I’m An “Old School Nurse” And Proud Of It!

If you've ever started a story with "Back when I first started nursing..." then you may in fact be an old school nurse. You wear the "old school nurse" title with pride (like you did your first white cap) and have the best stories and experiences to share. And boy are we grateful for your service (and your sense of humor)! 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 and don't forget to add your own old school nurse memories in the comments section below.

"Went into Cadet Nurse Program during world war 2, at University Hospital Augusta, GA. Yes, Jan. 2, 1945. No air conditioner, no gloves except for surgery. These had to be washed and dried and packaged and autoclaved for 20 minutes. Iron lung for polio patients when needed, penicillin was new and given 300,00U q3H in gluteal muscle. Radium rod inserted for cervical cancer. All surgical instruments were washed, dried, wrapped and autoclaved. Scissors washed and soaked in special solution so as to not dull them. We made our cast material up. Oh that first wanganstein suction. I am 90 years old now but still doing nursing for 72 years. Yes it is a calling. I have plenty mre to tell if you would like to read it. I love nursing. It is not who I am but whose I am.  How about those metal bed pans and urinals." --Hazel


"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 necrotic tissue…we had to pour ether over the dressing to wash them out before they started flying out! Postpartum, 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." --Sandy


"I am an old school nurse and proud of it. Mid way through our freshman year we had a capping ceremony. How very proud we all were . It was a formal celebration parents and other family members were invited. I loved the formality. . Our hair could not touch our collar no problem for me Our shoes polished with clean shoe laces . We had outstanding clinical instructors we were taught well Because of our excellent training we were all confident in the care and procedures we performed. As a graduate we had a black stripe on our cap. I carried my cap in a pretty plastic bag . A proud moment to have our caps with the black stripe. If I were to go back into nursing ,I would wear a white uniform and my cap. My first job was in “preemie nursery . Because these little ones did not have a sucking reflex we kept them hydrated by giving them a clysis. Interesting enough my little Yorkie was suffering from kidney disease and the doctor prescribed two clysis daily. I found it amusing that the staff never referred to the treatment as a clysis and when I described it as such they had no idea what I was talking about. I believe they referred to it as a subcutaneous infusion. When did that happen?"  --Judy


"I love my cap! Wearing it was a signal to patients that the RN was on the scene. I guess there was a sense of pride in all that. I am an “old nurse” and so value all of my experiences. Nursing has provided me with the opportunity to serve others. Service to others gives more joy back to me than any effort I put forward. I have been a patient in the recent years and I find it funny how nurses do not touch the patients unless absolutely necessary. It seemed taboo. At that low point in my life I needed touch, but certainly did not get it. I would have paid large sums of money to get a backrub! I say BRING BACK THE BACKRUBS and TOUCH THE PATIENTS!. Now, let's compare “old nursing” to “new nursing”." --Barbara


"Graduated in ‘68. We had metal everything: bedpans, wash basins, emesis basins, urinals, wooden wheelchairs, glass syringes and IV bottles. We mixed our own IVs and IVPBs. We sawed thru glass vials. Loved getting my cap but did not enjoy wearing it. Does anyone remember a cardex and actually doing rounds at the beginning n end of shifts. Narc count off?? Justifying before u leave. Forgot the Code cart check. Know how many patients are on O2? How full is their humidity bottle? Is that a 24 hr tube feeding or just kinked? Now clogged. How much is left in those IV bags before you take the shift? Who is running on empty n who’s is infiltrated? Did that Foley bag fill up in one hour or no one emptied it? Rounds are a good thing." --Bernice


"True story, in 1985, I went to work in my all white uniform and forgot my nursing cap, the Director of Nursing went to her office , folded a piece of paper, brought it back and with a paper clip affixed it to my head! Me … Not missing the cap AT ALL !"  --Melinda


"I graduated in 1976 and I still don’t connect with a lot of what is defined as “old school”. Yeah, we’ve been around awhile and know a few things. But, though I have a cap, have I ever worn it? Well not in this millenia! Did I learn a few things from nurses older than me? You bet. And all would benefit from knowing some of those things. We’re in this together and those of us who’ve “been around” are in the best position to help redefine what is important for the future. If we define ourselves as “old” I would hope that would not separate us from those who are a part of “us”. We are all as committed to doing this as any of us ever were. Of course the world, medicine is different and will continue to change. Who do I want as my nurse as I age? I want someone as committed as I was at their age. All new nurses, young nurses, experienced nurses… we are all a part of an extraordinarily strong and committed and NEEDED part of EVERYBODY’s future. We are family and we need to be there for each other. We understand your value and I thank you." --Barbara


"Yes, I’m a old school nurse too. Graduate from catholic hospital school of nursing in 1981. Was last class in my area to take the 5 part 3day long state board test. Waited weeks for a “regular mail” letter to say you past! Hoping not to get a “certified letter” that was to notify you that you failed. It was stressful. Now the new nurses just get on a computer and maybe 45 minutes later if they answer enough questions right it shuts off and that’s it. During nursing school you went in the night before and researched your pt and did drug cards on every drug and studied and memorize those drugs. If you did not know your stuff or did not dress correctly you go sent home. Now When I get student nurses who come for a clinical day where I work, if you ask them what a “basic” med is, they don’t know!!! They pull out their phone to look it up! ( usually after you’ve suggested they look it up)! These are seniors! They show up to clinical wear leggings and riding boots and don’t understand why you tell them it’s not appropriate. They always say they want to be an ER or ICU nurse, because it’s “exciting “. I encourage them to be medsurg for at least their first year so they can be well round and get best after school education so that their practice is not limited. I’ve read many of the “old school “ nurse stories and I relate to all, excluding mixing my own IVPB and IV fluids etc… We as old schools have a lot of stories. How about management who say that old nurses don’t like change! I say, I don’t mind change if it works, but the reason old nurses buck changes are probably because we’ve seen that change before and it didn’t work! I would like old nurses to be more respected for their opinions and history and knowledge instead just saying “ oh you’re just old school….”. I say to all old school nurses…..WELL DONE & BRAVO !!!! And new nurses…. seek out the old school nurse and learn all she has to share!!!" --Pam


"LPN Graduate of 1975, then ADN 1985. Very proud to be part of a profession that has endured so many healthcare changes. Worked as an operating room nurse before the times of Laparoscopic Surgery where all surgeries where “Open” surgeries unless they were “Locals”. The technologies that has progressed this profession is staggering at times, but as nurses we all have mastered somewhere along the line the skill of adaptability – this too is unique for our profession. My proudest moment in my career was sitting in an auditorium watching my daughter graduate from an ADN nursing program. She grew up spending many a night on the sofa of an “on-call” room while her mother was called into work for some emergency surgical event. For there were very little options for a single mom during her on-call rotation in the OR. Thank goodness for that room with TV and plenty of crackers and peanut butter (a MUST staple in the OR lounge). As from all the above comments we are sharing, it is evident that this profession is a family affair, an affair with values and a strong sense of caring for one another, be it our family, our patients, and equally important one another. I have truly enjoyed this ride." --Patricia


"I graduated from a diploma school in 1960. I also have a bachelor’s. There must be some way to take the best of both and make the best nursing program ever. Here are a few memories:
Do you remember when the number of medicines was small enough that most of the regular meds were kept on the unit to be dispensed by the nurse? Today the number of medicines is beyond counting and it’s illegal for the nurse to dispense any drug at all unless he/she is a practitioner following a protocol. Remember drawing up injections and just having them sit on your tray without a needle cover. Or testing the needle on a 2 X 2 to see if a barb was present? That was before disposable syringes and needles.
Do you remember ever adding an ampoule of caffeine to a glass of orange juice and drinking it to stay awake? How did you like being “in charge” on two wings (70 patients) and trying to keep up with all of the patient requests? Especially on a surgical floor, where there were numerous requests for pain meds. Usually you would have an aide to help on the short wing and an LPN to help on the long one.
Do you remember when there wasn’t any ICU or CCU and those patients were dispersed among the regular patient units? One critical patient could keep you so busy that you couldn’t do a very good job of caring for the rest and you had to be able to count on those helping you.
Did you ever take care of patients with polio who were in Drinker or Emerson respirators or rocking beds? And apply hot packs each shift. Polio is a very painful disease.
Have you ever taken care of babies with whooping cough that you had to refeed after they vomited from coughing? Have you ever taken care of children with measles encephalitis or Reyes syndrome? Vaccines are so important for childhood diseases. There were so many complications and we had an infectious disease unit. It seemed I got sent there frequently.
I always made rounds first thing and introduced myself and asked if they needed anything. Amazingly this really helped cut down on requests all through the shift. At my school, we were in charge of a wing begining the 4th quarter of our 1st year in school. Impossible as it sounds, we were able to do it and we learned so very, very much. A lot of people who got their RN by obtaining a BSN described the diploma nurse as a technical nurse in my day. Yes, we learned hands on nursing and how to do procedures, but we also did case studies with individual patients and followed them through their illness or problem. We did a lot more than just “technical”.
My final position was pediatric nurse practitioner in hematology/oncology for 22 years. Everything I learned in my diploma school helped me as much as my later education." --Sandy


Have your own "old school nurse" memories? Share in the comments section below.




  1. My dad had to have a pacemaker removed fur to an infection. It had to heal by secondary intention and we were doing wet to dry drag. The skin surrounding the open wound had become very red and raw from the tape. My aunt, came over and showed us an old school dressing that involved using gauze that she would string through a 2 by 2 then use these to tie over the dressing to keep it in place. I think she called it a Murphy drssg. Anyone know anything about this?

    • Those dressings that spared the patient’s skin of adhesive tape burns were sterile gauze or ABD pads held by “Montgomery Straps”. They weren’t pre-packaged or sterile, but just put together by the nurse who was doing dressing changes. They were used as long as they stayed clean; you only changed the actual gauze over the wound. I graduated as an ADN in 1973, and have always worked in the LTC or psych fields. Licensed in 3 states, I worked all but a few months when I was out on maternity leave. I remember when only a physician could insert a Foley catheter into a male patient, also when most nursing home patients had Foley catheters! White stockings and Clinic white oxfords ($20.00 pair) were worn daily. Cardex for meds, Brewer carts for meds, and clysis for hydration. Heat lamps and granulated sugar for decubitus ulcers. Nurses tube fed patients with N/G tubes any puréed/liquids the facility kitchen would send to the floor. Placebos were ok to give. ECT therapy given while nurse held the electrodes to the patient’s head. Noted still-visible lobotomy scars on some older psych patients. Pouring meds from stock bottles of 1000 tabs of Thorazine and Stelazine. Patients in State Hospital sleeping on straw/filled mattresses. It’s been quite a ride, but always interesting and fulfilling. Not for the faint of heart, but always something new to learn….

  2. I enjoyed reading all these: Pam and Judy resonated a lot with me. I graduated in 1981, diploma. excellent training, but could never really train you for what you see and have to do all the time, or all the changes that would occur, the risk you take, the unsafe ratios, getting pulled to other units. People say why’d you do it if you hate it-I don’t hate it, great profession, but needs to change. we eat our young-not very thankful for someone helping that may not have the experience you do. I was always so grateful-one less person to chart on , one less person to pass meds on, one less person to check orders.
    I like to go back to the pinning ceremony, the stripes I earned on my cap. Hair off the color, no dangly earrings or lots of jewelry, shoes polished and WHITE!. I did floor nursing for 18 years and have now done Case Management x 20 yrs. I’m proud to be from back in the day-who would thought I would say that! lol

    • When I was a school nurse I’d have the task of taking the boys 12-15 swimming!
      I’d watch whilst keeping a straight face whilst these young lads paraded sometimes fully erect.
      Couldn’t happen nowadays,


  3. Mansfield (Ohio) General Hospital School of Nursing, class of 1962. At one of our reunions, each was asked to report what we had become: Hospital nurses: all departments and Supervision; Faculty/instructors for colleges and in-services; Office nurses/ Private Duty/ Occupational Health; working in Nursing Home/ Long Term Care/ Assisted Living/ Palliative Care/ Hospice/ Home Health; Consulting/ Case Management; Missionary Work/ Peace Corps/ AmeriCorps. We became the Jack’s and Jill’s of all trades all based on the foundation from our diploma program. Have been a nurse for 57 years and yes earned my BSN and MSN, but would not trade pin and cap, and the memories from MGH.

  4. My grandma told me at the ripe old age if three that I was a nurse. She gave me a little leather bag, a black nurses cape and a tiny white cap with a Red Cross on it. I made rounds with her at different homes where she did nursing care. She pinned my first student cap and pinned me at graduation. Remember the nightingale pledge? She wasn’t there for my first nursing evaluation but I could tell that the nurse who was telling me that I was a new grad and had a lot to learn as if she was in the room. I grew up handling rubber catheters metal emisis basins as well bandages and binders as play things. What I really learned from her as a nurse was so valuable to me. How to put a patient first when a doctor didn’t listen. How to realize what you didn’t know and how to ask for help and how to learn about care from older nurses who we both respected and feared a bit. It was true that as a tech we were being silly and I had a talking to by my grandma. I lived in a very tiny world.
    I’ll never forget when she asked how I could stand too have my patients awake all the time. I asked her how she coped with having her patients sedated all the time. When she was in the hospital she was the manager of the OR. Too funny.
    I actually loved the metal bedpans. We put them in the hopper and then we could give them warm to the patient. Yes, ashtrays in patients rooms, people in traction for days. Babies four bed ward, with oxygen tents and O2 tanks in the room.
    I took my first CPR class with the doctor that delivered me. It was a two day class.
    Our student caps were pink. The graduation caps were huge. I was a new grad when the white polyester pant suites were in. Love my scrubs. Yes, the ky jelly to keep the stripe on the cap. Having my instructor give me a hair pin to pull my bangs out of my eyes. The narrative charting, the three minute wait for that temp. The Frances White pads. The narc keys and count at the end of the shift. Penciled in cardex.
    I remember the first time I realized what nurses really did but in no way could I tell my grandma that I didn’t want to b a nurse. She made a good call. I’m a old school nurse taught by a old school nurse.
    I think that our younger nurses are fantastic. They come in with their eyes wide open. They do have bad days and it’s good for them to know that we have all had our days when we were overwhelmed. Nights when you can’t sleep after a shift. Good friendships that last your whole life from school, to first job and beyond.
    I started as a tech in high school, went to LPN school and then got my bachelors degree. Never have I stopped learning and have always loved it. I have my grandma’s fifty year pin. She actually was grandfathered in as a Registered Nurse.
    Thanks for memory lane. I believe that my grandma is nursing in heaven. Once a nurse always a nurse.

  5. So interesting with the term old school nurse, I was graduated in the late 90’s and found myself telling the younger nurses that I’m a old school nurse, and that there are certain practices that I won’t change. It’s just amazing how healthcare practice had changed from then to now. I love nurse, as one person “it’s a calling”.

  6. It’s amazing that no matter what era you are from, there has never been good staffing on the floors!
    Since time immemorial, management has been out of touch and only concerned with the mighty dollar!

  7. Does anyone else remember four point tourniquets? How about having to add the potassium to your IV solution and draw up your own normal saline flushes? Mercury spills from glass thermometers breaking. Manual B/P’s and feeling radial pulses.

    • I am a 1968 Diploma School graduate. I worked nights in an ER. Pulmonary Edema patients would come in and the protocol was rotating tourniquets,aminophylline added to the IV and given push then some lasix. I have a scar on a finger where I was trying to reconstitute a drug called Hyperstat in a 50cc GLASS syringe. There was a crack in the plunger portion which I did nor see.The end broke off…I needed to give the patient the drug so I took some 4×4 s and wrapped them around my very bloody finger and proceeded to administer it.
      One of the “old” things I like to tell younger nurses is alcohol in an IV. They are disbelieving. Even when IVs converted to plastic the alcohol remained in glass bottles. It was given to prevent preterm labor. I don’t know when the practice stopped.

  8. Here’s another “old nurse” that graduated in 1969 from a Catholic nursing school. During my senior year I joined the Army Student Nurse program. After taking state boards I was inducted as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army Nurse Corps. I eventually had a 12 month tour in Vietnam in a very busy MASH hospital and then in an Evacuation hospital just 35 miles from the DMZ. Needless to say, for a very young (22 year old) nurse this was a baptism by fire, literally. I think any nurse that was educated and worked during the 60’s and 70’s remembers mixing your own IV’s in heavy glass bottles. NO IV pumps to meter out the rate of infusion. And patients that were on TPN – a new therapy – we had to mix the bottles under a Laminar Flow hood and wear a mask, pouring you meds from a closet of “stock” meds. Those were the days when no one wore gloves for every interaction with patients. Gloves were only used in surgery and were washed and re-sterilized. There were no disposables. Drainage for urinary catheters, T-tubes, was an empty IV bottle. No sterile, one piece, closed drainage system for chest tubes. That was a 3 bottle set-up. What a mess. Yes, we old nurses can relate some very interesting stories. And I don’t have the space to do that today.

  9. I am an old school nurse. I graduated from Practical Nursing School in 1976. I loved my cap and still do. I felt proud of it because I worked so hard to earn it. I remember patients being admitted for colonoscopy exam so we nurses could give them enemas til clear. I remember a patient being admitted “for observation.” I don’t think that would fly “these days.” I remember nurses and doctors smoking at the nurse’s station and in the break rooms, and it was expected of the nurses to give up their chair to a physician if he entered the room. I remember no computers to aid orders and charting. I am amazed at all of the advancements in health care that I have witnessed. But I will say that with all of the resistant bugs out there it distresses me to see healthcare personnel not washing their hands like they should. One nurse started an IV on my mom without gloves, and my mom had MRSA. My mom kept telling her to glove up but the nurse told mom that she couldn’t feel the veins with gloves on. I make a point of having the patient see me wash my hands before I render care. I came up with my own motto. “I don’t want to hand my germs to anyone else.” I love being a nurse, and graduated from Excelsior with an ADN in 2003. I love nursing.

  10. I graduated in 1971 from an ADN program but worked part time while in school obtaining valuable experience.
    I have been a pediatric nurse my entire career and have given many hugs to my patients and parents. We were taught to give complete care including respiratory treatments and even PT on weekends. We did it all, calculated pediatric doses in mg/kg ,mixed the medication and gave each child the correct IV dose at the proper IV rate. I gave IM, Z track and subq injections, drew blood for labs and started PIVs, place NGs and foleys using strict sterile technique. In the Operating room I did a 6 month orientation learning how to scrub and circulate in all specialties, then another long orientation when I transferred to PACU where we extubated and managed our patient’s airways. Along the way I became a Reiki master and simulation facilitator, two skills I found very useful in my practice. I have been a bedside, hands on nurse for more than 45 years and loved taking care of children and families. I put my heart into my care allowing me meaningful relationships for many, many years.

  11. I remember when I first started nursing when a Doctor walked into the nursing station the nurses were expected to stand and give them your chair. You could also identify the physician by what cigar smoke or cigarete smoke they were smoking as they came down the hall of the hospital. I remember the when the women surgery crew could not wear pants but had to wear dress scrubs in OR. The nurses were also not allowed to wear their caps outside and only when they were working. Gayle Goeckel RN

  12. Graduated from college in 1974 with a certificate in operating room technology. A first in this type of program in the area I grew up in. Found out I loved working in the OR and went back to school for nursing. Have been an OR nurse ever since and realized this was my true calling in life! All the OR documentation was hand written ( no computers ), we washed, wrapped and sterilized our instruments, reused anesthesia circuits and we wore dresses as our scrub uniform! I have never been without a job and most OR nurses are of retirement age, it’s just hard to find our replacements. Operating room nursing is not taught and students may get 1 day in the OR as a student. Come and work in the OR you may find you love it!

  13. Way back when…. I Graduated from a Diploma School in 1965 (it is now a degree program) and eventually got my Bachelors, before “On Line Programs” made it convenient. Back then patients were not told what Rx we were giving them. They had to “ask their doctor.” We could not admit a patient was close to death, only the doctor could say that. A nurse with a BSN in 1967 was paid as a 2 year RN for a year while she “learned”. Diploma nurses were more employable back then. Oh how times have changed! All of the meds were detailed in one volume of the PDR which changed from a Red to Blue binding each year. I would set up my Med Trays for 45 patients and leave them on the counter of the med room where all of our stock meds were kept. Being careful to pour the liquids from the back of the bottle so the label remained readable. Narcotics were kept in a locked box and counted at the end of each shift with the oncoming med nurse. We checked needles for barbs with a cotton ball and filed them with a small whetstone. These are only a small portion of stories I could tell; because in addition to working 53 years as a nurse I started as an aide in a 15 bed rural clinic in 1958. Nursing has taken me Border to Border; Coast to Coast and across the Pacific. It’s been an interesting ride.

  14. I am 75 and still working, now as an APN. But I graduated from a Catholic school of nursing in 1963. Our uniforms had to be several inches below the knee and we had to pass inspection every morning before going on duty.We used to give bed baths and did everything for most patients except “their privates”. We freshened up those wanting Communion at 6:30 AM, again before lunch, and then afternoon changing of draw sheets and giving back rubs which we did again in the evening. Many antibiotics and pain meds were drawn from multi dose bottles. During OR rotation, we did preps on pre-op patients who used to be hospitalized from the day before surgery. In the unit we had to clean suction bottles and clean the OR tables with antiseptic solutions, and carbolize beds after patients were discharged. Having 12 or more patients for AM care was not unusual. The beds we made were tested for tightness by the instructor with a nickle or dime being flipped on it. Yes, I still open packages with sterile technique and use hospital corners on the beds, and one side of the kitchen sink is for dirty items, the other for clean, just like the old utility rooms had one clean and one dirty side. I am thankful for the great preparation and still remember a lot of basics that I can apply today, even if only in my own mental evaluations of people and their situations. Somehow you never lose the idea of instantly looking at color, respirations, mobility, etc. of people you see everywhere. I am so grateful for this.

  15. I graduated from a BSN program in 1965. Certainly most things have improved in that time…meds, surg, tx, etc. One thing has NOT improved. We were taught to be deligient about thoroughly washing our hands between patients and avoiding any cross-contamination between patients. Sterile procedures , like foley cath insertion, were done VERY carefully. Recently my husband was hospitalized and I observed that there were VERY few people who followed all that, even when reminded by me. No wonder resistant infections are so common. It is not inevitable. Norway does not have a problem with hosp-acquired infections. This country got sloppy!!!

  16. I graduated 1971, worked as an aide from 1961 to 1971. No one has mentioned collodion for leaking (metal needle of course) IV’s. Also 3h enemas: high, hot and hell of a lot, ordered by the M.D.s. Bright blue urine from a bladder antispasmodic, (gantrisin maybe, not sure of the name). Turning hydrocephalic babies with 15 pound heads, carefully so their tiny necks wouldn break. Cleaning up huge poopy messes without any gloves, which were for surgeons or sterile procedures only. Stryker frames and circoellectric beds. Checking urine for sugars. Only rectal glass thermometers for everyone. A d.t.ward. (and the patients sneaking in aqua velva to drink at night!) My work load being 36 patients with one aide, one LPN in 1971. 36 IVs and having to mix every bottle if potassium was ordered, and hang every antibiotic . Counting I.V drips.
    I don’t miss a lot of that and I am so glad patients have rights now. They really didn’t in the 60s and 70s. The priority was nurse’s convenience and the almighty doctor’s wishes. I retired 2 years ago after over 50 years in nursing and I’m plain tired!


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