How Has The Role Of A Nurse Changed In The Last 100 Years?


Nursing has always been and always will be about caring for patients, and that’s unlikely to ever change. However, the modern nursing profession bears very little resemblance to what nursing looked like one hundred years ago. A lot has changed, starting from the training that nurses received – back then, nurses only received very rudimentary training, much of which was learned at home. On the other hand, the education that nurses receive today is far more comprehensive and formal, leading to nurses becoming highly specialized, important, and respected members of healthcare teams.

Today’s nurses must pass a national exam known as the NCLEX in order to prove that they are knowledgeable, educated healthcare providers and to become a licensed professional. Because of this, modern nurses are given a much greater degree of responsibility with patients; particularly nurses who have gained an advanced degree.

Nursing has changed in further ways, including the type of people who get into the nursing profession, and the settings in which nurses work. Once failing to offer much concern for the patient experience or patient dignity, quality, person-centered patient care has become the main mantra for nurses and indeed all medical professionals today. And, technological advances in healthcare have significantly changed the way in which nurses care for patients.

It’s safe to say that over the last century, nursing has changed a lot and come a long way to be recognized as a respected profession that offers both reward and fulfillment in many different ways.

Better Training

Nursing training has improved significantly in the last century. One hundred years ago, nurses would be given very basic training and were seen as helpers to other medical professionals such as doctors, rather than medical professionals on their own. On the other hand, nurses today are viewed as respected medical professionals who are offered training to match. To become a nurse today, there is a much lengthier training process and those who wish to practice as a registered nurse must complete a two-year associate’s degree or a four-year bachelor’s degree before taking and passing the NCLEX examination.

A Different Role

When nursing first began, it had very little to do with any formal medical training or providing formal medical care and was mainly based around now outdated gender roles and a willingness to care for others. While many nurses today still get into this profession to care for others, it is no longer a role reserved only for women as caretakers, since that was simply an extension of their role in the home. In the early days, women in nursing would learn the majority of skills at home from their mothers or from other women who were nurses.

Healthcare Settings

100 years ago, medical care was seen as a job for doctors – who were mostly men – and the healthcare setting for many women who worked as nurses would be either in the home or on the battlefield. Back then, there was a clear preference for healthcare to be practiced at home as much as possible and there were definitely more visits to the patient’s home compared to visits to the hospital. Hospitals were reserved for those who were badly injured or so sick that they were near to death. it wasn’t until the beginning of early nursing training programs that nurses began working inside hospitals as employees with medical knowledge and skills compared to somebody who cleaned up and held the patient’s hand. Today, there is a much wider variety of healthcare settings for nurses including hospitals, home healthcare services, assisted living facilities, clinics, and doctor’s offices. Nurses are respected medical professionals who are needed in the military, schools, and correctional facilities.


The responsibilities of a nurse used to be somewhat like a list of household chores. Nurses would mainly clean up and support medical professionals such as doctors; they would not usually administer medical care alone unless it was for something very simple such as administering medication or changing a dressing. However, when training for nurses started to become more extensive and required a nurse to go to school, the education system began to teach skills and tasks to nurses that were originally performed by doctors. As a result, doctors were able to concentrate on higher levels of education for themselves while nurses were given more autonomy and decision-making responsibilities on behalf of their patients.

When nursing first began, the view of them was as women who were subservient caretakers – quite similar to the view of women in general back then – and the world of nursing wasn’t really seen as a prestigious or respected career choice. However, the perception of nursing began to change once more respect was afforded to women who began to enter the workforce and obtain degrees.

Patient Care

Person-centered, holistic patient care is now one of the most important factors of the healthcare industry for all medical professionals. Modern advancements in technology have led to the creation of a healthcare environment that has led to more helpful, efficient care for all patients. And, technological advancements have helped to save more lives, made many jobs much easier for nurses, and improved the patient experience overall. One hundred years ago, the patient care experience would be quite demoralizing for the patient, with most medical professionals more concerned about the issue at hand than they were about preserving the patient’s dignity or ensuring that patients were as comfortable as possible. Luckily, with nurses on the front line of patient care as they are today, it has led to patient care becoming the first priority across the board.


Back in the early twentieth century, nursing culture was known for being mostly female with just a rudimentary knowledge of medicine. The main responsibility for nurses was to act as an obedient wife to their patients, being presentable, and treating the men with respect. During World War II, there was a heightened need for nurses. However, women were beginning to move away from this profession since they were not viewed or treated as professionals, were not compensated very well financially for their work, and endured very demanding work schedules. On the other hand, nursing numbers increased a little when the view of them shifted to being heroes. Today, the culture of nursing has changed massively. Nursing is all about education and healthcare knowledge and nurses are no longer expected to be simply respectful, obedient women but are rather individuals who are well-respected and listened to themselves.

Gender Norms

The impact of more equality between the genders has also had an impact on nursing over the past one hundred years. Back then, nursing was seen as a woman’s job; men were doctors in much more respected positions while the nurses were mainly tasked with being caring, serving, and cleaning up after the male professionals. Today, things have definitely become much more different. Nursing today is a profession for everybody whether you are male, female, or non-binary. There is no expectation for women to be nurses or men to be doctors; anybody can go into any profession that they please. While nursing is admittedly still a very female-dominated career, there’s no denying that men do still make some of the best nursing and this can be a very rewarding, challenging, and satisfying job for a man who wants to spend his career helping others.

Nurse Practitioners

Today, some nurses have just as much authority and responsibility as physicians in many states. The family nurse practitioner role is one that is highly specialized and allows nurses to work in much the same way as you would expect a doctor to by prescribing medicine, diagnosing conditions, and offering advice and counseling to their patients. To become a nurse practitioner, a registered nurse must gain an advanced nursing degree such as a master’s in nursing or a doctor of nursing practice, both of which can be gained online while a nurse continues to work full-time if needed.

Nurse practitioners are given full practice authority in 20 states, where they are able to run their own clinical practices and enjoy as much autonomy and responsibility as a doctor without the need to attend years of medical school. Even in the remaining states where full practice authority is not awarded, nurse practitioners are still highly respected medical professionals who take on more aspects of patient care, which is helping to offset the current shortage of primary care physicians in an aging population.

Career Options

Back in the day, nursing was a very narrow career option with not much in the way of career progression available. The role of a nurse was to act as a caregiver, keep the area clean, and be there to respond to patients in need when the doctor was not needed. Today nurses have much more available to them when it comes to career options, and there are various areas of specialty that nurses can choose to follow. Some nurses work with specific areas of the patient population such as children, pregnant women, or older people, while others commit to working with patients who are suffering from certain conditions or diseases. Some nurses are mainly stationed in surgical theaters while others offer the community and at-home care. Nurses today certainly have more choice when it comes to where they want their career to take them.

Nurses in Policymaking

Nurses, in particular nurse practitioners, have been leading the way in improving healthcare policy and making patient care more accessible to all. Nurses are often not only at the front line of patient care but also play a major role in ensuring that the healthcare system is one to be proud of. Nurses often act as an advocate for their patients and become a voice for those patients who are not being listened to by policymakers or are unable to speak up for themselves. Nurses are well-respected by everybody and are using this platform for good as a way to play their part in transforming patient care and improving the healthcare system for all.

How to Get into Nursing

It’s safe to say that nursing has become a far more respected profession over the past century, with nurses today provided with state-of-the-art training, technology, and the autonomy, independence, and respect needed to do their jobs well. Unlike in the past where nurses were expected to simply be quiet and provide basic care, today’s nurses are well-respected as highly-trained, educated healthcare professionals in their own right – and the demand for good nurses is on the rise.

If you’re a person with a strong caring side who would like a career that allows you to help out and make a real difference to others, nursing could be the perfect career for you. And unlike back in the day where all you had to learn was how to clean and be caring, nurses today have a huge wealth of educational options right at their fingertips. There are various pathways to consider if you would like to work as a nurse, including nursing apprenticeships, associate’s degree programs, and bachelor’s degree programs. There are different levels to choose from, whether you want to be a licensed practical nurse, a registered nurse, or an advanced nurse practitioner.

The registered nurse option is definitely the best choice for anybody who wants more nursing career options to open up. Typically, you will need to study for a four-year bachelor’s degree in nursing including some clinical placements, although you can find shorter, accelerated degree pathways if you already have a non-nursing bachelor’s degree. Once graduated, you will need to prove your knowledge and ability by passing the NCLEX exam, which provides you with a license to practice as a nurse. As a registered nurse, the opportunities for career progression and advancement are endless, with chances to specialize in various nursing fields or move up the career ladder.

Over the past century, nursing has changed a great deal. Once seen as women who helped doctors and patients, today’s nurses are respected, highly-trained medical professionals from all genders and walks of life.

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