Nursing has been a noble profession ever since some people started helping others who needed support out of compassion. Nursing began to provide assistance, medication, and comfort to sick people. Today, nurses play a very important role in patients’ care by giving help and support to patients in managing their illnesses, treatment, and health conditions. Nurses are essential members of the healthcare system and patient care teams. They are trained in nursing and are instrumental in caring for and helping patients to make them feel comfortable. They have a broad skill set for a wide range of responsibilities that can vary from one situation to another and from one patient to the next. Nurses require nursing education, knowledge, and training to work as professionals.
This article explores the evolution of the nursing profession, changing role of nurses, nursing responsibilities, challenges in nursing, new trends, and the future of nursing.
Evolution of nursing
Nursing evolved with humanity as people cared for other sick people from the medieval period. It was intuitive and sympathy driven. It was perceived that, as women took care of their children, the sick, and the aged in the family, they had the experience of providing nursing care to others who needed it. There was no formal training for nursing, and it was believed that, based on their experience, women could render the best care to ailing people.
In the Middle Ages, faiths, beliefs, and religions stepped in to support the people in their communities, and nursing care was considered a service to the religion or God. Both men and women performed nursing care without any formal education but with training by more experienced nurses. Nurses were not given respect or a position in society, and nurses were considered the least desirable profession.
The nurses as we see them today and nursing as a profession came into existence in the 19th century. The raging wars worldwide increased the number of injured war victims, and there was a huge shortage of compassionate people to give wound dressing and other care to them.
The famous Florence Nightingale, the creator of modern nursing, defied social customs and roles for women and studied nursing despite the disapproval from her family. She worked by caring for soldiers during the war and was able to reduce the deaths of sick and wounded with her focus on hygiene.
She led other women to join her in caring for the wounded during the war. She became a role model, brought respect to the nursing profession, and introduced trained nurses to the world. In 1860, the first secular nursing school was established.
Nightingale’s vision of the nursing system was more on developing the profession and desired that nurses should be taught in hospitals associated with medical schools and that the nursing education curriculum should include both theory-based knowledge and clinical skill practice. She changed the profile of the nursing profession and noted the need for preventive medicine and good nursing to reduce the miseries of sick people. Based on her observation of hospital visits, she noted that the lack of hygienic practices caused diseases and increased patients’ suffering. With her efforts, nursing evolved as a science, and formal nursing education and nursing service began. She revolutionized society’s perception of the nursing profession and the nurse education method. Nursing became an honorable profession for women.
In the 19th– to 20th-century era, the rapid development of nursing education, training, and profession occurred. These were strongly driven by wars across the globe, social responsibility consciousness, and increased educational opportunities available to women as well as men. This period also saw whopping growths in the medical field, a growing number of hospitals, and the need for trained people to assist doctors and patients.
The period of contemporary nursing and nursing education began in the 20th century. Formal nursing education became more standardized, and multi-tier educational degrees and diplomas were introduced. The standard curriculum for diploma, bachelor’s, and advanced degree programs was developed. Nursing regulatory bodies emerged to maintain and monitor quality and standards. These regulators also introduced certification tests and licensing of nurses. Nursing became a respectable noble profession, second to none, with rewarding packages, perks, educational opportunities, and career progression prospects. With the development of nursing education, the nursing profession is growing rapidly with increasing job opportunities for registered nurses, and there is a worldwide shortage of professional nurses. Registered nurses provide medical patient care and emotional guidance, education, and support to patients and their families.
Education and training also started to specialize in areas of nursing for specialized medical work in hospitals, assisting specialist doctors, and advanced diagnoses. For example, nurse practitioners work from orthopedic to oncology to general and family nurse, to clinical nurse or pain management nurse.
The list goes on and on and is expanding every day. There are also ample opportunities for nurses to do research in nursing and related areas. Social changes also mark this period with health as a fundamental human right, nursing for community health, establishment of global health organizations, like the WHO, and newer roles for nurses, like aerospace nursing, have emerged.
Nursing has become an industry with nurses at the beginner’s level to top positions in administration, policymakers, and educators. Professional nurses’ bodies, like The American Nurses Association, began in all countries/states/regions, which primarily worked to improve nursing practices as required by the regulatory bodies and safeguard the interests of nurses. They all work with a mission to create hallmarks for the nursing industry and improve the working environment for registered nurses.
Rapid developments in medical science and technology have also brought many challenges to nursing. Technological advances have led to the development of many new diagnosis and treatment methods, new medicines and drug delivery techniques, sophisticated equipment for diagnosis and therapy, disposable medical supplies, and many others. Digital technology has brought computers for safe and secure data collection, medical record-keeping, diagnosis, vitals monitoring, and alerting. Technological advances in robotics have revolutionized medical treatment with virtual doctor consultations, easy access to specialist doctors, robotic and remote surgery options, etc.
In-home nursing care for post-hospitalization, physically disabled, terminally ill, chronically ill, people with life-threatening diseases, and the elderly to infants has become possible. Nurses bring solace and comfort into the lives of suffering individuals and help connect them with loved ones instead of just going through treatment after treatment for an incurable disease. This improves the rate of recovery and reduces patients’ pain.
Changes in nursing over time
The evolution of nursing highlights the major landmark changes in nursing over time. It existed with the evolution of humanity. Even animals are found to take care of their ailing members. There was no formal training or education in nursing until the 18th century, and the only learning was from mothers or other women in the same profession. It wasn’t considered a respected job.
Today, the nursing profession has changed drastically. Hundreds of schools offer diversified nursing qualifications and training programs, and nursing is considered a paramedic field, with a level of prestige associated with the profession. Nursing practices have brought drastic changes in the efficacy of medical care. Nurses are an essential part of dedicated medical professionals; they have more responsibilities, a sense of family, and a focus on patient care.
To pursue a nursing career, individuals can opt for online nursing programs from universities in Kansas, such as Rockhurst University. It has different programs, such as an online hybrid ABSN, MSN, post-masters FNP, and more, that aspirants can choose, depending on their qualifications and preferences.
In the early days, the healthcare setting used to be either the home or the battlefield or a natural calamity. As more and more hospitals came in, nurses started working in hospitals as employees, and hospitals and clinics became the new workplace for nurses. Soon, nurses became paramedic professionals needed in schools, remand homes, prisons, patients’ homes, the field with the armed forces, or offering help via telehealth nursing. Traveling nurses fulfill nursing needs across the country whenever and wherever needed.
In the early days, nurses were mostly females with a rudimentary amount of medical knowledge and provided care as a mother or wives. Today, this culture has changed and diversified the gender norm.
Nurses are expected to act respectfully and deferentially, particularly to the opposite sex patients. Nurses are respected in society, their compensation is respectable, and their job, in addition to medical care, includes education and healthcare knowledge for patients. The nursing culture hasn’t changed regarding long duty hours, being on their feet for most of the day, extremely cumbersome work, and complex patients.
Patient care, which is an extremely important part of the nurses’ work, has been eased with the advancements in technology. The technology has made patient record management easier, medical care and monitoring more efficient, remote vitals measurements possible, and sharing emergency needs with doctors.
With nurses on the front lines of patient care, technology has helped save more lives and created a better experience for patients and families. Nursing has grown by leaps and bounds in the 20th century and continues to be a growing field in the 21st century. The changes in education, training, licensing, regulatory standards of service, healthcare setting, growing responsibilities, nursing culture, and patient care all have brought the respect to the field that it has today.
Nurses’ uniforms have undergone drastic changes over the century. The color of the uniform or a colored belt indicates a nurse’s level or the hospital’s brand. The most common standard was a white dress with a cap and long stockings. In the later part of the 20th century, in some places, nurses started wearing colored scrubs that were inexpensive and easy to wear.
Changing roles/duties/responsibilities of nurses and challenges to overcome
Nursing responsibilities have come a long way with the evolution of nursing from a subservient caretaker for household chores to performing tasks that were originally reserved for physicians, including decision-making for their patients. The perception of nurses began to change with the education in nursing. They take on many more responsibilities than they ever have before and are seen as respected medical professionals with holistic temperaments.
The responsibilities of nurses vary with the training, education, experience, license or certification, workplace, and the patients under their care.
Here are the most common tasks nurses are responsible for:
Basic patient care
Nurses are responsible for a wide range of basic care tasks, including helping patients in getting proper care, treating minor ailments, administering medicines, educating them about disease, treatment, and medicines, providing emotional support, and monitoring vitals. The role is like a caregiver to assist the patient physically and psychologically while preserving the client’s dignity and cultural and spiritual levels.
Medical records of patients
Recording, maintaining, updating, and sharing an accurate record of patients’ symptoms, vitals, medical history, allergies, treatment, consultations, and relevant family medical information to ensure they receive the proper care is one of the primary responsibilities of nurses. Maintaining detailed and accurate medical history is critical for patients to receive the best possible medical and nursing care. Record-keeping has become more efficient than it was 50 years ago with the advent of digital technology. Today, the use of electronic health records, such as digital notes, has become commonplace.
Communication with patients, relatives, friends, and the community is integral to nursing responsibility. They also communicate with doctors and other healthcare team members and share patients’ problems, conditions, medical history, and vitals. In turn, they convey the prescribed treatment plans to patients and others. It is important to make sure that patients feel cared for, listened to, and understood, especially when nurses need to communicate some challenging medical news.
A nurse often conducts the first physical examination of patients at the beginning of their hospital visit to assess their overall condition. This may involve measuring the patient’s temperature, heartbeat, and blood pressure and doing a physical examination for any injuries, bleeding, and reflexes.
Nurses may be required to perform various diagnostic tests, including collecting tissue, blood, stool, or urine samples for diagnostics. The nurse must administer tests as per the protocol to get correct results. The nurse may also interpret the results and share the findings with the doctors and medical team.
Treatments and medications
Nurses ensure that the doctor’s prescribed treatment plan and medicines are understood and correctly followed by the patients. Nurses administer medications and help patients promptly take the correct medicine and dose. Like family nurse practitioners, qualified nurses may suggest pathological tests, interpret reports and prescribe medications. They also apply bandages, insert catheters, administer emergency care, and assist doctors with procedures.
Nurses play the counseling role in helping patients recognize and cope with stressful psychological or social problems. In this role, they provide psychological, emotional, and intellectual support.
The nurse also has the responsibility to act as a patient advocate to protect patients’ legal rights for their health and overall well-being. They assist patients in exercising their rights, seeking outside help, and making them speak up for themselves and share their wishes with their family, doctor, or other team members.
Nurses provide comfort and guidance to patients about their diagnoses and advise what steps they should take next. They may also recommend inpatient and outpatient treatment.
Medical diagnostics require the use of various equipment, like stethoscopes, glucometers, pulse oximeters, thermometers, and blood pressure machines. Depending on their licenses, nurses may also be trained to operate more specialized equipment, such as intravenous infusion pumps, ventilators, and wound drainage systems.
Part of a nurse’s role is to guide, explain and educate the patient about illness and medical conditions, prescribe a treatment plan, and provide clear instructions on measuring vitals and managing symptoms. Nurses may also be responsible for explaining post-hospitalization treatment schedules for medicines, diet, nutrition, exercise, and physiotherapy to the patient’s family or caregiver. This could include explaining when to contact a physician and schedule a follow-up. Nurses’ duties also include educating society about hygiene, common diseases, pandemics, health screening, and immunization programs.
A nurse in a hospital or clinic setting may have extra job duties, such as maintaining inventory of medical supplies and consumables, making sure stores are properly organized, accounted for, and restocked on time to make them available to the medical team, ensuring availability of all the resources needed to provide quality care for their patients.
Monitoring patients’ health
Monitoring the patient’s vitals at prescribed regular intervals and taking immediate action for any deviations before an emergency arises is an important responsibility of a nurse. With the use of technology, nurses can monitor patients’ vitals remotely. They also train patients and/or their relatives to monitor patients’ vitals.
In conclusion, the evolution of nursing has brought significant changes to the profession over time. Nurses have moved from being primary caregivers to becoming integral members of healthcare teams, focusing on patient education, health promotion, and disease prevention. The nursing role has expanded to include advanced practice roles, leadership positions, and a greater emphasis on interdisciplinary collaboration and advocacy. As healthcare continues to evolve, the nursing profession is likely to change and adapt to meet the needs of patients and society.