From Overwhelmed to Empowered: The Benefits of Effective Nursing Delegation

by | May 16, 2023 | Med-Surg | 0 comments

As a nurse, delegation is an important skill that allows you to prioritize your workload and provide the best care possible for your patients. Delegating tasks to nursing assistants can help you manage your workload and free up your mental bandwidth, so that you can focus on more complex clinical situations. It goes without saying: Effective nursing delegation can save lives!

feature image of nursing delegation blog post

In this blog post, we’ll explore the importance of nursing delegation and offer some tips for effective delegation in a kind and respectful manner. We’ll also discuss delegation best practices and why delegation is a safety measure that ensures the right person is doing the right task at the right time.

Why is Nursing Delegation Important?

Delegation is an essential skill for nurses because it allows you to focus on tasks that only you can do. This includes things like analyzing lab values, notifying physicians, collaborating with other service members, identifying concerning trends, and more. When you delegate tasks appropriately, you can work more efficiently and effectively, while ensuring that your patients receive the care they need.

It’s very easy to get overwhelmed at the bedside, so by delegating what you can to your nursing assistants, it frees up mental bandwidth for you to be able to monitor your patients and respond appropriately.

Think about it: If you’re spending the first 2 hours of your shift getting your patients out of bed, washed up for the day, and feeding them breakfast, you do not have time or mental availability to do things like:

  • Check their meds for the day – if they’re still appropriate and available
  • Coordinate diagnostics
  • Educate the patient and family about what’s going on
  • Talk to physicians and APPs about new needs
  • Evaluate the latest diagnostics
  • Coordinate with therapy services
  • Monitor and intervene on abnormal findings

Spoiler alert: You literally cannot do it all.

So, let’s get into some tips to help you delegate like a pro!

Tips for Effective Nursing Delegation

Effective Nursing Delegation

Here are some delegation best practices to help you delegate tasks effectively:

Accept that the need to delegate is NOT a sign of failure

I used to think that I would only delegate if I absolutely had to. And if I had to, that meant that I wasn’t working hard or smart enough. I would admit defeat, go find a CNA, apologize 15x, and run off to attempt to catch up.

The sheer volume of tasks required for you to complete for each patient makes it simply impossible for you to do it all yourself. There are CNAs on your unit for a reason – and you need to use them.

Smart and capable nurses are phenomenal delegators. They are NOT failures for needing to delegate; they are smart because they do so effectively.

Build rapport with your nursing assistants

Effective delegation starts with building genuine rapport with your nursing assistants. Get to know them and show that you value their contributions to patient care. When you have a positive relationship with your nursing assistants, you’re more likely to work together effectively as a team.

Delegate tasks in a kind and respectful manner

When delegating tasks to nursing assistants, use a kind and respectful tone of voice. Don’t bark orders at people, especially if you just met them. Instead, delegate tasks in a kind business-like tone that shows that you value their expertise and are confident in their abilities.

Be clear and concise when delegating

When delegating tasks, be clear and concise. People hate it when you fluff a request with unnecessary words or apologies. Instead, be direct and specific about what needs to be done, and explain why it’s important. This helps to ensure that everyone is on the same page and understands their role in patient care.

Do not frame it as a favor to you. This is not a favor. It is an expectation of their job to complete tasks as delegated to them by RNs. You can communicate kindly without framing it like you’re asking mom for a favor.

  • Not: “Hey Mark, 3490 needs a bed bath. Can you please please do that for me? It would help me out SO MUCH if you did. I know you’re super busy. I’m so, so sorry.”
  • Rather: “Hey Mark, 3490 is ready for her bath when you are. Let me know if you need any help. I’ll be in 3492 giving meds.”


Provide clear instructions and expectations

When delegating tasks, provide clear instructions and expectations. Make sure that nursing assistants know what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, and how it should be done. Provide any necessary resources or equipment and answer any questions they may have.

If you’re not sure if the CNA knows how to complete a task, here are some talking points:

  • “Hey Sarah, Mr. Smith in room 3897 needs his IV removed. Are you familiar with how to do that? If not I can walk you through it.”
  • “Hey, Sarah. Can you empty the foley in 2347? I can show you how if needed.”

Monitor and provide feedback

Once you delegate a task, monitor progress and provide feedback as needed. This helps to ensure that tasks are completed correctly and on time, and it provides an opportunity for nursing assistants to learn and grow in their roles.

This means to double check the chart to ensure whatever task that was delegated was not only completed, but documented. If not, circle back with them and use a curious tone of voice.

  • “Hey Sarah. Were you able to empty that foley for me? How much did the patient void?”
  • “John, did you get a chance to walk 1789 yet?”
  • “Hey Ted, just checking in. Will you be grabbing the vitals in 6465 in the next 15-20 minutes? I’ve got to call the doc with an update, but I’m giving some time sensitive meds in another room.”

Sometimes they forget, and sometimes they’re seeing if you’ll forget! No need to take it personally. A kind follow-up reminder let’s them know that the task is still their responsibility.

When giving feedback:

  • Ensure privacy (don’t call them out in the middle of the nurse’s station)
  • Objectively state what you observed (“Hey, I saw that 87’s foley was emptied, but nothing was documented)
  • Give them a chance to clarify or confirm (“Oh my bad yea I did that but forgot what it was so I didn’t chart it.”
  • Explain the implications (“Ah, I see. Okay, so I get it. That can be easy to forget. Here’s the thing: With patients on diuretics, and with anyone who has a foley, it’s really important to know how much they’re peeing so that the physicians can know how much fluid to give them or adjust their meds.)
  • Confirm understanding (“Does that make sense?”)
  • Establish next steps (“Because it’s so important, we’ve got to chart something. So, do you remember how full the graduate was? Halfway? Completely full? Only 1/4th? Ok, so what we will do is put in your best guess and then add in the comments that it was an approximation. And then going forward, maybe write it on your report sheet, or just document it in the room before leaving. How does that sound?”

Express gratitude

I know people say that people shouldn’t expect praise for simply doing their job. However, there is a difference between lavishing praise on someone poorly completing a basic task versus acknowledging and thanking someone for getting something done well. So, no, you don’t need to word-vomit “I love yous” to every CNA to the point where it becomes completely disingenuous. I do recommend a simple thank you when you notice they got things done well.

People who know their good work is SEEN by those a level up in the hierarchy are more likely to continue. It’s true with nurses! When a physician thanks a nurse for something that truly is just a normal aspect of their job, it still feels amazing. And it gives you all the motivation to keep doing well! The same holds true for our CNAs. Genuinely thank them throughout a shift as they do things that make your day run smoother, and ensure they know you appreciate them when they go above and beyond. That’s how you get people working with you who want to do good work.

A Webinar on Nursing Delegation

Back in 2021, I did a webinar on this topic that has received a lot of great feedback. There’s a great Q&A section at the end. I flesh out these concepts a bit more, so if you’d like to watch that, click below!

The Ultimate Resource For Med-Surg Nurses

If you’re interested in developing your delegation skills and more, I encourage you to check out my course, Med-Surg Mindset: A Crash Course for New Med-Surg Nurses. This course covers topics such as nursing delegation, time management, patient safety, and more, and is designed to help new med-surg nurses develop the right mindset to excel in their roles.

By taking this course, you’ll learn practical strategies for effective nursing delegation, and you’ll develop the confidence and skills needed to provide exceptional care to your patients. You’ll also learn how to prioritize your workload, manage your time effectively, and communicate with other healthcare providers.

The course is designed to be accessible and convenient for new nurses, with self-paced online modules and interactive learning activities. You’ll also have access to a supportive community of fellow nurses, where you can ask questions, share experiences, and learn from each other.

Final Thoughts on Nursing Delegation

Delegation is an essential skill for nurses that allows you to focus on tasks that only you can do, while ensuring that your patients receive the care they need. By delegating tasks effectively, you can work more efficiently, build teamwork and trust among healthcare providers, and improve patient care outcomes. So, let’s express our gratitude to nursing assistants and work together as a team to provide the best care possible for our patients. And if you’re a new med-surg nurse looking to develop the right mindset to excel in your role, check out Med-Surg Mindset today!

More Resources for Med-Surg Nurses

As you continue to develop your patient assessment skills, it’s essential to have access to reliable resources. Check out these helpful FreshRN resources to further enhance your knowledge and expertise:

Are you a new Med-Surg nurse?

MSM Video

Med-Surg Mindset from FreshRN is the ultimate resource for nurses new to this complex and dynamic acute care nursing specialty. Whether you are fresh out of nursing school or an experienced nurse starting out in med-surg for the first time, the learning curve is steep. With input from three experienced bedside nurses, this comprehensive course is all you need to learn all of the unspoken and must-know information to become a safe, confident, and successful medical-surgical nurse.

Picture of Kati Kleber, founder of FRESHRN

Hi, I’m Kati.

Kati Kleber, MSN RN is a nurse educator, author, national speaker, host of the FreshRN® Podcast, and owner of FreshRN® – an online platform created to educate, encourage, and motivate newly licensed nurses in innovative ways.

Connect with her on YouTube, Pinterest, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook, and sign-up for her free email newsletter for new nurses.


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