Do nurses need to know anatomy? Nursing students struggling in their Anatomy and Physiology class often ask this question.
The short answer to this question is…yes! As a nurse, you certainly don’t have to possess a triple PhD in anatomy, but you will need to know the basics. I’ll give you five reasons why you’ll need to know anatomy as a nurse.
Anatomy Knowledge Helps Nurses Perform Nursing Assessments
When you perform a head-to-toe assessment (or other nursing assessments), you’ll need a good understanding of anatomy so that you can understand what you’re assessing. For example, when you listen to the heart, you’ll need to know which valves you’re assessing. When you listen to the lungs, in which lobe did you hear that crackle sound?
If your patient tells you that they are experiencing abdominal pain in their right lower quadrant, then you’ll know that it could be the appendix causing the pain.
Anatomy Knowledge Helps Nurses Perform Nursing Skills
If you’re going to draw blood or start an IV, you’ll want to know the location of the best veins for that nursing skill.
Likewise, if you’re going to insert a Foley catheter, you’ll want to ensure that you insert the catheter into the urethra and not the vaginal opening in your female patients.
Anatomy Knowledge Helps Nurses Understand How Diseases Affect the Body
For example, if your patient is in renal failure, you can think back to the anatomy of the kidney. You can understand that the nephrons are not working properly. Add to that a little physiology, and you can understand how your patient will be having problems with fluid overload.
In addition, consider pneumonia, a condition that affects many people each year. In this case, you can use your anatomy knowledge to understand how the alveoli sacs have impaired gas exchange, so we can have low oxygen saturation and acid-base imbalances in those patients.
Anatomy Knowledge Helps Nurses Understand Treatments for Your Patients
Suppose a patient is receiving intravenous diuretics. As a nurse, you’ll want to know which anatomical structures (or organs) these drugs will affect. In this example, diuretics will affect the kidneys.
You can also think back to physiology to understand how the kidneys work and how diuretics will affect the kidneys. So by understanding how treatments will affect certain organs, we can provide better patient care and beware of specific signs and symptoms.
Anatomy Knowledge Helps Nurses with Documentation
When a nurse completes his or her documentation, it would be best practice to use the proper anatomical terms. For example, if a patient had a pressure injury on their backside, you wouldn’t want to write, “Patient has pressure injury on their butt.”
Instead, you would want to document by writing something like, “Patient has a pressure injury on their sacral area.”
Nursing Students Often Struggle with Anatomy and Physiology
Anatomy is one of those classes that many nursing students dread. Many nursing students become discouraged after struggling in anatomy, and some even question if they would make a good nurse (or drop out of the program).
Please do not fret about this class! Anatomy has a lot of dense material, and it can feel very overwhelming. In fact, many colleges break it up into two classes: Anatomy 1 and Anatomy 2.
However, once you get through it and start working as a nurse, you’ll be performing assessments day in and day out. You’ll begin to know basic anatomy like the back of your hand. You’ll even describe things in terms of anatomy during casual conversations off the clock, too.
So, to all you nursing students struggling with anatomy, just remember that you don’t have to be an anatomy guru, but you will need to learn the basics. Even if you don’t understand it all now (or do a brain dump after you finish the class in college), you will learn it as a nurse and use it so often that it will become as easy as writing your name.
Hang in there, and don’t give up! You’ve got this, future nurses!