Oncology.

A medical diagnosis focuses on the illness. A nursing diagnosis focuses on the person and their physiological and/or psychological response to the illness. Doctors formulate medical diagnoses to treat medical problems; as nurses, we then care for the person behind that illness.. That is why nursing diagnoses are so varied in their focus - We can give a ND of anything from "ineffective airway clearance" to "ineffective coping".

Every medical profession has its own roles and its own set of skills. It would take a very long list to tell you what is unique to nursing because as a profession we are very diverse skills-wise; our profession has countless specialties and career pathways that you could take depending on where you want to be professionally, and certain specialties have roles unique to that specialty.

I wish you the very best of luck in nursing school! :)


502 Posts

Specializes in trauma, ortho, burns, plastic surgery.

Nursing diagnosis is based on what YOU the nurse you see/saw, no breathing, slow breathing, no BM, no urinary out put, fever, chills, whatever.... As much information you are able to give to doctor as much closed to a medical Dx he/she will.

The most AWESOME, nursing dx are related to behavior.... are tricky ones....

you need to tell doctor OBJECTIVE what you seen... " patient stay awake all night long" fallowing by the monitoring of behavior....how many hours each shift she/he was awake... based on these information and togheter with clinical examn and labs, only DR will give dx of INSOMNIA and the treatment.

A medical DX is just DR resonsability, yours is to document S/S, circumstances and facts and announce dr, he/she will decide if is or NOT, somenthing to be adressed.

Please be very carefull... A NURSE IS A NURSE, and a DOCTOR is A DOCTOR, don't confuse these, or try to mess it, to be able to have a happy nursing life!

Daytonite, BSN, RN

1 Article; 14,603 Posts

Specializes in med/surg, telemetry, IV therapy, mgmt.

A diagnosis is the decision or opinion that is made after a process of examination or investigation of facts has been made. A number of professions engage in diagnosing problems of their clientele. Medical decision making specifically focuses on determining disease and calling it medical diagnosis. Nursing diagnosis focuses on the patient's reactions to what has happened to them as a result of a medical disease or condition as well as any other stresses or forces in their life. As nurses we are concerned with helping patients meet their biological needs in order to live safely.

Only licensed RNs can work as staff nurses in hospitals, nursing homes and clinics and can advance to assistant unit manager, head nurse (unit manager) and administrative roles like assistant director or director of nursing services. Some of the roles unique to nursing are as clinical nurse specialists, nurse anesthetists, nurse-midwives, and nurse practitioners.

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