The International Council on Infertility Information Dissemination, Inc

How Has The Nursing Profession Evolved And Where Is It Headed?

Team of medical personnel in a hospital

Nurses are essential components of a functioning healthcare system and have been for some time. However, it is only within the last couple of centuries that nursing has been recognized as the profession we know today.

The Birth Of Modern Nursing

Healthcare has been an important part of human civilization since its earliest days. However, nursing did not emerge as a proper bonafide profession until around the middle of the 19th century. Most historians agree that Florence Nightingale is the first example of a modern nurse. Prior to her arrival, there had been many people, mostly women, doing work that we would now recognize as nursing, although it was not referred to as such at the time, as male doctors dictated the terms of healthcare.

Florence Nightingale was the first person to recognize the importance of the scientific method for healthcare. Her contributions to nursing during the Crimean war laid the groundwork for the modern field of nursing.

A decade later, with the outbreak of the American Civil War, the nursing profession accelerated as women like Mary Ann Bickerdyke and Captain Sally Tompkins developed many of the techniques that would become standard for nurses going forward. Many of the volunteer nurses during the civil war were female slaves. Freed male slaves would often fight for the union army, while freed female slaves would offer their services as nurses and caregivers.

Because of this, public support for and recognition of the nursing profession spread across the United States. The contribution of women throughout the civil war also helped to cement their role in American society. For the first time, there was a recognized and respected profession that women could pursue. However, nurses were still considered inferior to male doctors.


The study and field of nursing began to coalesce into the profession that we recognize today. With the emergence of nursing as a recognized vocation for many ambitious women, a standardized approach to the training was required. The first programs that we would recognize as training for nurses opened their doors to students in the late 19th century.

By the latter half of the 20th century, these training courses had evolved into more complex and comprehensive training programs, and colleges and universities took over responsibility for training new nurses from hospitals, which had been handling the training process until then.

Work And Responsibilities

Over the years, the responsibilities of a nurse have also changed quite dramatically. There are a number of reasons for this, shifting societal attitudes towards nurses and towards the role of women in nursing, in particular, have played a big part.

Nurses are no longer considered as subordinate to doctors, and there is now a recognition that the two roles are different, although they obviously complement one another. Nurses were originally seen as caregivers, looking after patients while they were stuck in the hospital, but not really providing much in the way of medical care, which was left to doctors.

As Americans began to seek out medical care in greater numbers, more nurses we needed in the second half of the twentieth century to cope with the increased demand. This resulted in the nursing profession expanding significantly and nurses taking on many of the roles and responsibilities that had previously been reserved for doctors.

The Future Of Nursing

We have looked at how nursing has changed over the years. Now let’s take a look at where it is headed in the future.

The nursing profession is in a constant state of flux. There are always new advances being made in the fields of medicine and technology, and these advances can significantly impact what nurses do and how they do it. As time goes on, nurses' training is continuing to expand, meaning that nurses are able to take on new responsibilities. This is a trend that we have witnessed since the earliest days of nursing, and which we expect will continue long into the future.

Nurses today have more options than ever before when it comes to career progression. A registered nurse can set their sights on any specific field or industry within the realm of healthcare that they would like to work in. For example, if you are passionate about working with children, then you could pursue a career as a family nurse practitioner or pediatric nurse.

The nursing profession has changed a lot since Florence Nightingale’s time and will likely be unrecognizable again in another century. Nurses are always going to be in demand, that is never going to change. But the nature of nursing reflects our current understanding of both medicine and technology.

Add new comment

(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
3 + 0 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.