Nurse helping woman to walk

What’s The Difference Between a Registered Nurse and Caregiver?

A registered nurse and a caregiver both play important roles in providing healthcare and assistance to individuals. The decision to have a registered nurse or a caregiver depends on the specific needs and circumstances of the person receiving care. If needs are complex, you may benefit from both nurse and caregiving support.

Registered nurses are vetted and licensed professionals who receive ongoing training to maintain their skills. You may need a nurse when:

    1. Medical expertise is required: Nurses have extensive medical knowledge and training. They can administer medications, perform medical procedures, monitor vital signs, and provide specialized care for specific conditions. They can also help coordinate care across all of your providers, and can anticipate next steps in your journey. They know all the right questions to ask, and can be your best advocate once they understand your goals of care. Given their knowledge and expertise, they are well positioned to advocate for patients in the shared decision making process (Ollin et al., 2021) They can further provide you with the knowledge needed to help you make the best medical decisions possible from an unbiased lens.
    2. Managing complex medical conditions: If the individual has complex medical conditions that require regular monitoring, skilled nursing care is often necessary. This can include individuals with chronic illnesses, post-operative patients, or those requiring advanced medical treatments. Nurses can not only help directly care for these conditions such as heart failure and diabetes, but they can help you recover after a surgery or procedure even in the comfort of your own home.
    3. Managing medications: Nurses are trained in medication administration, including administering injections, intravenous medications, and managing complex medication regimens. This can also include medications that are provided enterally via a feeding tube. If a person requires frequent or specialized medication management, a nurse may be needed. Registered nurses also collaborate with the pharmacy and medical team to help ensure that the medications prescribed are appropriate and necessary. It is not uncommon for older adults to be prescribed many medications which may be over prescribed or may have dangerous interactions among them leading to unintentional harm  (Fried & Mecca, 2019).
    4. Wound care: Nurses are skilled in assessing and managing wounds. If an individual has wounds that require specialized care, such as surgical incisions, pressure ulcers, wound vacs, or complex dressings, a nurse would be appropriate. There are also nurses who are certified in wound care and can provide the best input in managing wounds. In general, nurses provide person centered and holistic care which has demonstrated improved pressure ulcer preventions, patient satisfaction, and patient knowledge and quality of life (Gethin et al., 2020).


A caregiver can best help with:

  1. Non-medical support: Caregivers are not trained in medical procedures or administration of medications. However, they can provide reminders for medication schedules and help with transportation to medical appointments.
  2. Assistance with daily activities: Caregivers provide support with daily activities such as bathing, dressing, grooming, meal preparation, and mobility assistance. They help individuals with their basic needs and activities of daily living.
  3. Companionship: Caregivers often provide emotional support and companionship to individuals who may be socially isolated or in need of regular interaction and conversation.
  4. Household tasks: Caregivers can assist with light housekeeping, laundry, grocery shopping, and other household chores to ensure a safe and clean living environment.

While they are distinctly different, nurses also naturally assist people in caregiving. For example, when a nurse helps someone up to the bathroom, they are assessing everything from bowel patterns, to physical mobility, to cognition.

It’s important to note that the specific requirements for nursing or caregiving may vary depending on the individual’s condition, level of independence, and the healthcare setting. Consulting with a healthcare professional or care coordinator can help determine the most appropriate level of care needed.

If you know that you or a loved one can benefit from extra care and support, but are not quite sure about what is the best option, please call Navi Nurses and speak with a registered nurse at 480-482-1891. The nurses at Navi are happy to help you with the direction that you need to make the best decisions possible.

You can also read more about How to Find a Private Duty Nurse.