The Role of the Nurse – How Has It Changed?

The role of the nurse has changed hugely over the years. From what was once simple care giving has now evolved into a highly skilled and specialist profession. So just how far has the journey of nursing come since the early days of Florence Nightingale?


The Early Years

Nursing as a profession began in the mid-nineteenth century with Florence Nightingale’s pioneering work improving sanitation and care for soldiers during the Crimean War. Nursing had previously been seen as a role family members or servants took on at home, and not a respectable career- women did work in hospitals as nurses prior to 1850 but were badly paid, untrained and afforded little respect. But change was on the way- beginning in the 1860s, when the first nursing schools were opened alongside the Nightingale School of Nursing in London. These early career nurses were trained on apprenticeships, but still seen as subservient to other medical staff and expected to meet doctor’s demands, carrying out prescribed treatments with little room for their own input.

The nineteenth century saw huge advances in medical understanding and treatments, particularly anaethesia using chloroform and Joseph Lister’s pioneering antiseptic surgical procedures, which reduced surgical deaths. As new best practices were discovered and rolled out, nurses had to increase their specialised knowledge to be able to take care of patients, requiring more on-the-job training. This trend continued into the twentieth century, as modern medical technology and procedures such as antibiotics and noninvasive medical imaging (CAT and MRI scans) began to emerge. Nurses now needed a high level of knowledge to be able to care for patients using the new techniques.

The NHS was formed in 1948, which led to more changes in the nursing profession. During the early post-war days, nursing was seen as a respectable occupation, but not particularly high-status or skilled. Most nurses were female and men were not encouraged to join the profession, although some servicemen with medical experience did become nurses during the 1940s. Over the 20th century, advances were made winning nurses better pay. Advances in gender equality have meant more men are considering nursing as a career.


Thr Role Of The Nurse Today

Nursing today has developed into a highly skilled, independent career full of possibilities. Since 2013 a university degree has become the minimum requirement for a nursing career- reflecting the technical and analytical skills and specialised knowledge today’s nurses need, as well as the ability to work independently.

Unlike the more subservient role of past nurses, nurses today can undergo postgraduate training to progress their skills to be able to assess patients, prescribe medications without a doctor’s guidance, and conduct their own medical research.

Nursing as a profession has branched off from basic hospital care into many exciting specialties– qualified nurses can undergo further training to specialise in mental health, midwifery, oncology, emergency nursing, children’s nursing, palliative care or many more areas of expertise, depending on their passions and interests within the field. Nurses no longer work solely in hospitals- they can care for patients in local GP clinics, in their own homes, care homes, schools or out of hours clinics to name a few.

Nursing today is a dynamic and exciting career that you can shape to make your own, and with the UK-wide nursing shortage, there’s no end of opportunities for newly qualified nurses. Nursing combines compassion and working closely to help the people who need it most with in-demand technical skills for a vocation with a difference. Take a look at EBPCOOH’s current vacancies to explore the next steps in your nursing career.