How Nursing Has Changed Over Time

How Nursing Has Changed Over Time

When nursing began it had very little to do with formal medical training and everything to do with your gender and willingness to do the job. In the early days of nursing, women learned medical skills from their mothers or other women in the same profession. It wasn’t really seen as a respected trade, but women weren’t really seen as a respectable gender, either. Women were caretakers, so nursing was just an extension of what their roles at home were anyway. Today, the nursing profession has changed drastically. There are extensive training programs, more diversified staff, and a level of prestige associated with this area of the medical field that wasn’t there before.

Time has done a lot for many career paths, but the nursing field has seen drastic changes to help the efficiency of medical care. There are more training programs, better hospitals, more responsibility, a sense of family, and a focus on patient care in the nursing industry that has saved lives and created generations of dedicated medical professionals.


Training for nurses was very rudimentary in the beginning of the profession. Early on, training wasn’t even necessary and organized training wasn’t offered to caretakers. Many of those that were sick were offered care by mothers and family members, not outside health providers. Florence Nightingale was one of the first nurses offering some sort of training for nurses in Britain in the late 1800’s where she taught certain principals to women that wanted to be caregivers. In the United States, lectures and instruction manuals were offered for women to learn how to give care to women during childbirth and postpartum period. The Civil War caused many more women to join the rising number of hospitals offering nurse training that was more of an apprenticeship than the training programs we see later.

Today, the qualifications for nurses are very specific and in depth. There are a wide variety of nursing programs, specialties, degrees, and certifications for different types of nursing, but all of them require the student to pass different certifications in order to provide health care to patients. In the first half of the 20th century, nurses were taught basic health care skills as well as hospital etiquette, such as how to address patients, how to dress, and to treat patients like they are guests in their home. Now nursing training is focused on the academic side—and not so much on wearing stockings and addressing patients by their surname.


The health care setting used to be in the home or on the battlefield for many women in the nursing field. There was a clear preference and need for health care to be practiced at home whenever possible. Home visits were more common than visits to the hospital, which were mainly reserved for those that were extremely ill, badly injured, or near death. It wasn’t until the early nursing programs that nurses started working inside hospitals as employees who obtained medical knowledge and not just an orderly who changed bedpans.

Now the medical settings for nurses are hospitals, physicians’ offices, home health care services, or assisted living facilities. Nurses are now medical professionals that are needed in schools, correctional facilities, or the military. Nurses are even traveling to fulfill nursing needs across the United States while gaining experience and pay. The setting for nurses really started to change with the added training for nurses that made them more respected medical personnel and not just women who focused on assisting doctors and giving sponge baths. With the added responsibility came the need for nurses all over the country, and many women flourished with this career path working in hospitals more than just providing care in the home.


Nursing responsibilities used to read a lot like a household chore list, and it’s come a long way since. The change in responsibilities for nurses stem from a few changes in the field, including more comprehensive training, changing views of women, and the need for medical professionals growing quickly. When training for nurses became more extensive and required schooling, the education system started teaching nurses tasks that were originally reserved for physicians. This allowed physicians to concentrate on higher levels of education themselves and nurses were allowed more decision making for their patients. The view of women when nursing started was that they were subservient caretakers, and the nursing world wasn’t exactly seen as a prestigious career because of it. Once women started to become more respected and allowed to enter the workforce, obtain nursing degrees, and have more responsibilities in the medical industry, the nursing perception began to change.

Now the role of the nurse is not easy to define for many medical professionals. They take on many more responsibilities than they ever have before and are seen as respected medical professionals because of their extensive schooling and real world application of skill. The medical world is always changing and growing, which opens up a need for personnel in many hospitals constantly. With the growing amount of patients in our hospitals it’s important that our nurses know how to handle medical emergencies without asking a physician for aid, so that is what our educators are focusing on. Nurses are not seen as a doctor’s assistant, but rather as their own professional with the medical knowledge to back it up.


Nursing culture in the early 20th century was known as being mostly female with a rudimentary amount of medical knowledge. There was a focus on being presentable, acting respectfully, and acting as the obedient wife to every patient. In World War II, nurses were badly needed but many women were starting to shy away from the profession because they weren’t seen as professionals, endured demanding work schedules, and were unable to keep up financially. When nurses started to be revered as heroes in order to help raise the nursing numbers the numbers started to rise a little. Today, this culture has changed a lot; nursing is about education and health care knowledge, has diversified the gender norm, and nursing salaries are rising due, in part, to the nursing shortage caused by retiring baby boomers.

Some nursing culture hasn’t changed a ton comparatively. Nursing is still seen as an extremely cumbersome job to have with nurses working very long hours, standing on their feet for most of their day, and having little time for their personal lives that doesn’t involve sleeping. They have historically suffered from back pain, high stress levels, and dealt with nursing shortages leading to unfavorable nurse to patient ratios.

Patient Care

Patient care is now an extremely important factor in the medical field for all medical professionals. The advancements in technology have created an environment that makes patient care more efficient and helpful for the patient. Technological advancements have changed almost every industry in the US and the medical field is no different. This has helped save more lives, made certain jobs easier for nurses, and created a better experience for patients. The culture for patient care used to be a very demoralizing experience for many patients where medical professionals weren’t as concerned for their dignity or enduring painful medical procedures. Luckily, patient care has become the number one priority for medical professionals and has flourished in recent years with nurses on the front lines of patient care.

The nursing profession has come leaps and bounds and continues to be a growing field. Historically, it has proven its ability to adapt to the culture around it. For nurses and patients alike, the advances made have helped the nursing field to go from being one that isn’t revered as being one that deserves respect. The changes in training, health care setting, growing responsibilities, nursing culture, and patient care have saved countless lives and helped it become the respected field that it is today.