The Evolution of the Nursing Practice

Before diving into the details of how to get an RN degree, it’s interesting to know how the nursing profession evolved. Seeing the history, we can better understand some of the approaches and attitudes that affected the profession for years.

In the 1700s, with the development of hospitals, nurses worked on the fringes of healthcare, cleaning, sweeping, and feeding patients. During the wars in the 1800s, the need for more help led to the development of the profession as we know it today. Florence Nightingale, a pioneer in nursing, ushered in an important turning point for nurses by focusing on bringing cleanliness and sanitation to military hospitals—vastly improving survival rates. She eventually opened a nursing school in 1860. Her contribution to nursing is highly recognized and nursing has grown into the respected profession it is today.

Changes in Levels of Education

One of the notable improvements in the nursing practice over the years is the level of education. More and more nurses today hold bachelor’s degrees. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 41.5% of nurses have bachelor’s degrees, while 20% have associate degrees. 

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Many nurses are no longer satisfied with a baccalaureate degree. They are motivated to further their learning and expertise by getting a doctoral degree. Based on the American Association of Colleges of Nursing data, students taking up doctorate degrees increased from approximately 32,680 to 36,070 from 2018 to 2019, with the number of graduates improving from 7,039 to 7,944 during the same period. Part of this remarkable change stemmed from the association’s calls to make a doctorate degree a minimum educational requirement for advanced nursing practice. 

Wider Scope of Work

Along with the higher levels of education, nurses are now taking on roles that are wider and more complex in nature. These roles have also evolved over time. Gone are the days when nurses were only responsible for carrying out doctor’s orders and doing bedside patient monitoring. From merely taking vital signs and giving medications, nurses can now perform many tasks without physician supervision due to the nature of their knowledge and training. 

While laws may vary per state, most Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) can evaluate patients, interpret diagnostic results, carry out diagnoses, administer medications, and even recommend treatment plans. 

Some nurses even fill specialized roles, depending on the departments they are assigned to. Those in academia can take on training and development roles to help nurture nursing students going into clinical practice. Others take on more administrative and managerial positions, handling nursing departments in big hospitals. 

Increased Diversity

Diversity is another factor that has changed immensely in nursing. Before, most nurses were women, but these days the gender composition is more diverse. In addition, more diversity is notable when it comes to race and ethnicity. Data provided by the National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses (NSSRN), revealed that diversity is growing; the number of Hispanic RNs increasing from 3.6% in 2008 to 10.2% in 2018. Similarly, the number of Black RNs has also risen from 5.4% to 7.8%. 

Still, more can be done to improve the numbers, particularly for Asians, whose numbers did not change much during the same period. This data shows that while evolution is happening, more changes will still occur in the future, given the right policies and support from stakeholders. 

Improved Leadership Participation

Another result of rising educational levels among nurses is the increasing confidence and leadership. This shows that nurses can make a significant difference when it comes to transforming the healthcare sector. Their knowledge and skills play a critical role in ensuring team members can work harmoniously to improve patient outcomes. They can also assess whether activities provide cost-effective measures for the hospital or clinic they serve, and their actions result in fewer medical errors. Nurses ensure that each team member is satisfied with their jobs to help increase employee retention.

Since nurses have a finger on the pulse of medical and surgical operations, they are often in the position to lead the team and encourage changes for the betterment of the healthcare system. 

Better Patient Care

Due to developments in technology, the roles of nurses are becoming even more focused on providing better patient care. More mundane tasks can be automated with the help of robots, so nurses can turn their attention to patients and their outcomes. 

This is only a brief overview of how the nursing profession evolved through the years. As it is a dynamic practice, more and more changes will come in the future. Students and practicing nurses should be aware of these changes and how they can continue to develop in the profession

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