The surrogate role in nursing refers to a nurse serving as a substitute for a significant other in the patient's life. This role was first introduced by nursing theorist Hildegard Peplau in 1952 when she described the importance of nurses assuming non-traditional roles, such as surrogate family members, to meet patients' emotional and physical needs. While the term "surrogate role" may not be commonly used in contemporary nursing practice literature, nurses assuming roles beyond their traditional caregiving responsibilities remains relevant and practiced in modern healthcare settings (Wasaya et al., 2021, p. xx).
Nurses have long played a critical role in patient care, providing physical, emotional, and psychological support to patients and their families. However, as healthcare systems become increasingly complex and patients face more significant social and emotional challenges, nurses must assume more diverse and non-traditional roles to meet their patients’ thoroughly fully (Eltaybani et al., 2022, p. 5). The surrogate role is one such role that nurses can consider to provide emotional support, assist with decision-making, and act as a liaison between the patient and their healthcare providers.
The surrogate role is particularly relevant when patients lack adequate social support, are experiencing emotional distress, or have limited decision-making capacity. In these cases, the nurse can step in and provide emotional support, assist with decision-making, and advocate for the patient's needs and wishes. For example, a patient with limited English proficiency may need the nurse to act as a translator and help them communicate with their healthcare providers. A patient grieving the loss of a loved one may need the nurse to provide emotional support and help them cope with their grief.
Moreover, the surrogate role is especially relevant in palliative and end-of-life care. The nurse may act as a surrogate family member and provide comfort, emotional support, and advocacy for the patient's wishes and needs. In these situations, the nurse must communicate effectively with the patient and their family, provide emotional support and comfort, and advocate for their autonomy and dignity.
However, assuming the surrogate role can also present challenges for nurses. The nurse must maintain a professional boundary while providing emotional support and companionship to the patient. The nurse must also be mindful of their emotional and psychological well-being and ensure they are not taking on more than they can handle.
Despite these challenges, the surrogate role remains crucial in nursing practice, especially when patients lack social support or face end-of-life care. As healthcare systems become increasingly complex and patients face more significant social and emotional challenges, nurses must continue to adapt and assume non-traditional roles to thoroughly meet their patients’ needs. The surrogate role, in particular, provides a vital service to patients and their families, ensuring they receive the emotional support, advocacy, and companionship they need during difficult times.
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