From Clara Barton to Nurse Jackie: The Evolution of Nursing

According to Simply Hired data, the healthcare industry is booming; there are plenty of open job positions, and there are more varieties of nursing jobs available as medicine and technology advance. Indeed, the Bureau of Labor Statistics agrees, stating that, “employment of registered nurses is projected to grow 15 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations”. We need professional, skilled nurses more than ever!

Simply Hired thought it would be fascinating to take a look back at this caring profession’s top trends and milestones – here’s a look at the evolution of nursing.

Nurse Nightingale

Although nursing initially evolved from a religious service provided by Catholic nuns (who tended to the hungry, poor, sick, diseased, mentally ill, disabled and dying) professional nursing is largely credited to Florence Nightingale, who was born in 1820. She was the rebellious and intelligent daughter of wealthy parents; in her time, caring for strangers was taboo, especially for well-bred ladies. Nightingale broke the social conventions of her time and helped to professionalize nursing. She is best known for reducing the death rates of soldiers by ⅔ when she was called to action during the Crimean War. Nightingale strongly advocated for nurse education and the use of scientific principles in patient care. She also saw nursing as a liberating choice for women, who had few career options in her day.

Clara Barton

In 1881, a nurse named Clara Barton founded the American Red Cross. She began her career as an educator and is one of America’s most famous nurses. Barton found her calling as a nurse when she began tending to wounded soldiers during the Civil War. After the war ended, she went on to establish and lead the Red Cross. Today, the organization retains its humanitarian focus and offers both paid positions and opportunities for nurse volunteers. A career with the Red Cross is highly rewarding!

Long Shifts

Even in 1895, a typical nursing shift would last between 12-16 hours. Historically, nursing is a time-intensive job and has been an occupation that requires a lot of dedication to patients. In fact, long shifts are a trend that continues today and extended shifts are a hotly debated topic. If you are pursuing a nursing career, be prepared to work long shifts, unless you choose a clinic or school career path that may have more standard 9-5 hours.

Educational Advancements in the 20th Century

By 1900, more than 400 schools offered instruction in nursing education. Yale was the leader, and introduced the BSN in 1925; prior to this, nurses were trained on-the-job, without a degree path. In the 1980s, about half of all nurses held a hospital diploma as their highest credential. However, today the Bachelor of Science in Nursing is held by at least 50% of nurses. To compete for nursing jobs today, nursing students should invest in at least a BSN.

The various nursing departments, workplace settings, and specializations available today are an invention of the recent past. In fact, it was not until the 20th century that a number of new nursing specialties were established – such as ER nurses, NICU nurses, hospice nurses, etc. As medicine and technology evolved, so did nursing specialties. In addition, today there are many workplace settings: hospitals, clinics, schools, the military, specialty clinics, etc.

The first master’s degree in nursing was offered in 1956. Today, a Master of Science in Nursing is expected by the healthcare industry in order to specialize in many fields, and a PhD may even be required for some higher-level positions. Specialty careers such as critical care nursing, nurse practitioners, and nurse anesthetists all require an MSN. Also, a career as a specialized nurse offers some of the highest non-management pay grades in the healthcare industry. Otherwise, you may need an MBA to move into management. Consider your long-term goals when choosing your nursing education path!

Notable Events & Trends: 1990-2018

The modern scrub is introduced in the 1990s. Decades before, nurses had abandoned the formal caps and button-up uniforms of previous eras. The scrub replaced these traditional garments, and it proved to be practical – so very much so that it is now considered standard clothing for hospital staff! There are even a variety of fashionable scrubs on the market, to suit every taste. The scrub inspired a TV series as well!

Eddie Bernice Johnson was the first nurse ever to be elected to Congress, and was sworn in to serve in 1992. She holds a BSN and MPA; prior to her political career, she was an RN and served as Chief Psychiatric Nurse at the Dallas Veterans Administration Hospital. Johnson’s election marked a great step forward for nurses and brought nurse advocacy into the political arena.

By 2008, nursing trends indicated that much of the professional workforce was aging. The average age of a nurse in 1980 was 40 years; by 2008, the average age crept up to 47 years old. Just a couple of years later, in 2010, nursing shortages began to affect the industry, as the numbers of student and young nurses dwindled. The shortage (which continues to this day) is proof that there is plenty of opportunity for people searching for their perfect nursing career!

Geriatrics has been a specialty high in demand since 2013 or so, as Baby Boomers began to age into their golden years. This aging of a large segment of the population also contributed to past and ongoing nursing shortages. Luckily, Simply Hired offers jobs for nurses interested in caring for the unique needs of the elderly; you’ll find yourself in a patient-focused role that does not require more than a BSN, and know that your specialty is both in-demand AND very rewarding. Win-win!

Fast-forward to May 2018, and the median pay for registered nurses with bachelor’s degrees has risen to $71,730 per year; that’s $34.48 per hour. Considering the industry’s preference for long shifts, nursing can be a flexible career choice, offering high pay and consolidated hours; this can be especially valuable for working parents balancing their professional and home lives. The nursing career path often offers generous salaries, benefits, and good work-life balance.

Modern Careers

Nurses are SO important to the patient’s well-being and overall healthcare experience. In addition to charting and direct patient care, nurses find themselves providing emotional support to patients and families, educating, advocating, and even in leadership or politics – there are a plethora of opportunities in the field. You can find the perfect career path here at Simply Hired, and make a positive difference in so many lives. Search our open nursing positions to find an in-demand job that pays well, and makes you proud to call yourself a nurse!

Article Updated from the Original on April 24, 2019