A 50-year perspective on professional nursing
In recognition of International Nurses Day on 12 May, long-serving nurse Angie Steiner reflects on how her profession has changed over the course of half a century.
For Angie Steiner, nursing is a career full of heartfelt paradoxes, holding life and death together.
“It’s messy and real, vulnerable and brave,” Angie reflects. “The names and faces of patients and their families, and their stories, will forever lie etched in my memories.”
At the beginning of her career in 1973, Angie remembers hospitals administered in a military style, with stripes on caps to indicate progression through the ranks, segregation of junior and senior staff, and controlling attitudes towards women, subordinates and patients.
“There weren’t very many male nurses," says Angie, “but our male counterparts were paid more for doing the same work.”
“As for the doctors, we were seen by many as handmaidens, just there to take temperatures and do dressings,” Angie recalls.
The 1970’s saw important changes to how nurses were trained moving from hospital-based, hands-on learning applying theoretical concepts into daily practice, into universities where critical thinking and research challenged outdated clinical practices, empowering nurses to take a leading role in improving health care.
The effect of these changes was a trend towards more wholistic and patient-centred care.
“Originally the wards were open, there was very little privacy,” Angie remembers. “People were immediately disempowered, with the approach being, ‘let’s put a gown on you,' thereby deidentifying them."
“Since those times many things have changed for the better. Instead of being ‘patient in bed twelve’ it’s ‘Mr Jones’, so there’s been a big shift towards recognising that a patient is a person with a life.”
The many ways in which health care has improved in fifty years owes a great deal to the professional recognition of nursing, but more so to the ever-present passion and dedication of nurses themselves.
“Despite the problems of the past, there has always been respect for the work – for the care and dedication,” Angie emphasises.
“Working in the field, we know that the small things can make a big difference. We need to listen to the whole patient journey. It's important to be compassionate, but it’s also about addressing underlying concerns, rather than just the physical problem. The end goal is for the patient or client to take control of their own care, to find solutions they can be a part of.”
Of the many changes to nursing over a long and varied career, Angie also highlights increased collaboration, the rise of multidisciplinary teams and better support for health care workers as key improvements.