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10 Old-School Nursing Skills You Don’t See Anymore


Nursing, along with the rest of the medical field, is constantly evolving to ensure better patient outcomes. Nursing skills, in particular, have changed quite a bit over the last several decades. Some skills have even been discarded completely for the sake of safety or efficiency. Here are 10 interesting examples of old-school nursing skills that have either drastically changed or are no longer practiced:

  1. Reusing syringes and urinary catheters

Believe it or not, new nurses, many of today’s disposable medical items, like urinary catheters and syringes, were made to be reused in the not-too-distant past. These items were sterilized between uses, a process that was eventually deemed too costly as disposable items became more common.

  1. Charting patient care on paper

While it’s still possible to find rural and small-scale clinics that utilize paper charting, the majority of health-care facilities these days chart electronically. In addition to providing all members of the health-care team with easier access to patients’ charts, electronic charting is typically more efficient and more accurate.

  1. Using urine dipsticks with sliding-scale insulin

Sliding-scale insulin has been in use longer than glucose meters. Before these meters were used to determine how much, if any, insulin to administer to a diabetic patient, nurses had to rely on urine dipsticks. Urine-dipstick results aren’t as accurate as those provided by glucose meters, so it’s no surprise that they aren’t used in this manner anymore.

  1. Regulating IV fluids manually

Before infusion pumps were invented, it was necessary to manually regulate IV fluids. To do this, nurses had to count drops and calculate drip rates for each and every patient receiving IV fluids. Now, thanks to infusion pumps, administering IV fluids is easier, more accurate, and much faster.

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20 Responses to 10 Old-School Nursing Skills You Don’t See Anymore

  1. kimmik

    Massage is missing from the list.. I became a massage therapist after nursing school. I thought it was a good combination for homecare nursing and it’s serve me well.

  2. CMcD1

    Yep done all of these since I graduated in 1978

  3. tinathecma

    I love reading about nursing and how it wasb ack in the day – thx for sharing♥

  4. debbiethenurse

    This article points out a very real concern I have. Since graduating nursing school in 1977, I have done my best to keep up with the changes to best practice, but given the incredible amount of information, it wouldn’t be surprising if I missed some. My remedy for that is to research anything I haven’t done in 5 years and to mentor student nurses. Why would having a student nurse update my skills? Because I can ask them what they have been taught. This gives them a chance to flip the teacher/ learner roles and even if they don’t know, we can learn together. Nursing is lifelong learning.

  5. SisterB

    I remember most of these very well except the Coca-Cola in the Ng tube and tourniquets for CCF as it was labelled in Australia. Shaking down those b!@$$/y thermometers has left me with a weak and painful wrist! I still take blood pressures manually at times when the patient is either too thin or too large and the automatic one doesn’t want to work!

    • Wisebug

      Not only do I remember using Coke to flush a clogged NG tube, I remember using Adolf’s meat tenderizer mixed with warm water.

  6. Wisebug

    I remember inspecting the bevels of needles to make sure there were no burrs. If there was a bur, we would essentially scrape the bevel against a type of sandpaper to “smooth it out” prior to use. This was when I was in nursing school, I never actually had to do this as a RN. I too remember when back massage was a routine part of PM care. And-remember when the latest/greatest treatment for shock was the placement of MAST pants? Haven’t seen those in years either!

  7. Wisebug

    We were also taught that when making a bed, the pillow case opening ALWAYS pointed away from the door and that the seams or hems of the sheets were placed seam side up so as to not irritate a patient’s skin. How many of you remember making a post-op bed with the blankets and sheets folded like an accordion to the center and one side of the bed so that you could immediately pull them over the patient so they did not chill?

  8. mbyquah

    I love reading your articles a lot, but on this particular one, most of those practices are still being done where I work. Advancement in technology hasn’t really gotten to most of Africa.

  9. Catthenurse

    I used all of these . I graduated in 1970. I did massages every evening at 7pm to relax patients before sleep. Some pain melds came in pill form and had to be mixed with sterile water to be given by injection. There is so much that has changed.

  10. taughtmany

    Bedbaths using 110 degree tested water Dissolving morphine pills in sterile water over a burner to make a solution for injection. Taking the reusible,resterilized,glass syringes out of a miter box with sterile forceps and putting the reusible sterilized needle on the hub ,checking for burrs,before filling the syringe.

  11. maqsix

    Hypodermoclysis for rehydration in adults. Collodion at the site of insertion of a metal I.V. needle to stop leakage. Carminiative enemas for nutritional reasons. HHH enemas (high, hot and hell of a lot) It was often ordered by the M.D. PTA bath (p…st, tits and as…. bath. I.e a minimal bath.)

    Changing the water in the pressure cooker in the Emerson ventilator.
    Cleaning, blowing, powdering, folding and autoclaving gloves. Sharpening needles.
    Turning hydrogenated babies with 20 pound heads oh so carefully every hours. Turning patients on the Stryker bed or the Circoelectric bed.

  12. Sop832

    How about retention sutures and Montgomery straps? I was the fastest Montgomery strap maker in the OR.

  13. troutynz

    So much has changed, and, in my opinion, not always for the best. Watching the nurses these days, one wonders why they seem to have patients all over the ward, rather than in one or two rooms. We used to be given four rooms (2 fours and 2 singles) and those were ‘your’ patients. A lot less walking, and a lot less complaining about how busy we were in comparison. I have a TON of stories about the ‘old days’ I could share….

  14. Ginncat

    In house lab test with actual chemical- I grew up with constant ph testing, urine glucose testing with actual test tube and chemical tablet then color matching.
    Wound site instillation with antibiotic for treatment then draining to gravity. Nurses did this all the time and now some Doctors are starting to bring it back.

  15. Littlekid

    Sharpening pencils.

  16. rnsurgery

    Charting with blue ink 7 to 3, green ink 3 to 11 and red ink 11 to 8 shifts.

  17. Medley99RN

    Urinals and bedpans used to be made of metal and were reused after being sanitized.

  18. agus_andika

    In my country Indonesia, point number 4,6,7,8 still often nurses do. How late the nursing growth in my nation.