How to Write a Nursing Care Plan

6 Min Read Published April 26, 2023
How to Write a Nursing Care Plan

Knowing how to write a nursing care plan is essential for nursing students and nurses. Why? Because it gives you guidance on what the patient’s main nursing problem is, why the problem exists, and how to make it better or work towards a positive end goal. In this article, we'll dig into each component to show you exactly how to write a nursing care plan. 

Nursing Care Plan Components

A nursing care plan has several key components including, 

Each of the five main components is essential to the overall nursing process and care plan. A properly written care plan must include these sections otherwise, it won’t make sense!

  • Nursing diagnosis - A clinical judgment that helps nurses determine the plan of care for their patients
  • Expected outcome - The measurable action for a patient to be achieved in a specific time frame. 
  • Nursing interventions and rationales - Actions to be taken to achieve expected outcomes and reasoning behind them.
  • Evaluation - Determines the effectiveness of the nursing interventions and determines if expected outcomes are met within the time set.

>> Related: What is the Nursing Process?

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How to Write a Nursing Care Plan

Before writing a nursing care plan, determine the most significant problems affecting the patient. Think about medical problems but also psychosocial problems. At times, a patient's psychosocial concerns might be more pressing or even holding up discharge instead of the actual medical issues. 

After making a list of problems affecting the patient and corresponding nursing diagnosis, determine which are the most important. Generally, this is done by considering the ABCs (Airway, Breathing, Circulation). However, these will not ALWAYS be the most significant or even relevant for your patient. 

Step 1: Assessment

The first step in writing an organized care plan includes gathering subjective and objective nursing data. Subjective data is what the patient tells us their symptoms are, including feelings, perceptions, and concerns. Objective data is observable and measurable.

This information can come from, 

  • Verbal statements from the patient and family

  • Vital signs

    • Blood pressure

    • Heart rate

    • Respirations

    • Temperature

    • Oxygen Saturation

  • Physical complaints

    • Pain

    • Headache

    • Nausea

    • Vomiting

  • Body conditions

    • Head-to-toe assessment findings

  • Medical history

  • Height and weight

  • Intake and output

  • Patient feelings, concerns, perceptions

  • Laboratory data

  • Diagnostic testing

    • Echocardiogram

    • X-Ray

    • EKG

Step 2: Diagnosis

Using the information and data collected in Step 1, a nursing diagnosis is chosen that best fits the patient, the goals, and the objectives for the patient’s hospitalization. 

According to North American Nursing Diagnosis Association (NANDA), defines a nursing diagnosis as “a clinical judgment about the human response to health conditions/life processes, or a vulnerability for that response, by an individual, family, group or community.”

A nursing diagnosis is based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid and helps prioritize treatments. Based on the nursing diagnosis chosen, the goals to resolve the patient’s problems through nursing implementations are determined in the next step. 

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There are 4 types of nursing diagnoses.  

  1. Problem-focused - Patient problem present during a nursing assessment is known as a problem-focused diagnosis

  2. Risk - Risk factors require intervention from the nurse and healthcare team prior to a real problem developing

  3. Health promotion - Improve the overall well-being of an individual, family, or community

  4. Syndrome - A cluster of nursing diagnoses that occur in a pattern or can all be addressed through the same or similar nursing interventions

After determining which type of the four diagnoses you will use, start building out the nursing diagnosis statement. 

The three main components of a nursing diagnosis are:

  1. Problem and its definition - Patient’s current health problem and the nursing interventions needed to care for the patient.

  2. Etiology or risk factors - Possible reasons for the problem or the conditions in which it developed

  3. Defining characteristics or risk factors - Signs and symptoms that allow for applying a specific diagnostic label/used in the place of defining characteristics for risk nursing diagnosis



Problem-Focused Diagnosis related to ______________________ (Related Factors) as evidenced by _________________________ (Defining Characteristics).


The correct statement for a NANDA-I nursing diagnosis would be: Risk for _____________ as evidenced by __________________________ (Risk Factors).

Step 3: Outcomes and Planning

After determining the nursing diagnosis, it is time to create a SMART goal based on evidence-based practices. SMART is an acronym that stands for,

  • Specific

  • Measurable

  • Achievable

  • Relevant

  • Time-Bound

It is important to consider the patient’s medical diagnosis, overall condition, and all of the data collected. A medical diagnosis is made by a physician or advanced healthcare practitioner.  It’s important to remember that a medical diagnosis does not change if the condition is resolved, and it remains part of the patient’s health history forever. 

Examples of medical diagnosis include, 

  • Chronic Lung Disease (CLD)

  • Alzheimer’s Disease

  • Endocarditis

  • Plagiocephaly 

  • Congenital Torticollis 

  • Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD)

It is also during this time you will consider goals for the patient and outcomes for the short and long term. These goals must be realistic and desired by the patient. For example, if a goal is for the patient to seek counseling for alcohol dependency during the hospitalization but the patient is currently detoxing and having mental distress - this might not be a realistic goal. 

Step 4: Implementation

Now that the goals have been set, you must put the actions into effect to help the patient achieve the goals. While some of the actions will show immediate results (ex. giving a patient with constipation a suppository to elicit a bowel movement) others might not be seen until later on in the hospitalization. 

The implementation phase means performing the nursing interventions outlined in the care plan. Interventions are classified into seven categories: 

  • Family

  • Behavioral

  • Physiological

  • Complex physiological

  • Community

  • Safety

  • Health system interventions

Some interventions will be patient or diagnosis-specific, but there are several that are completed each shift for every patient:

  • Pain assessment

  • Position changes

  • Fall prevention

  • Providing cluster care

  • Infection control

Step 5: Evaluation 

The fifth and final step of the nursing care plan is the evaluation phase. This is when you evaluate if the desired outcome has been met during the shift. There are three possible outcomes, 

  • Met

  • Ongoing

  • Not Met

Based on the evaluation, it can determine if the goals and interventions need to be altered. Ideally, by the time of discharge, all nursing care plans, including goals should be met. Unfortunately, this is not always the case - especially if a patient is being discharged to hospice, home care, or a long-term care facility. Initially, you will find that most care plans will have ongoing goals that might be met within a few days or may take weeks. It depends on the status of the patient as well as the desired goals. 

Consider picking goals that are achievable and can be met by the patient. This will help the patient feel like they are making progress but also provide relief to the nurse because they can track the patient’s overall progress. 

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Nursing Care Plan Fundamentals

Nursing care plans contain information about a patient’s diagnosis, goals of treatment, specific nursing interventions, and an evaluation plan. The nursing plan is constantly updated with changes and new subjective and objective data. 

Key aspects of the care plan include,

  • Assessment

  • Diagnosis

  • Outcome and Planning

  • Implementation

  • Evaluation

Through subjective and objective data, constantly assessing your patient’s physical and mental well-being, and the goals of the patient/family/healthcare team, a nursing care plan can be a helpful and powerful tool.

*This website is provided for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute providing medical advice or professional services. The information provided should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease.

Kathleen Gaines
Kathleen Gaines
News and Education Editor

Kathleen Gaines (nee Colduvell) is a nationally published writer turned Pediatric ICU nurse from Philadelphia with over 13 years of ICU experience. She has an extensive ICU background having formerly worked in the CICU and NICU at several major hospitals in the Philadelphia region. After earning her MSN in Education from Loyola University of New Orleans, she currently also teaches for several prominent Universities making sure the next generation is ready for the bedside. As a certified breastfeeding counselor and trauma certified nurse, she is always ready for the next nursing challenge.

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