What was it like to be a nurse in the 1980s

  1. I'm writing a paper for one of my classes. I have to briefly discuss what the role of the nurse was in the 1970s/80s. The only sources I can find talk about events pertaining to nursing in the 1980s.

    I really want to know the experience of being a nurse in the 80s. How much respect did nurses have? Where they able to question doctors? advocate for patients?
    Last edit by Brian S. on Oct 13, '17
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  2. 165 Comments

  3. by   sailornurse
    OK, what has your research found? What sources are you using? What type of nursing experiences have you found were common? You bet we questioned doctors and the orders just like now. And yes we advocated for our patients. The 80's were changing times. My first year as an RN was 1979. Still wore a nursing cap for one year with the standard while dress. But the following years nurses started wearing pant suits and I stopped wearing my cap.
  4. by   elkpark
    In my experience, nursing in the '80s was about the same as it is now, only the workload was less demanding. Yes, nurses questioned orders if they felt that was necessary. We advocated for clients. We were probably respected more by colleagues and families than we are now.
  5. by   Libby1987
    I worked and had most of my clinicals in a private non teaching hospital, we were still expected to give up our seats to the physicians and many had been established in practice so you can imagine.

    Super easy to to find any job, obtain any opportunity.

    I took care of patients who were in their second week of hospitalization for routine surgery, family brought in their nighties, pillows, cosmetic bags sat on the counter.

    Home health was boring and super easy. We started IVs and dropped NG tubes on a routine basis but we also did daily and twice daily NS wet to dry dressing changes for months on the same patient.

    I wore white dresses with hose in the hospital and lab coats in home health. Scrubs were hideous, especially for us Olive Oyl types, high waters and high wasted. (I still vain.)

    Patient demographics (in adults) were mostly made up of blue haired ladies and old men, many in their 80s and 90s with simple age related wear and tear. Rickety versus chronic premature lifestyle illnesses.

    Employee health insurance, I didn't know what was a premium or copay.

    Full lunch breaks in the hospital.

    Hours in home health were horrid, we had to see patients in the middle of the night to hang their antibiotic or restart a peripheral line. Everything was an emergency and had to be seen regardless of actual medical need or time of night as we were paid fee for service and every visit brought in money.

    Not much aware of insurance and billing issues.

    I didn't really enjoy nursing back then. The only time I can really identify with so much of the dissatisfaction I read on this site is if I compare it to my attitude of being a 20 something working in the late 80's. Ironic much?

    ETA How did I forget about paperwork? What paperwork? Everyone still complained about it though.
    Last edit by Libby1987 on Apr 11, '16
  6. by   Hollybobs
    Did you have capes? Did you live in hospital accommodation to train? Was it AT ALL like Cherry Ames? (Sorry, I love hearing about how nursing used to be). I also apologise if these questions are relevant about 50 years before the 80's, Cherry is my only insight into American nursing history and I am aware she is fictional .
  7. by   Libby1987
    Quote from Hollybobs
    Did you have capes? Did you live in hospital accommodation to train? Was it AT ALL like Cherry Ames? (Sorry, I love hearing about how nursing used to be). I also apologise if these questions are relevant about 50 years before the 80's, Cherry is my only insight into American nursing history and I am aware she is fictional .
    LOL, yeah that was before the 80's. Capes didn't go with our big hair!
  8. by   elkpark
    Quote from Hollybobs
    Did you have capes? Did you live in hospital accommodation to train? Was it AT ALL like Cherry Ames? (Sorry, I love hearing about how nursing used to be). I also apologise if these questions are relevant about 50 years before the 80's, Cherry is my only insight into American nursing history and I am aware she is fictional .

    I was in a hospital-based diploma school in the early 1980s ('81 - '84). The school had a dorm that was attached to the hospital. Most of the students lived there, but it wasn't required. I had an apartment in the community within walking distance of the hospital. Nearly all of the students were fresh out of high school. There was a small cohort of us older students returning to school, some who had children. The school still considered us an "experiment" at the time (us, and the four male students in my class), and many of the faculty did not hesitate to let us know they thought letting us in was a bad idea. The dorm was imploded several years later to make room for an ED (A&E to you) expansion, and because so few students, by that time, were interested in living in the dorm.

    We did not have capes; the school kept a few of its old capes, heavy navy blue wool, red satin lining, with the school logo embroidered on the stand-up collar, and our graduation photos were taken with us in whites with the cape (With one side turned up over the shoulder to show the red lining). Looked v. snazzy. We had a real pinning ceremony which was the graduation ceremony for the school (as they originally were, not the weird, redundant "pinning" ceremonies schools have now). We, and all the nurses practicing in the hospital, wore dresses, white hose, and caps. I have continued to wear whites and my cap (although I switched to pants the first chance I got ) on the rare occasions when I am in uniform. My specialty is psychiatry, so I have spent most of my career working in street clothes, not uniforms.

    My school experience was a little like Cherry Ames -- but just a little! Most of the Cherry Ames stuff had gone by the wayside long before the 1980s.
  9. by   llg
    I agree with Elkpark (her 1st post, post #2). The only thing I can think of that was different was that most hospitals still worked 8-hour shifts, but some places were switching to 12-hour shifts.

    Ooo ... and many still had retirement plans rather than 403B's or 401K's. You didn't have to contribute as much of your own money to get a pension ... but if you left before you were vested in that retirement (usually 5 years), you didn't get to keep any of the money the hospital had contributed. So most people stayed a full 5 years to get that retirement money. There wasn't as much job hopping. I remember delaying my entry into grad school a full year to be sure I got vested in the retirement plan before leaving.
  10. by   HouTx
    Not much different in the ICU environment. We worked all sorts of shifts, including 'regularly scheduled' 16 hours. Less tech, but relationships with physicians was the same as it is now. We were coping with the onset of HIV - the early days were pretty scary. Manual calculation of IV drips & all bags were time taped; pumps only on 'special' drugs. Buretrols were the norm. We mixed all our own IV meds from a plentiful stock the unit. Gloves were not the norm unless things got really messy.

    Trauma patients were hospitalized 'forever'--- skeletal traction & body casts in the days prior to external fixation devices. There's nothing scarier than dealing with a CircoElectric bed for a new quadriplegic.

    Really memorable?? Hospital employees' healthcare insurance was FREE- FREE care for employees & their immediate family members in the hospital clinics. Nursing & staff lounges were very smoky - in some departments, just sitting in report could trigger respiratory problems. No 'core measures' & a ton less mandatory documentation. 'Charts' were big paper trifolds.. each shift used a different color of ink to help differentiate.

    Those were the days my friends . . . . .
  11. by   LadyFree28
    I would love to hear from ED nurses of the 80s...
  12. by   Davey Do
    Quote from fatrabbit
    I really want to know the experience of being a nurse in the 80s. How much respect did nurses have? Where they able to question doctors? advocate for patients?
    Wow. I'm nearly at a loss for words. Nearly.

    Maybe it's because I'm trying to remember what I thought and felt as a Nurse in my 20's vs a Nurse pushing 60. I was young and excited at successes and now I'm older and still get just as excited by successes. Every time a Patient progresses, and I'm a part of that progression, reinforces that positive feeling of success.

    But to answer your questions, fatrabbit- I nearly always felt respect. Less as an LPN with RNs, but always from the Patients I served. I was always there for them, the Patient- something my LPN instructor taught me: she said, "If you can do nothing else, just be there. For your Patient".

    Maybe it's because I'm a Guy, and most Docs are Male, I nearly always felt I was given respect. I had heard of a lot of Female Nurses get lambasted by Male Docs, and I've had my share of being yelled at, but, generally, I was treated okay.

    I remember, as a new LPN, in 1984, questioning a Psychiatrist's Rx for Cogentin. The Rx doses was higher than the recommended daily dose. The Psychiatrist said, "Okay- then just give the Patient..." No big deal, but I felt good about that one.

    Advocating for a Patient brings back a memory, again, as an LPN. A Female Psych Patient was to be placed in an LTC after her discharge and it caused her high anxiety. I talked with the Family and they were supportive and wanted the Patient to continue to live independently. Although it was against the Psychiatrist's recommendation, I openly advocated for the Patient.

    The Psychiatrist, who was a Woman, took me aside and let me know she was the Doctor and could have me fired for openly going against her recommendation with the Family. However, she acquiesced and discharged the Patient back to her apartment.

    Maybe it was because the Psychiatrist and I had a good working relationship, or for whatever reason, things turned out okay.

    How's that for nearly being at a loss for words, eh, fatrabbit?
  13. by   Rocknurse
    If I could remember I'd tell you

  14. by   Libby1987
    Oh yes, above poster brings back memories of smoking inside just going out and gloves just coming in.

    Can you imagine, smoking and no gloves unless you were cleaning goop and sometimes even then..

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