When I began my nursing career at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin nearly 30 years ago — working as a staff nurse on a burn unit — the hospital was located on Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Milwaukee. Because space was tight, four patients shared one hospital room and most parents weren’t able to stay overnight with their hospitalized child. That’s a sharp contrast to the private patient rooms and family-centered facilities at our hospital today.
Looking back, I realize that many other things have changed in the practice of nursing through the years.
Nurses have expanded their roles and taken on a wider range of responsibilities beyond direct patient care. Now, nurses at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin practice in a variety of clinical and community-based settings and collaborate with colleagues in many specialties. They work in population health, school outreach, safety and research. They are scientists, patient advocates, educators and leaders. In fact, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin’s president and chief operating officer is a nurse!
When I began my career, most nurses didn’t have advanced nursing degrees or specialization. Today, there are ever-growing numbers of nurse practitioners and clinical nurse specialists, and nurses are certified in dozens of specialties, like pediatric nursing, cardiac care, diabetes care and orthopedics.
Advanced training transformed my own nursing practice. After earning a master’s degree and becoming certified in pain management, I was able to take on new opportunities and challenges. In addition to providing care to our patients, I get to educate families, nurses and physicians while I work on quality- improvement projects and conduct research with my team. Currently, we’re exploring ways to relieve kids’ pain while minimizing the amount of medication they receive.
Robotic surgery would’ve seemed like science fiction 30 years ago, but today it’s a reality. Nurses have become knowledgeable about this and other groundbreaking technologies. I’ve also seen the arrival of smaller tools that can make a big impact on patient care, like J-Tips that painlessly provide numbing medicine for needle pokes and disposable nerve-block pumps that can go from inpatient to home with our patients.
Thanks to electronic medical records, nurses no longer have to pore through paper charts and decipher handwriting on prescriptions. The system also makes patient information accessible from any location, saves time and helps reduce medical errors. Electronic medication bar coding is also keeping patients safer by tracking and checking drugs and doses.
While many things have changed over the past three decades, caring and compassion remain the heart and soul of nursing practice. For me, making a difference at the bedside is still the most rewarding part of my role.
Watch our 2015 Nursing Year in Review video to see how our nurses are making a difference:
As health care continues to change, nurses will find new ways to meet the needs of patients, families and communities. While it’s hard to imagine what nursing will look like 30 years down the road, I’m sure it will include many exciting, new opportunities. Nursing is the best, most rewarding “job” in the world. And there’s never been a better time to be a nurse.