The Expanding Role of Today's Nurse
No Longer A "One Size Fits All" Profession
Second in a Series of Three Articles
Although the nursing profession has been a career option for women for centuries, modern nursing is experiencing a period of dynamic growth. Today's nurse enters an arena offering a myriad of choices and opportunities. Gone are the days when nursing was one of only a few default options available to working women and a nurse was pictured as a young female dressed in a starched white uniform and nursing cap, dutifully performing bedside care and carrying out doctors' orders.
The women and men (six percent of today's US nursing workforce is male) who currently choose this profession resist such narrow definitions. "The role of the nurse has changed considerably in my 31-year career," says Ruth Ann Jones, MSN, RN, CNA, BC, Director, Acute Care for Shore Health System. "There is a major push to eliminate nursing stereotypes."
As medicine has become more specialized, the nurse's world has broadened significantly. Nurses work in fields such as multi-specialty care, emergency care, critical care, obstetrics, pediatrics, digestive health, neurology, rehabilitation, oncology, home health, midwifery, and behavioral health. While hospital nurses are the largest group of working professionals, many others work in settings outside the hospital, in clinics, public health offices, home health, industry worksites, and nursing homes, to name a few.
Nurses of many ages and backgrounds operate high tech medical equipment, conduct research, institute cost-saving practices, and participate in boardroom decisions. Shore Health System has 134 nurses certified in specialties such as medical-surgical, oncology, emergency nursing, critical care, psychiatry, gerontology, and orthopedics. Yet they all agree that first and foremost, a nurse is a patient advocate. Jones emphasizes that, "the core of nursing continues to be delivering quality care to patients and their families. Nursing is a profession, not just a job."
Educational preparation includes three major paths for the registered nurse-diploma, an associate's degree, and a bachelor's of science degree. Advanced practice nurses, such as nurse practitioners and clinical nurse specialists, must meet educational and clinical practice requirements beyond their basic nursing education.
Jones explains that registered nurses make up the largest healthcare occupation. It is expected that more new jobs will be created for RNs than for any other future occupation.
"When I first came out of nursing school in 1985," says Shelley Stone, RN, BSN, Clinical Coordinator in ICU at The Memorial Hospital at Easton, "I thought nursing was taking care of patients and doing what I was told. That's not the way nursing works today. Management is saying, 'This is your unit-take the ball and run with it.'"