12 More Ways To Spot The Old School Nurse

Ahhhh...nostalgia. All the stories and experiences that come to mind when we take a walk down memory lane, especially when it comes to nursing! Our Old School Nurse article sparked a lot of comments and memories from our ModernNurse readers so we had to highlight a few of our favorites and share. Enjoy these gems and don't forget to add your own old school nurse memories in the comments section below.
1. "What about giving an iron injection z track or buttoning up 15 small hole buttons on your starched uniform. In nursing school I was sent to the Director of Nursing for dirty shoelaces! Major offense!! On duty we never had lunch or breaks and we did our patients respiratory treatments, range of motion, wound care, ostomy care, IV’s, transported our patients in their beds back and forth to surgery and x ray, passed and removed meal trays, kept track of our patients I and Os assisted Drs on rounds and watched for flagged charts for new orders to be transcribed and answered call lights for all patients not just the ones we were assigned. We gave a full report at the end of our shift that all the nurses attended. We knew our patients because we did it all….. and we loved the work, our patients, families and the blood sweat and tears that went with our “calling”-- Nurse Dee


2. "Graduated in ’76 and wore a hat about one year. Also wore white oxfords and support hose for about one year before I realized they were killing me. I bought Earth shoes and white socks to wear with my white polyester pant suits, so much better. I still do hospital corners and face the pillow opening away even at home. Who remembers smoking at the nurses station and getting ashtrays for patients and for the Drs?" -- nancynurse


3. "One thing I remember is that there was nothing disposable on the trays we took in the rooms for different procedures (foley insertions, enemas, etc.). Everything was metal and glass, so it could be re-sterilized. Bad enough the few times I dropped the tray after it had been used – but I dropped one I hadn’t used yet that had the 1000cc soap suds enema solution in the pitcher! I also remember dissolving Demerol tablets in sterile water to draw up in a syringe!" -- Nancy G.


4. "I’ve been an RN since 1976, but worked as an aide while still in high school back in 1970. I still work full time– now as an administrator, but I’m a nurse first. still take patients to the bathroom, give injections when my nurses are busy and I still cry while holding the hand of a dying patient. Now, my staff comes to me when they see an order such as for clycis and have never heard of it yet along use it. I tell them old nurse remedies and they crack up laughing. Maybe you remember some: we used Mecurochrome and Mayonnaise to heal wounds (don’t forget the heat lamp!) What were we thinking? applying sugar to a prolapsed rectum or uterus to help it constrict before pushing it back in. HHH enema. High, Hot and Hell of a lot. If you worked at a catholic hospital- you could not wear pants and the dress had to be below the knees. Oh, the good old days. Looking forward to retirement next year!!!" -- Rose Marie


5. "I was an CNA first then graduated from LPN 1973, white hose, hair off collar, cap. Got my AAS in Nursing 1981, still in white hose, cap and hair off the collar. Both of my caps are gone but none of the memories!! Baths, back rubs, bed pans. IV’s with drip counts and tape to the new mini infusers for ambulatory patients. Have done most of it all from mopping floors to home health care and now sit behind a computer all day taking symptom calls. From strict uniform policies to now working in my PJ’s if I want. We’ve come a long way and have a long way to go still!!" -- boxcaranne


6. "I was also a diploma nurse! We had excellent teachers and so much hands on nursing experience! When I started my 1st job in 1971, my head nurse told me I was her 1st pick to hire after about 4-5 other interviews. She was looking for a diploma nurse, because we already had so much clinical experience. I was promoted to assistant head nurse on the evening shift, after 3 years. After 9 years, I was asked to join the IV Therapy Dept. I was with them for 31 years! Back then we mixed most of the chemotherapy we gave IV push. I loved that job, (lots of times running to answer a Code Blue call). All the IV nurses had to go to the Codes, because we never knew who was free at the time of the call. I retired after 40 years, and became part time babysitter for our 2 granddaughters! I wouldn’t change a thing! ♡♡" -- Sherry G.


7. "I graduated from college in 1978. I got rid of my nursing cap as soon as possible. I always wore my hair twisted up in a bun hidden under the cap. So many of those things apply to me, especially the soap and water baths. I still do that, its not a bath unless you get the patient wet and keep them covered with a bath blanket. I never got the drip rate on an IV but we used a dial-a-flow for everything. One thing I’ve noticed that designates me old school is I still aspirate the syringe when giving injections. I’ve asked new students and they tell me that this isn’t taught in nursing school anymore. As for giving up a chair for a doctor, probably not so much. They had their dictation areas and we had our charting areas. All charts were kept in big 3 ring binders. It was a huge transition from white uniforms to colorful scrubs. I love the colorful scrubs. I tell the nursing students I work with that if you don’t love it with all your heart don’t be a nurse." -- Marilyn D.


8. "I started my nursing career in 1981 and I am still going, I love being an old school nurse. We had to give sitz bath for some skin condition, all nails must be cut short and nail polish was a no! no!, no eating or chewing gum on duty …Wow!!! It's very different out here now!" -- C D


9. "I graduated in 1975. There are times I still wear my cap. As a hospice nurse now, when I wear my ‘whites’ my geriatric folk listen to me. They know what I am saying should be adhered to. So easy to give medications when everyone else is “wearing” what they were trying to give him/her. Permanent stains on my white uniform from an exploded banana bag. Patient Kardex’s written in pencil. Never mind continuity of care – when a treatment or symptom was completed it was erased because they were all written in pencil. Kardex’s used for ‘report’ one shift to the next. Chest tubes connected to glass bottles sitting on the floor. Long rubber rectal tubes remained in place for long periods to relieve gas pressure after any type of GI surgery. Porcelain or metal bed pans. Glass bottles with own glass for drinking water. Hand cranked beds (unfortunately they are still around)." -- Linda


10. "I graduated in ’81 and can relate to everything in the article and comments. I had forgotten about the different colored ink for different shifts and always took pride in my freshly polished Nurse Mates. My hair was ALWAYS off my collar and I never forgot my school pin! When I wore a dress, white pantyhose were on my legs. LOL. I wore my cap for a long time and always enjoyed seeing the variety of styles worn by different schools. Ahhh…..the good old days!?" -- Cheryl


11. "Having a roll of silk tape in your pocket with bandage scissors. Wearing a cotton slip under your (dress) uniform. I graduated from a three year school in 1982. I loved my cap and wore it up until the late 90’s. It was always in the clear tote bag. I do have my nightingale lamp in my curio cabinet. i always wore lace up shoes and yes, I still make hospital corners on my bed!!! I even put my pillow cases on without touching the pillow and the pillow faces away from the door!!! Taping the glass IV bottles to time them and counting drops…micro and mini!!! Those were the good ol’ days. Standing up to give the doctor your seat. Charting long hand and using three colored pens…blue for days, green for evenings, and red for nights. Miss those days." -- Susan C.


And last but certainly not least...

12. "Remember the 1000 cc SS enema!" --Lori

Can you relate? Share your favorite old school memories in the comments section below.



  1. I graduated from penn in1966. I remember mixing morphine and Demerol tabs in a syringe of sterile H2O for pain and falling in love with tubex!also sitting in for years on report for the whole floor. Amazing we did it all and got it done and knew everything about the patient from flow rates on Ivs, nasal O2 rate, lab results, dx. Etc etc!!i retired after 49yrs in critical care and loved every minute of it.

  2. I graduated from an AD program in 1977. I was 19. I had worked prior to this as a nursing assistant for about 4 years in a nursing home. Yes they were called nursing homes, not assisted living etc.
    In nursing school, we met one old doctor who refused to talk to a nurse who wasn’t wearing a cap. The nurses would go to the coffee filters (then a lot thicker and sturdier), put one on their head, get the order they needed, then trash the filters. I wore my cap for graduation, a few times for Halloween or April Fools. I had too many times walking under the tv in rooms, knocking it off. I still have it, in its plastic carrier. I wore the (graduation) white uniform as long as I could because it was actually made for nursing: shoulders with pleats that allowed movement, washed well, tough etc. But I welcomed colorful scrubs. I regret the way everyone is color coded in scrubs now, “medical assistants” instead of nursing assistants.
    I went back for my BSN, it took me 13 years due to working full time, marriage & motherhood. Add in I took courses I wanted, not needed. Courses like abnormal psychology etc that I wanted to take, found useful. But I wanted my BSN after seeing Virginia Henderson speak about the “85 proposal” she supported, where by 1985 the BSN should be the entry into practice. Never happened but I still wanted my BSN. Favorite quote by her: monkeys are trained, nurses are educated.
    It was a revolution when we started wearing white “sneakers” instead of “nursing shoes”.
    I remember when patients stayed in the hospital for months, until they fully recovered. Not drive by nursing, where they go home before you even see them.
    When Michael Jackson’s doctor was on trial, the “experts” couldn’t explain the odd IV setup. I could, recognizing an old school hack. I could go on…
    I retired due to disability over 10 years ago. That disability hastened by nursing hours, never eating on a schedule, never getting sleep or getting to the restroom. But I’ll always be a nurse.

  3. I graduated a diploma program in 1979. We had lots of clinical time in our school program and I knew the OR was where I wanted to work when I finished school! I remember we used to wrap te silk suture material around reels before sterilization for use in the cases, putting metal rings on the lap sponges to be able to count and find the lap sponges in the body cavities and using phenol to burn/ cauterize the appendix stump. So much time was available for patient care back then! Now so much time is taken up with paperwork and documentation.

  4. I graduated college in 1991 with a BSN, but started out in a 3 year diploma program, convinced that everyone was going to have their BSN like they were warning us. HA! Almost 30 years later and they still haven’t enforced it. Well anyway, one thing I do that is left over from that diploma program is that I still make hospital corners. Religiously.

  5. From a diploma program with university professors who taught the science course, I started as an RN in 1968. It was a good day when we no longer wore our hats. They were always coming off when going in and out of croup tents. Also remember when we were allowed to wear colored tops with our white pants or skirts. The pediatric patients learned pretty quickly that the nurse in pink also gave shots… And when as the Head Nurse (everyone laughs about that term today), I was allowed to choose color to our cross hallways on the Pediatric Unit. Also recall parking discharged pediatric patients in cribs that could be seen from the elevator to help make the point that our midnight census did not reflect the number of patients who had been admitted and discharged that day. Eleven institutions later, school nursing and home health care, teaching is still my favorite job as it keeps me learning. Masters completed after Medicare eligible.

  6. I graduated in 1973 as a LPN and 1986 with my Associates Degree and took RN boards in Atlantic City the Convention Center in July. I graduated November 2011 with my BSN. I have seen patients who were once in the ICU in the 70’s now being cared for in Nursing Homes bei g kept alive with vents and feedi g tubes. We no longer say STOP and let our loved ones go in peace but keep them alive to suffer more. I do remember the triple H enemas, regulating IV drip rates manually, giving up my seat so the doctor can sit (still happens now when they want my computer). I have enjoyed being a nurse for 45 years and fou d the best home in hospice nursing.

  7. I was a Certified Nurses Aide, LVN and then graduated as a RN in 1986. I remember the night we went from glass IV bottles to plastic. I was so worried the IV rate strips ( each color different for each rate….green for 75cc/hr, yellow for 100cc/hr….and so on ) would not be accurate. I remember working in a small ER and giving IM antibiotics. ( IM penicillin…..OUCH ) The patient had to be coding or bleeding before an IV was started. I remember one of our LVN teachers asking us to kneel on the floor and seeing if our uniforms skirts touched the floor and daily shoelace inspections. YES, you carried extra new shoelaces in case the ones you were wearing were not up to her standard of whiteness. I remember shopping for uniforms. Sears/Penneys, (no catalogs for uniforms back then) You had a choice of about 4 different white dress uniforms and you hoped they carried your size. I just retired last month and am amazed at the changes over the last 30 years. Nursing was a great career choice. Thanks Mom !!

  8. I remember being thrown into CCU one day after receiving my nursing license in 1977, with a sink or swim training attitude then being told in 1982 if I can do CCU then I can do OB with no training. I learn to swim quickly in both areas because I learn nursing from being Candy striper and and a an aid.
    Now I have to listen to new nurses tell me that they know how to do it better than I can and they’re not going to be eaten alive why they walk all over me.

  9. Hi,
    I graduated Nursing School for Trenton State College in 1983. Had a memorable experience and capping ceremony. The thing that stuck with me most was when working everything had to be documented…”if it wasn’t written, it wasn’t done”…drilled into our heads. I started in the ER. Was the only RN on the night shift in a small community ER-Learned the ropes in that hospital! Also, had a Mental Health Unit there. The stories I could tell! Could not read the doctor’s handwriting half the time. Did IV drips manually-no pumps when I started. I would do it again in a minute! Now a School Nurse…love my students, but looking forward in about 3 years to a lovely retirement…with no more documenting!

  10. I graduated as a LPN in 1978, and AAS in 1982; wore a tall hat, support hose ( I am 62 now and do again) pressed white uniform and smoked behind the desk with everyone else. I worked in a 900 bed hospital in M/S and spinal cord medicine- burn unit- before I decided on ICU as the new RN. I don’t think many knew I was new in 1982, after 3 days at the 100 degree armory taking our boards finally passing. We passed someone’s home on the way to our boards, they had a pool I noticed- and they let us swim there at lunch- we went back to the armory dripping wet hair making our afternoon much better- it was so hot- pregnant women were placed closest to the bathrooms and sometimes they fainted, the clock kept running on their test! In ICU everyone questioned why did you do that or this- it was a teaching hospital and it was hard being challenged for every decision made- it made me strong, smart and compassionate. I then went on to forensic Nursing, School Nursing, and now a Nurse Practitioner – New nurses, as Nina Angela McKissock says at times some they are hard to be around- such a very different time- BUT its the best job in the world and wouldn’t have changed a thing- I have learned about the best and worst of humankind, I continue to choose the best and help educate others to be their best too!

  11. Remember caffeine enemas, digital removal for impactions if the 3H enemas didn’t work? Vanilla for burns and baking soda for bites. I graduated in ’69 and have a lot of fun memories, even though some are unbelievable to nurses now days. We used to use maggots for bad decubiti-pore them in the decube, cover with a dressing and let them eat the neurotic tissue…we had to pour ether over the dressing to wash them out before they started flying out! Post partum, we often gave moms their placenta so they could take it home, wrap it around a peach out and plant it so it would continue to feed the child in yrs to come. Lots of fun memories and 1st, like open heart surgery and gastric bypass. Thanks to all for the walk down memory lane!

  12. I Can an old school nurse; I graduated in 1975. I work LTD now; but, my first job was in a hospital.
    Nurses had just stopped giving up our seats in the chart room. I was charting on one of my patients who started “crumping”; and, had already been sent to ICU. There were 3 empty chairs in the chart room. On of the older doctors came in ; started clearing his throat behind me. After the 3 rd or 4th time I asked him if he needed a cough drop? He reported me. Luckily the DON (retired Army murse) and the floor Head Nurse were “modernized” and told him “Its 1975; she does not have to give up her seat”.
    Also, I remember rotating shifts – 2 weeks days; 2 weeks evenings; and, 2 nights.

  13. I have been caring for others for over 40 yrs now and remember all
    of the things mentioned by others. It is a rewarding career, yes it
    makes you cry some days but makes you enjoy each day to the fullest.
    Don’t want to miss a thing, for I know life can be too short!

  14. My first job as an RN was at The National Institutes of Health. They’d never hired new graduates before and ten of us were lucky enough to be hired. They had us rotate through three institutes for six months, then we chose where we wanted to work. I chose The National Cancer Institute, in the surgical unit. It was during the draft, so the doctors were the best of the best, and the nurses were mostly military nurses who’d seen combat. My head nurse was tough and brilliant. The nurses shared their humor, work ethic and brilliant assessment skills with me and I’m forever grateful. I learned discipline, meticulous care, working as a team and the absolute thrill of being involved in research for the betterment of all. It’s hard now-a-day for me to see nurses chewing gum, looking sloppy, always texting, racism, bullying, hypocrisy and gossiping in the workplace. It actually breaks my heart. The paranoia of being sued or harmed if you notice a problem is anathema to me. Oh well. Times change. I change.

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