Professional nurses have been part of the healthcare landscape for centuries, but their job has changed greatly over the years. In a modern hospital, nurses are a key part of any team, but getting to this point has often been a struggle.

Nevertheless, any in-depth look at nursing history reveals they were always as dedicated as their physician colleagues. People who have a career in nursing today can enjoy a future full of potential and excellent conditions.

Changing Role of Nurses and the Skills They Still Need

From supportive working environments to a great range of training programs and numerous career paths, the average nurse’s working life has undoubtedly improved.

The earliest nurses were self-taught

Until the latter half of the 19th century, training for nurses was either basic or non-existent. As nurses were not highly valued, qualifications were not considered essential for the job.

As a result, new nurses had to establish a set of skills learned from family members or by simply watching more experienced caregivers.

In 1872, the first teaching hospital in the US opened its doors. The New England Hospital for Women and Children was the birthplace of nursing education, but it quickly inspired other forms of professional training and helped make qualifications a requirement for the role.

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Now nurse training is excellent

In the 21st century, gaining the qualifications to work in a medical setting is part of life for every aspiring nurse.

Along with formal qualifications gained at school, they must earn a certification to become a registered nurse and then take on further programs to move into more specialized positions or leadership roles.

At Rockhurst University, experienced nurses can take their pick from a range of online programs en route to becoming an ethical nurse leader. With specially selected clinical placements and a choice of accelerated pathways, online graduates are skillfully prepared for success in their chosen careers.

The working environment was a challenge

Before the 1880s, caring for patients in a hospital setting was rare, instead, people who needed medical assistance were treated either on the battlefield or at home. Hospitals were considered a last resort, a place where people were taken when they were either very ill or near death.

Everyone else was seen at home, with nurses and physicians visiting to diagnose what was wrong and prescribe a course of treatment. By the late 1800s and early 1900s, the earliest nursing courses allowed students to become familiar with the inside of a hospital, and also to gain a higher degree of respect.

Now, they had good general medical knowledge and were not just caregivers who helped out.  

Today medical settings are more formal

Nurses work in a wider range of facilities than ever before, taking up positions in hospitals, clinics, local care homes, and schools.

Moreover, nurses with government jobs still play an essential role in military operations and community nurses are equally in demand.

Nurses were not as highly valued

In previous years, nurses were seen more as assistants than medical professionals. In hospitals, they would be given a list of chores to complete before the end of their shift, rather than focusing mainly on patient care.

However, the growing need for medical personnel, coupled with social changes and a more thorough training program, brought change to the role. After years of study, nurses enter a hospital ready to take on more complex tasks that had previously been left to a physician.

Now nurses are respected medical professionals

Nurses are educated to a high standard and have many opportunities for career development. Additional qualifications and real-world uses of these have opened up a new range of advanced positions for nurses.

Nurse practitioners can not only diagnose a patient but prescribe a course of treatment as well. In hospitals, nurses are expected to handle medical emergencies independently and report their daily observations to physicians to aid in a patient’s care.

Patient care has been transformed

In a modern hospital, the dignity and care of each patient are key factors in medical care. In part, this is thanks to better training of nurses and physicians, but cleaner more comfortable facilities also make for a better experience.

Furthermore, technological advancements have transformed patient care and made medical science far more precise. From tablets to record patients’ notes, to diagnostic aids and health wearables, high-tech devices are saving and improving lives every day.

These devices have also made the job easier for nurses, allowing them to work more efficiently and aiding communication between professionals.

What skills does a contemporary nurse need?

Nursing is an incredibly rewarding career that offers flexible working hours, the potential for career advancement, and a great deal of personal satisfaction. Unlike in years gone by, nurses are able to command professional respect from their colleagues, their patients, and society as a whole.

People who are interested in the role could make a huge impact in the lives of their patients, but with that kind of responsibility, the challenges are considerable. The work can be demanding, and at times, nurses need to go above and beyond what most people would expect in an average working day.

To have a long and happy career in the profession, it helps if a person has or can work on several key skills.

Nurses are compassionate people

Not everyone can see a situation from someone else’s point of view and in doing so gain insight into how they are feeling. Nurses are called upon to put themselves in the place of a patient and try to see what is happening from their perspective.

Patients can be demanding, so nurses are often rushed and cannot attend to every buzzer immediately.

Nevertheless, once they have a chance to pause and meet up with a patient, they can provide reassurance, help, and advice. In the end, their efforts build trust between a worried patient and their caregivers. 

This is especially important because nurses care for people from a diverse range of backgrounds, cultures, and ethnicities. To predict and respond to the emotional reactions of each, nurses need excellent empathy skills.

Although not everyone is naturally empathic in their daily life, the more they experience the easier it can become to see things through another person’s eyes.

As part of a nursing program, nurses are taught to consider a person’s life experiences and how these have affected them. So, having compassion for others is certainly learnable.

Nurses contain their emotions

Mental strain is one of the most difficult issues healthcare workers face. Caring for vulnerable people every day creates a surge of strong yet conflicting emotions. Along with joy, happiness, and fulfillment, there will be shock, frustration, and sorrow.

Unpleasant situations are part of almost every standard shift, but nurses are expected to remain calm so they can continue to manage the needs of the patient, their family, the physicians, and their colleagues.

That’s not to say that nurses can close themselves off emotionally and not feel affected by

inherently upsetting events. Instead, they need to manage their feelings and control the responses they are having. This means they can focus on what needs to be done and provide the right care for their patients.

Remaining stable during an emotional event is not easy and takes time to master. Nurses need to be kind to themselves while learning this skill and find methods of coping with intense experiences.

Nurses are great communicators

One of the top skills needed in this role is communication. Good communication ensures a nurse can bridge the gaps between patients, their families, and their physicians. In a clinic or a hospital, they collect data constantly when chatting with a patient or doctor, if something is missed then the consequences can be dire.

They are also responsible for noting down the medication orders of a physician, spotting any missing information on paperwork, and completing a patient’s chart. If allergies are not noted for example, although the patient mentioned them, the mistake will be due to a lack of effective communication.

Unnoticed, even small details can result in harm coming to a patient. Nurses need to use a range of communication skills to avoid this occurring, from verbally advising others, to writing, reading, and presenting information in a digital format.

Communication is also used as a method of nurturing relationships between nurses and their patients. Considered a therapeutic tool, it uses established techniques, both non-verbal and verbal to calm and soothe a person.

As a patient begins to feel relaxed, they are more willing to open up to a healthcare worker about their symptoms or feelings. In turn, this allows a nurse to do his or her job more effectively and deliver an excellent outcome for their patient.

Nurses take an analytical approach

Gathering factual information and then evaluating this evidence to reach a conclusion is the essence of critical thinking. It can take a huge amount of self-control and autonomous work to look at a set of data the way a nurse needs to.

However, because it enables them to swiftly prioritize their work and identify more troublesome clinical issues, it is an essential skill.

One of the best examples is a triage nurse. They could use a set of results to establish whether a patient presenting with chest pain needs an indigestion tablet or treatment for a heart problem.  

Critical thinking has become a fundamental quality for all nurses as their position in the US healthcare system has expanded. They still work as part of a team, but when they are alone, the independent decisions they make are not constantly checked by anyone else.

The practical side of things, such as fitting a catheter, taking blood, or dressing a wound is second nature, but managing a more unusual or startling event requires a more critical approach.

Nurses maintain an open mind

Nurses see and treat people from all backgrounds and walks of life. Some may present in an abrasive way or hold opinions that a nurse does not. From time to time, nurses will meet parents who have refused to vaccinate a child or a person who refuses treatment based on their religious beliefs.

Although this can be frustrating for a nurse to witness, they must recognize that a patient can make decisions about their own care. The concept of patient autonomy will always be at the forefront of a nurse’s mind, regardless of their own feelings.

An understanding of different cultures, along with the capacity to care for people who speak another language or have different customs, is essential.

To deliver excellent care, a nurse may need to assign people of a certain gender to work with a patient or involve an interpreter in their care, so nothing is lost in translation.

Nurses take a flexible approach to working hours

Everyone wants to maintain a good work-life balance, but nurses, like many other key workers, will work some unsociable hours. Occasionally, they are asked to work overtime without much notice, but weekend work, night work, and evening work are all common.

Like anyone else, nurses prefer to enjoy their free time with friends or family, but hospitals are open 24 hours a day. Furthermore, when a bad road accident or a larger incident takes place, it can be all hands on deck until the initial rush is over.

The skill here is choosing a position that fits in with their life and their commitments. Nurses might enjoy the rush and excitement of a maternity ward or emergency room, but they will often have to work throughout the night.

That might be suitable for someone with no outside commitments, but for people who need to be at home during normal hours, a school, clinic, or day camp might be more appropriate.

Nurses are respectful

Regardless of a patient’s general demeanor or attitude, nurses must maintain a respectful approach. This professional courtesy ensures that people who are upset because they are scared and in pain, feel they can trust their nurse.

Nurses also need respect for the endless regulations they work under. From government policies to insurers, rules dictate how things are done, and failing to observe them can result in financial repercussions or a ward closure.

The US healthcare system is highly regulated, but nurses understand that this reflects the need for patent safety.

It can be difficult to deal with, especially when things are very busy or an emergency occurs, but overall, nurses respect the rules because they know this offers the best results for their patients.

Nurses need to care for themselves

According to a 2014 study: ‘self-care can help one cope with stressors inherent to both practicing nurses and nursing students’. At work, nurses devote their time to caring for other people and this relentless focus on patients can take its toll.

The work is demanding both physically and emotionally, but coupled with long working hours, the impact can be keenly felt. As a result, to thrive in their profession, nurses must be aware of their own needs and practice self-care.

It’s about more than taking a nice bath at the end of a shift or buying a treat on the way home. 

At this level, self-care needs to include the setting of professional boundaries, taking time off that is due, and achieving a work-life balance that feels right. Sometimes, nurses are so involved with their job that they feel guilty about taking a timeout for themselves, but they should remember that their well-being results in better patient care.

It’s all too easy for a tired, stressed nurse to make a mistake that could affect a patient’s recovery. 

Nurses can adapt to changing circumstances

Nurses never have an average day at work, there are always new proficiencies to master, new patients, and new challenges to face. For many, this excitement and dynamism is the best part of the job. Nurses might never be bored, but they also need to adapt very quickly, because someone’s life could depend on it.

For example, if a patient’s blood pressure drops unexpectedly, if they fall unconscious or if they stop breathing, a nurse must switch from his or her planned activity in an instant.

In the same way, a quiet afternoon on the ward can transform into many busy hours if a road traffic accident occurs nearby.

Adapting to new things can also be about accepting new practices, these could relate to infection control, providing more information at handover times, or antibiotic stewardship. All of which nurses have to accept without question.

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Nursing skills should be nurtured  

It’s a long list, but student nurses rarely arrive for their first day with every one of these skills. As a career, working in healthcare means learning on the job every day. New nurses would benefit from considering their personal strengths and weaknesses but should not be disheartened if they don’t excel in every area.

A willingness to care for others is an excellent starting point. The other skills needed to succeed can be learned and developed, both in university and later in a medical setting.


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