How Has Nursing Changed Since Your First Day On The Job?

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.

We can all agree that a lot has changed in the past 30 years. We’ve seen the fall of the Berlin Wall, the invention of the iPhone, and the rise and fall (and another rise) of the fanny pack. Of course, it’s not only government and fashion that have changed. Nursing has changed significantly as well.

We heard from nurses on our Facebook page who have been in nursing for 30-plus years, and they told us all about the ways nursing has evolved since they first donned the white cap.

“I started in 1981. Patients smoked in their rooms, nurses smoked at the desk… We charted in three colors of ink. Day shift black or blue, green for evenings and red for night shift. I could go on and on!” —Joni S.

“…1981 LPN passed medications to patients on a 36-bed unit; only two private rooms [and the] rest were semi-privates, and at the end of the hallway were two four-bed wards. We had one RN, one LPN and four NAs for 36 beds and did a better job than we do today with so many rules and regulations and excessive charting to ward off lawsuits.” —Angel E.

“I started nursing in ’64. What a difference. Everyone cared a whole lot more and no RN treated anyone as beneath her. Charting colors, caps, nursing uniforms. We could all write a book.” —Maryanne H.

“I started in 1973; white starched dresses, white caps, short hair or up in a bun, polished white shoes, nursing pin, metal name tag, white stocking or socks, paper charts, tri-colored pens, smoking in patient rooms and at the nurses’ desk, coffee pot on 24/7, making rounds with doctors and taking orders so you had to be on your toes. Reading the doctor’s orders and notes was a skill all in itself. Oh, how I miss the good days!” —Jane P.

“I started my career in 1984 and remember white pants with colored tops for us pediatric nurses. White nursing shoes. Central lines were just coming out on the floor for kids and I remember being scared of them because that ‘was a PICU thing.’ Now they go home with portacaths, antibiotics, etc.” —Cathy D.

“I started in 1968. We wore white uniform dresses. Pants not allowed. We wore caps; hair had to be short or up. We wore our school pin. Jewelry was not allowed, only stud earrings and wedding band. Shoes had to be white and polished. Computers didn’t exist. IVs were in glass bottles. The chest tube setup was big, bulky and a nightmare. Nurses were not allowed to start IVs or cath a male patient. Beds were not electric.” —Therese W.

“1973 graduate here. I still refer to my classmates by last name. So many changes. And most are for the good. In 1973 my hourly wage as an LPN was $4.35/hour. 3-11 shift. No shift diff. In 1980 I got my RN and made a whopping 8 bucks an hour. It’s not about the paycheck, though, it’s about loving what you do. Nursing has been very good to me over the years and I am still so proud to say, ‘I’m a nurse.'” —Margie W.

How has nursing changed since your first day on the job? Share your stories in the comments below.

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.


  1. All of the above. And I remember putting signs on confused patients gowns saying ‘please return me to’ whatever room and unit number they were from’
    And how about hardly ever wearing gloves?!? Just to clean up after a messy bedpan. 😳

  2. Went to teaching hospital diploma school for 3 years, lived in the dorm, had house mothers and curfews! Had classes at the school and college close by and put in 4 hours on floor. Real hands on—boy I miss that! Charted on paper, tri-color pens, expected to give up seat at nurses station if MD’s came on unit, made rounds and were included as students in general rounds and were asked questions! Miss that too! Graduated in 1974, pay $3.10/hr, charge 10 cents more. Glass IV bottles, but we had disposable syringes for IM’s, except narcotics-they were glass. Needed second signature if we had to waste narcs in ampules! Counted meds & syringes.
    Had team nursing-got to know our patients very well, do miss that part too! I could go on, but everything evolves as has nursing, most for the better, and some not so!

  3. I was a student nurse in 1957, grad in 1960. Specialty : ER in NYC. Told if we could get patient to pay $3.00 try to collect for ER visit…no matter what Tx or complaint.
    As student was in charge on unit when Flu epidemic hit and all staff sick. Unit consisted of 17 bed open solarium and 3 semi-private rooms, green Oxygen tanks strapped to beds. Learned by doing and if on night shift had class all day…pay $0.00.
    I worked until 76 years old, I’m licensed in 3 states including Texas, a Compact state and now work in Disaster Response as a volunteer and as instructor.

  4. My fisrt nursing job was Orthopedics; in 1976. “Traction City”; over the bed “aparatus”; testing diabetics urine for insulin doses; foley clamps; everyone in nurses lounge for report; giving up your seat in the chart room (the hospital I worked at stopped this approximately 2 months after I started working) ; paper charting; rotating shifts – 2weeks on each shift; cloth isolation gowns & masks; and my list can go on and on…

  5. LPN graduate 1971 RN 75 FNP 78
    Pay $450/month as a LPN RN $4.50/hr and NP was about $8.50/hr and I thought all was great pay!
    Now as a NP I make about $60/hr
    Yes, the days of the ladies wearing nursing caps and you could tell where they went to nursing school by the cap and of course all wore their nursing pin with pride.

  6. Started my career in 1974. Hourly wage 2.75. Charge nurse extra 10 cents an hour. Worked peds -newborns to 3 year olds. No ICU. Team leader for as much as 15 patients. One LPN and one aid. IV rates might be 5 cc per hour. Used solusets. Very few pumps. Lots of antibiotics given every 6 hrs IM
    Mixed chemo in med room without laminar flow. Good gas syringes glass,IV bottles glass. Charted everything by hand. All charts had to be ready for rounds with current labs attached. Hard work- learned a lot. Very different from nursing now!

  7. I started in 1967. I remember patients with MI where all we could do is keep them comfortable with Morphine. I saw a patient bleed to death from a ruptured artery in the stomach due to ulcers (which were usually treated with diet and stress management then). I remember doctors smoking on rounds and telling patients to lose weight to improve their cardiac status. A hernia operation meant a 3 day stay: we had a doctor who had an entire floor of the hospital dedicated to him and his complex treatment of hemorrhoids! Now that I am “retired” I use my nursing education degree to teach new grads how to put in Foley catheters (on mannequins) using sterile technique which they struggle with because they are almost totally trained in a classroom or on a computer. Without much hands-on experience, these newbies will have to learn the hard way what it is like to deal with a real patient. God bless the new, improved technology, but we have lost a lot in the human touch.

  8. I started in 1968 – white, polished shoes, white starched dress uniforms and white starched caps with a black band. We strived for that black band because it signified we had made it! No pants and only scrubs if you worked in the OR or Labor/Delivery. Counting IV rates with your watch, glass thermometers and syringes. metal bedpans and the bedpan hopper. I could go on for hours. So many changes for the better and some for the worse. Nursing has evolved enormously and so has medicine in general. It’s been an amazing 48 years and I’m still at it!

    • I remember working with the nurses from the 60’s and went through Walter Reed Army Hospital Nursing. Plus, when I was a corpsman US Army 71-72 after completing my LPN program at Phoenix Union Area Vocational program, I used to come home on leave and date the student nurses a the 3yr Diploma Program at Good Samaritan Hospital Nursing School. Yep, the good old days! :o)


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