Nursing: Then and Now

by tnbutterfly 87,699 Views | 188 Comments Admin

The nursing profession, as a whole, as well as the role of the nurse have evolved dramatically over the past several decades. I personally have witnessed the changing face of nursing during my 30+ years in the profession. Gone are the days when nurses were thought of as little more than helpers or assistants for physicians. Today’s nurses are healthcare professionals in their own right, playing an important and vital role in providing excellent healthcare.

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    Nursing: Then and Now

    The nursing profession, as a whole, as well as the role of the nurse have evolved dramatically over the past several decades. I personally have witnessed the changing face of nursing during my 30+ years in the profession. Gone are the days when nurses were thought of as little more than helpers or assistants for physicians. Today’s nurses are healthcare professionals in their own right, playing an important and vital role in providing excellent healthcare.

    Looking back to when I was in nursing school, and then starting my nursing career, I remember many things that are no longer in use, or things that have transformed over the years. Gone are the days of paper chart, replaced with electronic medical records. Gone are the nursing caps that distinguished the nurse from the rest of the healthcare team.

    Here is a partial list of things I remember from days gone by.

    Back in the day.....
    • Team nursing
    • Primary care nursing
    • Longer patient stays (Patients were actually able to recuperate in the hospital rather than being sent home too soon. There was no such thing as same-day surgery.)
    • Nurses wore uniforms which consisted of white dresses, white hose, white lace up oxford shoes, and, of course..........white nursing caps!
    • Only OR staff and physicians wore scrubs.
    • The Kardex, a large folded card, was used as an important document of all patient activities, meds, etc. And it was hand-written in pencil so it could be erased and updated as needed. Talk about document tampering!
    • Requisitions were composed on a typewriter.
    • Patients were called Mr. or Mrs.
    • Gloves were used for sterile procedures only. Universal precautions did not exist.
    • The only lifting machines we had we male aides.......and of course ourselves.
    • Nurses bent and broke off needles from used syringes
    • IV pumps were used only in Peds and ICU. Nurses had to calculate the drip rate using the second hand on their watch and a roller clamp to regulate the flow.
    • Heavy glass IV bottles were still in use
    • The charge nurse made rounds with the doctors........and carried the heavy metal charts.
    • When a doctor arrived at the nurses’ station, it was expected that a nurse would stand up and offer her seat....and the doctor never refused
    • Male nurses were very rare
    • Cold metal bedpans were offered to patients.
    • All patients were offered a daily bath and back rub
    • There were no fitted sheets. Remember hospital corners??
    • Glass thermometers were still in use.
    • Nurses notes and vital signs were recorded using pen with 4 colors of ink as different colors of ink were used on different shifts. Actually only 3 were used since there were 3 shifts.
    • Surgery patients were admitted the night before surgery so their preps could be started that evening.
    • Nurses smoked in the nurses’ lounge.
    • Cancer was most always a death sentence
    • Medicine was dispensed by the med nurse carrying a tray with small paper cups of pills and different colored med cards.
    • Four-year BSN programs were not as plentiful. Most nurses graduated from hospital-based Diploma or ASN programs.
    • State boards were 2 grueling days of exams that were completed with number 2 pencils. No computerized tests in those days.


    Feel free to add items that you remember from the past, even if that past does not seem that long ago. Changes are occurring at an even faster pace in the digital and electronic age of today. What do you think of some of the changes???

    To read more articles, go to my AN blog: Body, Mind, and Soul
    Last edit by brian on May 8, '13
    VampyrSlayer, LynnHaney, KeyMaster, and 34 others like this.
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  3. About tnbutterfly

    tnbutterfly has been in nursing for more than 30 years, with experience in med-surg, pediatrics, psychiatrics, and disaster nursing. She is currently a parish nurse.....a position which she has had for the past 15 years.

    tnbutterfly joined Jun '06 - from 'TN'. tnbutterfly has 'More than 35 years' year(s) of experience and specializes in 'Parish Nsg, Disaster Nsg, Peds, Med-Surg'. Posts: 22,002 Likes: 12,249; Learn more about tnbutterfly by visiting their allnursesPage

    188 Comments so far...

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    - Blood pressure devices (sphygmamonometers) had real mercury in them

    - Aides got on-the-job training

    - Nursing students eventually worked all three shifts

    - The class before mine was the last class required to wear girdles!!!

    - We were required to live in the dorm, and we had curfews

    - Chest tubes were connected to 2 or 3 glass bottles, and we had to learn how to set them up.

    - Chest tubes got 'milked/stripped', either by hand or with strippers

    - 8 bed wards in the hospital where I was - privacy simply wasn't an issue! We had moveable dividers, when needed

    - Babies under 2 lbs rarely survived - we just didn't have the equipment for them

    - 8 hour shifts 12s were considered an absolute last-gasp measure in an extreme situation


    More later!
    toomuchbaloney, uRNmyway, canoehead, and 13 others like this.
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    -the boss on the floor was called the Head Nurse

    -the first institution I worked at was NOT air-conditioned

    -the enormous pride I felt when I pinned my school pin on that white uniform every day
    Last edit by tnbutterfly on Oct 22, '12
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    In peds we used cloth diapers and glass bottles that we sterilized on midnites!
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    I'm a brand new nurse but how I long to have been able to experience some of the things from nursing in days gone by!
  8. 20
    Quote from CrazierThanYou
    I'm a brand new nurse but how I long to have been able to experience some of the things from nursing in days gone by!
    You may be brand new now.........but the years will pass quickly and you will look back at all the changes with amazement.
  9. 18
    Diabetic's sugar was determined by a urine test. Remember dropping pills into a test tube of urine and then comparing the colour of the urine to a chart to see what the sugar was. + 1, + 2 and so forth.
    rita359, nrsdolphin, KeyMaster, and 15 others like this.
  10. 8
    WOW, you all have seen a lot! I hear stories of how everyone used to smoke at the nurses' station. It's so crazy to me when I think about it.
  11. 5
    I have a picture taken at our local hospital in the 70's. The nurses sitting around in their white, smoking cigarettes. I love that picture!
  12. 5
    Quote from LIZZYICU
    WOW, you all have seen a lot! I hear stories of how everyone used to smoke at the nurses' station. It's so crazy to me when I think about it.
    I was in a LTC where pts could smoke in their rooms. One pt had a special cigarette holder as he could not hold the cigarette. We would out the cigarette in the holder and light. I was a student and I could not get the lighter to light! My friend was a smoker and we spent every break on our classroom day teaching me to light the lighter!


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