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The History of Nursing: Told from the Eyes of a Reminiscent Nurse
Guest Author: Bettina Karpathian
I look back on the days that seemed endless at the time, and now they seem to have flown by.
As I’m sure many of you are feeling at this moment, while working full-time, going to school, and raising children all at once, I used to constantly fantasize about having unlimited leisure time. However, when I first retired, it was a little disorienting — I felt strange no longer having a hectic schedule and long list of responsibilities that seemed to never end.
Now, I am catching my breath and reflecting on my decades of nursing experience and how far the field has come. This piece of history in nursing is told solely from my own experiences.
Although it is not the very beginning, the history of nursing from my account began with glass thermometers of mercury, stainless steel bedpans, wooden wheelchairs, and flat sheets. If you remember these items, you are, like me, from a bygone era of nursing.
All charting was done on paper, IV fluids were regulated manually by counting drops, and patients undergoing minor surgeries were under our care for five days at a time.
When the first automated blood pressure monitors appeared on the surgical floor where I worked in the late 1980s, we nicknamed them “RoboNurse” after the movie RoboCop which had just come out. Only four were provided for the whole unit, so it was a race to grab one in time for morning vital sign rounds while the rest went back to doing manual blood pressures.
We began to chart using computers around this time also, but had the same problem of too many nurses and not enough computers, which resulted in carrying paper notes around until a computer was available.
Unbeknownst to us at the time, but this integration of technology into clinical practice was a monumental milestone in the history of nursing.
Am I reminiscing about the good old days? Not particularly. Throughout the entire history of nursing, I think it safe to say that most nurses can attest that not every day can be a good one.
Evidence–based practice was becoming the new normal, medical staff was often arrogant, and the nursing staff was almost all female and usually not involved in any decision making — I like to visit the past, not dwell in it. We have come so far since then.
Nowadays, the sheets are fitted, the wheelchairs are aluminum, and every nurse has access to an automated blood pressure monitor, and computer. There are multi-disciplinary teams and a much more diverse workforce.
Yet, throughout the history of nursing, it is apparent that this profession can be (and probably is) just as stressful as it ever has been.
When reflecting on the history of nursing and how far it has come, there are things that I wish hadn’t changed from my time in practice. Healthcare is now referred to as an industry, and oftentimes treated like a business. Hospitals seem desperate to discharge patients quickly to avoid the financial penalties that come with readmissions. Hospital nurses bear the brunt of this pressure, but have no control over the poverty, lack of health insurance, and high costs of medication that many patients face at discharge.
However, there is a common thread that leads from what I have experienced in the history of nursing with glass thermometers, wooden wheelchairs, and RoboNurses, to the present.
Nursing offers opportunities for meaningful work. Despite all the frustrations, nurses care.
I am always proud when I see nursing ranked as the most honest, ethical profession.
Now, if you asked me if I would I do it all again, I would respond, “In a heartbeat.”
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