How has nursing changed since your first day on the job?

Shutterstock | A and N photography
Shutterstock | A and N photography

We can all agree that a lot has changed in the past 30 years. We’ve seen the fall of the Berlin Wall, the invention of the iPhone, and the rise and fall (and another rise) of the fanny pack. Of course, it’s not only government and fashion that have changed. Nursing has changed significantly as well.

We heard from nurses on the Scrubs mag Facebook page who have been in nursing for 30-plus years, and they told us all about the ways nursing has evolved since they first donned the white cap.

“I started in 1981. Patients smoked in their rooms, nurses smoked at the desk… We charted in three colors of ink. Day shift black or blue, green for evenings and red for night shift. I could go on and on!” —Joni S.

“…1981 LPN passed medications to patients on a 36-bed unit; only two private rooms [and the] rest were semi-privates, and at the end of the hallway were two four-bed wards. We had one RN, one LPN and four NAs for 36 beds and did a better job than we do today with so many rules and regulations and excessive charting to ward off lawsuits.” —Angel E.

“I started nursing in ’64. What a difference. Everyone cared a whole lot more and no RN treated anyone as beneath her. Charting colors, caps, nursing uniforms. We could all write a book.” —Maryanne H.

“I started in 1973; white starched dresses, white caps, short hair or up in a bun, polished white shoes, nursing pin, metal name tag, white stocking or socks, paper charts, tri-colored pens, smoking in patient rooms and at the nurses’ desk, coffee pot on 24/7, making rounds with doctors and taking orders so you had to be on your toes. Reading the doctor’s orders and notes was a skill all in itself. Oh, how I miss the good days!” —Jane P.

“I started my career in 1984 and remember white pants with colored tops for us pediatric nurses. White nursing shoes. Central lines were just coming out on the floor for kids and I remember being scared of them because that ‘was a PICU thing.’ Now they go home with portacaths, antibiotics, etc.” —Cathy D.

“I started in 1968. We wore white uniform dresses. Pants not allowed. We wore caps; hair had to be short or up. We wore our school pin. Jewelry was not allowed, only stud earrings and wedding band. Shoes had to be white and polished. Computers didn’t exist. IVs were in glass bottles. The chest tube setup was big, bulky and a nightmare. Nurses were not allowed to start IVs or cath a male patient. Beds were not electric.” —Therese W.

“1973 graduate here. I still refer to my classmates by last name. So many changes. And most are for the good. In 1973 my hourly wage as an LPN was $4.35/hour. 3-11 shift. No shift diff. In 1980 I got my RN and made a whopping 8 bucks an hour. It’s not about the paycheck, though, it’s about loving what you do. Nursing has been very good to me over the years and I am still so proud to say, ‘I’m a nurse.'” —Margie W.

How has nursing changed since your first day on the job? Share your stories in the comments below.

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4 Responses to How has nursing changed since your first day on the job?

  1. rebzim51

    I started in 1973. Nurses had to stand up when a doctor entered the nurses station and offer the doctor our seats. We were also expected to offer the doctor coffee and serve it to him/her. Would round with a doctor and write his verbal orders into the chart as the doctor dictate them to us. The pace of work was slower because the nursing unit was better staffed. The emphasis was on proving the best patient care possible and not on making money. Not man education possibilities offered. Orientation was 2 weeks then you were on your own. Needles and all other equipment was reused. Not many managers. Each nursing unit had a Head Nurse who answered to the Director of Nurses. The head nurses were usually available to help.

  2. MaryEllen Huntley

    Autoclaves? Finger cots not gloves? No glucometers. Three color charting

  3. Njmomof2

    1984..No nursing caps; black, green, red pens for charting different shifts; patients admitted to the hospital the day before their procedure for testing/prep; 2 semi-private rooms (4 patients) sharing ONE bathroom for tap water enemas until clear as prep for next day colon surgery…btw, never used gloves as we were taught in nursing school that giving an enema with gloves would “embarrass the patient and make them feel dirty”! How times have changed, but the nursing care is as steadfast and excellent as ever!

  4. Maureen Craven

    I am a 1974 RN grad from Los Angeles City Coollege. I went on to get a BS in health science from Chapman University in Orange County Ca. I got a wonderful start in nursing being a new grad at Cedars Sinai Hospital LA. Ca . All my experiences in nursing have been exciting and challenging . I have worked med surg. ICU, recovery Surgery, psych, and I was a charge nurse on a 37 bed med surge unit . There have been so many changes in nursing, one of the biggest from when I first started was the IVAC.