Adele Webb remembers vividly what it was like to be a nurse when she first began her career nearly 40 years ago.

Adele Webb, PhD

“When I started in nursing, if a doctor came in the room and you were a nurse, you stood up immediately,” recalls Webb, PhD, RN, FNAP, FAAN, assistant dean of External Relations and Partnerships for Capella University. “If the doctor wanted a chair, you gave him yours. No questions asked. And the doctor was almost always a him. It was really an environment of nurses being subservient and being order takers.”

Oh, how times have changed. That stereotypical image of a nurse no longer resembles reality. Nurses today are strategic, critical-thinking, and highly valued members of integrated care teams. In short, for nurses in the profession today, this is not your grandmother’s nursing career.

“Nursing is a way more exciting career than it used to be,” Webb says. “And that says something, because nursing has always been an intense, incredibly important career choice. But today, because of the complexity of care we are dealing with, and the variety of duties that nurses are responsible for, it is a career that is immensely challenging and rewarding at the same time.”

Webb shares four ways that nursing careers are different than they were a generation or two ago.

Complexity of Care

First, the complexity of the care that nurses must provide is so much more involved than it used to be. Patients are living longer with more intricate treatment needs, representing medical challenges that nurses didn’t regularly encounter in the past.

“Yes, the complexity of care that patients today require can make the job more stressful, but therein is the reward,” Webb says. “There is an invigoration in saving a patient that 10 or 20 years ago we could not save. There’s a real heroism among nurses caring for patients today. When I started, I worked in neonatal intensive care, and as hard as we tried, we could have never saved the babies that we can save today. We are saving babies way younger and smaller than we ever imagined we could when I started. That is enormously gratifying, but also requires nurses to be at their best.”

A Voice in Decision Making
Unlike when she started, Webb says that today nurses have much more of a voice, and they should not be afraid to use it. More importantly, they should feel compelled to share their ideas, their concerns. Nurses need to be heard if they are to be advocates not only for their patients, but the profession.

“Nurses absolutely need to be heard as they are an integral part of a sophisticated care team now,” Webb says. “Their input is both necessary and most often accepted. Nurses are core to the decision-making process.”

Game Changing Technology
When thinking about how nursing work life has developed over the last couple of generations, there has been no bigger game changer than technology.Technology is everywhere. It is integral to so many of the tasks that a nurse does every day. Most importantly, it is helping to save lives.

“Technology can be frustrating and overwhelming at times, but it absolutely allows nurses to be more effective in delivering care,” Webb says. The pace of new technologies is ever increasing. Nurses need to embrace that. They have to be adaptable and recognize how it helps them be a better nurse. Truly, they couldn’t do what they do without technology. It’s important to choose to see it as exciting.”

However, Webb adds that it is equally important for nurses not to let their dependence on technology divert them from their compassion.

“You can’t let technology take your focus away from the reason you are a nurse,” Webb says. “While it exists to help you better deliver care, ultimately it’s your compassion and attentiveness to the patient that makes you a nurse. That is something that has not changed from our grandmothers’ time, and never should.”

Handling Diversity
Finally, patients and nurses alike represent more diversity than ever before. Decades ago, most nurses looked a lot like the patients they cared for. Today, we live in an increasingly global society. And while ideally nurses should mirror the populations they serve, that’s not always the case. That is why Webb says it is particularly important for nurses to make a conscious effort to treat every patient with the same professional level of care and attentiveness—regardless of age, gender, race, sexuality, religion, or country of origin.

“Cultural sensitivity for nurses is hugely important,” Webb says. “Any biases a nurse has must be left at the door when treating a patient or interacting with a co-worker. Mutual respect is absolutely essential for a nurse to do his or her job today.”

Become the nurse of tomorrow with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from Capella University.