Nursing care and how it is delivered are the cornerstones of any healthcare system. Without well-organized nursing care models that respond to patients’ needs, every other aspect of healthcare falls.

Nursing care models can be described as reference guides that set out the scope of a nurse’s care, defining their duties and tasks and providing a structure to follow to fulfill their role.

Four main models of nursing care are used in the United States — functional, team, primary, and total — and in this article, we will explore each of them and understand how they are used.

Studying for a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree online can help you learn about the different models and specializations in nursing, all while working around your current lifestyle. The Baylor University nursing online DNP program offers you the freedom and flexibility you need, and the opportunity to not only further your career but also make tangible changes to the nursing care of the future. Students can learn how to apply their medical experience to healthcare leadership and management to advocate for patient safety and systems that help both staff and patients fulfill their medical needs.

Let’s look at the variety of ways nursing care is provided and how to inspire students to take a deeper look at this subject area through study and career progression.

The four types of nursing care models.

The functional and team models focus on tasks with the goal of optimizing efficiency. These nursing care models have a place in short-stay wards where a patient’s journey may be relatively short.

Meanwhile, the primary and total care models are more centered around the patient and call on nurses’ expertise throughout the patient’s journey. These models work well with elderly or vulnerable patients or those with complex needs and promote health equity for all members of society.


The functional nursing care model focuses on the tasks that need to be done to deliver care. This means that tasks are distributed to team members, who may be nurses or support staff such as aides or technicians, and their goal is to complete the task competently.

While tasks may be worked through quickly and efficiently under this model, patient care can be impersonal and fragmented.


In the team nursing care model, a team leader, often an experienced nurse, leads overall care. They match each team member with a patient or patients to care for, and in turn, that nurse will outsource tasks to support staff.

This may offer more personalized care than the functional model and allows each team member to offer their own contribution to any individual patient when actioning prescriptions in hospitals, patient record-keeping and patient movements. However, it does mean a distance between nurse and patient, as the nurses may not be performing care themselves.


In the primary nursing care model, the nurse plans, delivers, and assesses the care of individual patients from the time they are admitted to the moment they are discharged.

This puts the nurse firmly at the heart of the patient’s journey, with the primary focus very much on the patient, and allows a relationship to build between nurse and patient. The downside to this model of care is that sometimes there are not enough nurses available to enable each patient to have their own primary nurse.


Like the primary nursing care model, total care puts the patient firmly at the center of care. Again, the patient’s nurse is assigned responsibility for providing care to the patient for the length of their stay in the hospital.

It is, in fact, the longest-established nursing care model. It has stood the test of time as it minimizes errors since a single nurse per shift cares for each individual patient, and because it enables good communication between nurse and patient and also with other staff.

How can I transform nursing care models?

If you are involved in the nursing profession and have the desire to effect change and transform care for the better through assessing and improving nursing care models, then you may wish to pursue a nurse executive or leader role. This will include valuable work optimizing nursing care models, thus improving outcomes for all patients.

To get there, you’ll need a portfolio of experience in nursing in addition to a master’s or doctoral nursing degree. For example, a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree specializing in Executive Nurse Leadership is an ideal path toward this goal.

Of course, if you’re already working in the nursing profession, you may be wondering how to fit your studies in with the demands of your job. When you choose an online Doctor of Nursing Practice degree, you can study alongside working in your current role so that you continue to gain experience and expertise in this valued profession. As well as the convenience of working in your own time and at your own pace, this type of degree offers many opportunities.

Having this qualification under your belt will mean that you are highly desirable to employers and can command a higher salary. What’s more, according to Kristen Azar from the American Organization of Nurse Executives, nurse leaders have a key role in ensuring health equity for all and act not just as nurses but “scientists, innovators, advocates, and educators, and often serve in multiple roles.”

Making a difference in how care is delivered

Nursing care models are not set in stone. In fact, continual assessment and transformation of these models are signs of a responsive healthcare system.

This change can only be affected by competent nurse leaders who have both the practical experience and the benefit of specialized qualifications to propose and drive transformation. That’s why furthering your career as a nurse executive can really make a difference in how care is delivered.

Exploring flexible study options to give you the expertise you need to make those changes is a step in the right direction for excellent healthcare for everyone.

By Percy