How Nursing Has Changed Through the YearsJuly 24, 2012 by William Frierson
Ever since the dawn of modern medical care, nurses have played an important role. In fact, the ever-increasing demand for nurses indicates that their role is more important, now than ever. And as nurses have increased in importance, their role has changed considerably. From minor considerations like their appearance, to major changes like evolving technology, nursing has made some prominent strides in the past 50 years.
These days, the only time you’ll see a nurse in a starched white uniform with white stockings and a cap is on Halloween, when kids come trick-or-treating. Nurse uniforms and dress codes have changed considerably since the 1960s and earlier, when nurses were expected to wear dresses, caps and capes – and absolutely no jewelry or cosmetics. Today’s nurses wear more functional scrubs and most healthcare facilities have relaxed the rules about cosmetics and jewelry.
Relationship to Doctors
No, we’re not talking about the romantic relationships you see on soap operas; we’re talking about how doctors and nurses relate to each other in the patient care setting. In the past, nurses were seen as little more than doctor’s assistants, helping out by handing the physician a tool and administering medication. Nurses were often expected to stand when doctors entered the room and never address the doctor, unless spoken to first. While the rules of common decency and respect still apply, nurses enjoy more of a partnership with physicians these days, communicating important information about the patient, providing input into treatment plans and making more independent decisions.
Professional nurses have always had to meet rigorous education and training standards, but the standards today are far more challenging than ever. While it is possible to earn the registered nurse designation with just a bachelor’s degree, many nurses are opting to seek a master’s in nursing through an MSN bridge program, in order to improve their career and earnings potential. In most of these programs, nurses earn credit for their experience and the courses they’ve already taken and earn their master’s in nursing by taking courses to expand their knowledge and fill in any gaps.
In addition to degree programs, though, nurses are also expected to complete more continuing education courses to keep their licenses current. Government requirements for nursing licenses are more complex and stringent than ever before; nurses need to complete additional education and training to stay up-to-date.
While inflation, changes in minimum wage and other factors influence the value of nursing salaries, you can’t argue the point that nurses make more money today than any other time in history. On average, the starting salary for an RN is $40,000; some specialty nurses make well over $70,000 each year and some even earn six figures. Most healthcare facilities offer excellent benefits as well, including flexible schedules that weren’t as common 50 years ago. Of course, given all of the education required for a career in nursing these days, it’s important that the salaries match the requirements.
Advanced technology plays a role in almost every part of life today, and nursing and healthcare is no exception. In addition to learning the basics of medical care, nurses today also need to learn to navigate often complex computer systems for patient charting, medication distribution and more. Very little in the hospital environment is done with paper and pen today, as opposed to 50 years ago. This means that modern nurses need to have exceptional computer skills as well as practical skills.
Complexity and Customer Service
Ask any medical professional these days and they will tell you that patients are sicker than the past, with more complex illnesses and conditions. That requires more knowledge and skill on the part of doctors and nurses. Nurses today are also expected to provide good customer service, in addition to compassionate care – patients expect good service when they visit the doctor or hospital and today’s nursing students need training in communication, listening and service skills, which were not as common even 20 or 30 years ago.
Nearly every career field has evolved over the past half-century, but perhaps none so much as nursing. And there is no doubt that the next 50 years will bring additional changes and developments, making this an exhilarating career choice.
This article was provided by Jennifer Futrell. Jennifer is currently pursuing a Masters in Nursing, and expects to have her degree next year.
(Image provided by Walt Stoneburner from Flickr’s Creative Commons)
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