Nursing: Then and Now

nursing-then-and-now San Diego Black Nurses Association

nursing-then-and-now San Diego Black Nurses Association

When I think about how nursing was when I started over 40 years ago and compare it to how it is today, I sometimes wonder “How did I do it”? When I think of how the profession has changed, I wonder if younger nurses can appreciate what us ‘old timers’ went through. At times I look at the young nurses I work with and think, man, you have it so easy! Back in my day….you fill in the blank. No, I am not foolish enough to think Nursing School or passing the NCLEX is easy, but once you pass those hurdles, I think the evolution of nursing has many benefits that I did not have. These are just my thoughts and opinions, and I welcome other ones as well. Here are just a few things I am amazed at:


Anyone remember starched white uniform dresses? Of course you had to also wear white stockings,
usually support lest you get varicose veins from standing for hours on end, and white underwear
underneath. And let’s not forget those hard leather white shoes, laced up of course. Remember Clinic
shoes? No clogs or crocs allowed. Today, men and women can wear scrubs that are so cute, colorful
and stylish that I sometimes have to look twice to see if they are actually scrubs. And wow, the ability
for women to wear pants and be comfortable while bending over to pick up a bedpan, but wait, do
nurses still shove bedpans under patients?

Nursing Cap
Oh my, as I got closer to graduation, the only thing I wanted to do was wear that cap! Mine, from SDSU
in 1974 would give the Flying Nun a run for her money. Putting those red and black stripes across the
top meant I had arrived. I was so proud of that cap, I wanted to wear it everywhere-stores, church,
bathroom-you get the idea. When caps were no longer in vogue, I gave mine up with mixed emotions,
1) Oh no! I worked so hard for that cap, and 2) Yay! No more getting it caught in IV tubing and curtains!
And those darn bobby pins!

I think the major reason I have to wear glasses today is the years of trying to read doctor’s writing and
trying to interpret orders from their chicken scratch. Anybody remember hand-written nurses notes
narrative-style in blue for day shift, green for evening shift and red for nights? The dreaded SOAP and
later SOAPIE note written in long-hand on paper with lines, and then stuffed into binders to sit at the
nurses station. Heaven help you if you were charting and a doctor needed the chart. Other serviceslaboratory,
dietary, radiology, social work, chaplain, etc. notes also went into these cumbersome silos
of information. Today, electronic medical records make it so much easier to chart, and the checklist
form of charting takes so much less time. Just hope and pray the computers never go down! I’ve heard
some nurses say, “OMG, what do we do now?”

Anybody remember being paged overhead on the ward, or, heaven forbid, being paged over the
intercom in the patients room? In many hospitals today, nurses have beepers or individual phones for
communicating with other nurses or the ward clerk. Most of the nurses I see every day carry 2 phones,
one for work and, of course, their personal phones. Keeping in constant contact with the outside world
is imperative! I mean, what if the Publisher’s Clearing House calls?

Shift Work
When I came out of school, BSN degree or not, nurses were expected to work on the night shift,
usually on a Medical or Surgical floor. You were too inexperienced to work in the “choice” areas-ER,
OR, L & D, or clinics. After the obligatory year of hell-working night shifts, most weekends and all
Holidays, you might, if you were lucky, get to rotate to the evening shift in a “choice” area. Day shift
was usually filled with nurses who had been working for years, and ‘earned’ their spot. In many cases,
one had to die (sorry) or retire (Yes!) to open a spot. Today, I see nurses work in these “choice” areas
right out of school. Wow! I am so jealous!

Doctor-Nurse Relationships
Many people don’t believe me, but I remember years ago when a doctor came into the nurses station,
you had to give up your chair if there weren’t any others available. This was the expectation, no matter
how tired you were, or how much your feet hurt and you just sat down after running all shift. Also, I
never did this, thank God, but I have heard that some nurses even ran to get the doctor a cup of coffee,
even though they haven’t had the time to get one for themselves or even go to the bathroom all shift.
Anybody ever heard of ‘nurses’ bladder’? And calling a doctor by his (or her, rarely) first name was
unheard of (except in private areas if they were involved). I still have a hard time calling doctors by
their first names, even though some are young enough to be my children and grandchildren!

I wonder how many ‘old’ nurses have carpal tunnel syndrome from shaking down those old mercury
thermometers? To get the mercury down quickly, you had to flick your wrist with a certain finesse.
Love the electron ones, and blood pressure machines. I rarely see a nurse with a stethoscope anymore.
I thought mine was a part of my neck for a long time. Since I just missed sharpening needles, I’ll omit
writing about it, but glass IV bottles bring back bad memories when I had the misfortune of missing the
hook and having it drop on my head or foot!

I could go on and on, but thankfully I won’t. Does any of this resonate with anyone? I welcome your
comments. I especially would like to hear from some of the young nurses. With all being said, I am so
glad there are young nurses to pick up the fight and carry on. I welcome your comments, which I will
feature in the Spring Newsletter.

Barbara West

Barabara West


Recommended Posts

Leave a Reply