Old School Nurse Image

We sometimes hear a nurse referred to as “old school.” I take that to mean “in practice before the 1980s,” because that’s when I started!

I’m not here to stereotype or anything (and this list is made with love and respect), but I’ve gotta tell you, I’ve found certain things to be true about nurses who’ve been in the profession for, well, a while.

Here are a few observations that may help define the old school nurse! Is this you?

The Old School Nurse:

Still wears her hair ABOVE the collar at work.

Knows how to use a bath blanket and still prefers soap and water to body cleanser wipes.

Owns a case of white leather shoe polish for a VERY distinctive pair of lace-up nursing shoes.

Keeps a pack of mints in her pocket for post-op patients who have sore throats from the intubation.

Wears ONLY two pieces of jewelry to work–a wristwatch and (if married) a plain wedding band.

Keeps her school cap in a clear plastic tote on the shelf of her closet and her Nightingale Lamp in a glass display case.

Makes hospital corners on her home bed sheets.

Always carries an extra pen–with BLUE ink to distinguish an original form from a copy–just in case the doctor “forgets” to return the one he or she borrowed.

Looks the other way if something which breaks the rules is in the best interest of the patient.

Believes that nursing is a calling.

To all of the old school nurses who are still out there: Thank you and wear the cap proudly! What would you add to this list?


This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine, The Nurse's Guide to Good Living.
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3 years ago

Who remember HHH enemas? What about icing your cardiac output in ICU? Putting blue dye in tube feedings? Oxygen therapy for peri excoriation? My list is long too! I am proud to have been called and served as a nurse through the last 5 decades. Caps off to all the “old school nurses” out there. In my experience very few of us ate our young. Most of us were glad to share our knowledge and experience.

4 years ago

Though my cap is in a clear plastic tote, it is yellowed with age. Getting it meant the world to me in nursing school many, many years ago. I remember spiking glass IV bottles & using metal injectors for IMs. We used to admit patients the night before surgery for preps & chlorhexidine baths before surgery. I’m now retired but I miss my calling everyday. I will always be a Nurse; it’s who I am. I am proud of the care I gave to my patients & their families. I am grateful to have been an “old school Nurse.”

3 years ago

How about the 2 glass bottle suction set up for a chest tube?

2 years ago

I have to say this is pretty accurate!! I am 1(the youngest) of a multi generational fam of nurses along with other healthcare professionals going back to WWII. I can remember my Grandma’s Nursing cap a little, but the one I REMEMBER the most is my MOM’S in that same clear plastic protective hat box!! Not only does she still have it, she at the age of 71 is still working full time as an RN at the hospital! And yes she may be an old school NURSE, but I can’t think of a better hero and Role model for… Read more »

Gaylyn Timiney
2 years ago

The best nurses I ever worked with were those who took my hand and said ” come here, I want to show you how to do something”. I learned from so many great nurses and I hold them in high esteem because they took the time to teach and demonstrate good technique. Hats off to nurses to all nurses who like to help each other!

4 years ago

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… Read more »

2 years ago

I was trained to be a nurse when we really had nothing to justify why something was done and we gave credit to the physician for everything. add to the old school list getting up and giving up your chair in the nurses station a physician when he entered the desk area! (females could not be doctors, nursing was our area back then) Yes, I am old school and I proudly claim it. I was called to nursing, I believe it is a passion and Nursing was the only thing I ever wanted to do. 3 year diploma nurse here… Read more »

2 years ago

I am a male and at the end of my career ( plan to retire in 6 years) and have 2 sons that are interested in and have started their nursing education. I would recommend being a nurse (and do) to anyone thinking about a career. I would always tell them that nurses are more born than made. There has to be a core of your person that actually wants to take care of a stranger. You have to do very unpleasant things and want to do it because you will help the patient. I am still active at the… Read more »

3 years ago

I got my BSN in 1973 from a small catholic college. Since I had received an Army Nurse Corps scholarship for my last 2 years, I began my nursing career in the US Army AFTER waiting 6 weeks for board results. I was forced to wear the Army Nurse cap which I ditched as soon as I was allowed. We had to wear 3 holed white shoes, white stockings, and no jewelry. If you were married and got pregnant, you were asked to leave the service. This was the age of glass and metal. How many times did I hear… Read more »

Carol Ann Nelsen
3 years ago

Hazel, I love you !!! I went into nursing in 1957 and wore the “Old Cadet Uniform”. I did all the things you talked about and graduated in 1957. I was the FIRST student to be allowed to marry when I was 4 months from graduation and my husband was in the Navy…BUT he was not allowed to live in the dorm with me when he was home on leave. That was all ironic as my mother was asked to leave the same school when she was a senior because they found out she was married. She was working pediatrics… Read more »

Raelyn Altier
3 years ago

Graduated as a diploma RN in 2014, so I’m still pretty new. While not everything on this list is familiar to me, but I was lucky enough to be taught by amazing “old school” nurses that taught lots of things you can’t learn in a classroom. Our hair was always up, clean white uniforms…We were on the unit our 2nd week, doing hands on patient care – giving bed baths, putting patients on bedpans, getting them ice water… I’m thankful that I went through a diploma program.

3 years ago

I’m not really an old school nurse, however I have been in the nursing field since 1980 as a CNA, before becoming a Nurse. My mentor is an old school nurse and has taught me some of her old school ways. I miss the time that is spent with patients/residents. “new” nurses of the last decade seem to come to work, pop a pill, move on to the next. They “don’t have time” to do what we old school nurses do. Offer the extra TLC. Answer the call light ourselves. Don’t expect the CNA’s to do it all. A nurse… Read more »

Mary Ann
2 years ago

I’m an “old school nurse” and graduated from Allentown Hospital School of Nursing in 1976. I’m proud to have a diploma degree and my education was second to none, being on the floor in the 2nd week of school. We had 24 bed open wards in some of the areas and only one wing of the hospital had air conditioning. Yes, we did what we were told by the docs but we were not expected to do half their work which it seems is expected now. I never got paid enough to do that function. When I worked Peds, there… Read more »

Johnny Walker
4 years ago

I graduated in 1991 where tradition was still very strong in the profession of nursing. Of the old school list, I have a few comments LOL: 1. Still wears her hair ABOVE the collar at work. (Never been an issue; my military background means that I haven’t had hair longer than the nape of my neck since I was 10, except for a rebellious 6 month period when I turned 40) 2. Knows how to use a bath blanket and still prefers soap and water to body cleanser wipes. (HATE cleanser!!! I would rather just use a good face cloth… Read more »

Nurse Dee
5 years ago

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… Read more »

Kelly Green
3 years ago

What is wrong with nursing being a calling?

5 years ago


Patricia O’Neill
1 year ago

An old school nurse will always follow up a digital B/P and pulse reading with a manual pulse check. The digital machine didn’t pick up on life threatening arrhythmias.

Micki J
4 years ago

Graduated LPN school 1983. 3 day test for my license. Waited for weeks for my “pass.” Worked aa OB scrub tech, Dr’s office, LTAC, nursing home, home care as an LPN. Remember cleaning instuments and prepping them for autoclave, SS enemas, counting drip rates, paper charting, calling MDs “doctor,” NOT by their first names, hand cranking beds. I also remember graduating oldest in my BSN class in 2006, mother to 5 kids, computer licensing test with auto “shut off,” wearing scrubs, computer charting, and a constant stream of ‘Best Practice’ changes in nursing care. To be honest, I am an… Read more »

Jacki Fitzpatrick RN
4 years ago

The day I graduated from my diploma nursing program in 1997, I put that nursing cap behind the rear tire of my car and never looked back. Getting my diploma was one of the hardest things I had accomplished in my life. I graduated at the age of 40. My husband said it was my “mid-life career crisis”. I’ll never forget that during orientation, one of the instructors said, if you have a child and a part time job, you will NOT make it through this program…HELLO! I had three kids under the age of 6 and a full time… Read more »

Barbara Lincoln, RN, MSN, CPHRM
4 years ago

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… Read more »

Melanie Teslow
4 years ago

I graduated in 2001 and honestly I’m kind of bummed we didn’t get the little white cap!! LOL If even just for it’s historical significance in honoring those who blazed the trail!!

Jennifer Ector
1 year ago

Yes, I am an ‘Old School Nurse’ and proud of it. Received my BSN in 1977, Joined the Army in 1983, earned a MSA in 1989, MSN in 1996 and DNP in 2015. Deployed to Iraq in 2005 – 2006, Retired at the rank of COL, Army Nurse Corps in 2010, and continue to serve as I now work in a VA. Wouldn’t change it for the world.

kaye english
3 years ago

If we placed all the comments about “Old school”,old, outdated, all the comments, in a different context we would be called prejudiced or some other general defining word. There are many problems in nursing, many of which has to do with the nurses (mostly women) being competitive instead of being a team member. A team is usually comprised of people wanting the same outcome, not individuals each working for their own goal or outcome. Age has little to do with anything, experience has everything to do with all of it. You can read books and take tests till the moon… Read more »

3 years ago

I’m an old school diploma nurse and proud of it. I still believe we are the most clinically sound nurses around. We were on the floor from the first year of nursing school. Our instructors made sure we knew our stuff before we even touched a patient. I ‘ve read articles and heard administrators write that having BSNs result in better outcomes. Sorry, I don’t agree. I had a conversation with one of those four-year wonders. She was going in for her own gallbladder surgery. We were discussing what life would be like after her lap chole. She didn’t have… Read more »

Anne Loan RN, BSN, FCCN
1 year ago

I have been a critical care nurse for 39-40 years. The changes I have seen ovear the years! I recall CABG patients remaining in bed for 6 days and not allowed to move a muscle. Now they are up the same day postop. I recall having to send glass syringes to distribution for sterilization, glass chest tube bottles, metal bedpans and taking them to the hopper, having to set up my own pressure monitoring tubing, piece by piece, no packaged sets like now, for the “Yellow Snake”- Swan Gantz, PA catheter. The list goes on and on!!! The best change… Read more »

4 years ago

I so enjoyed everyone s comments, it brought back so many memories! Graduated from LPN school in 1970, got RN with AAS degree in 1983, and BS in 1997. Worked in hospitals, nursing homes, and in Doctor offices, then home care. Currently working with the severely mentally ill in a community and Group home setting. Everything mentioned was so true. Nursing is a vocation, a true calling of the heart. I have always said PLEASE to not become a nurse if you don t love people deeply. Because you won t like them when they re sick!! I will ALWAYS… Read more »

AnnBeth Simmons
4 years ago

I would say if a nurse does not feel that nursing is a calling, then there are huge disappointments ahead -for the nurse and the patients that she pseudo-serves. Lose the pride, humble yourself and give all in the service of others…that is nursing. Everyone else should become Airline stewards or makeup clerks at the local department stores. Ready the bio of Florence Nightingale to understand the meaning behind what you have committed to becoming and do not dishonor that creed.

4 years ago

Well, I am a 1975 graduate of a Diploma School of Nursing from a Catholic hospital. Talk about strict… I can still see and hear the nuns. Some were kind ,others not so much. To my great surprise during one of my senior days on the ward a new clinical teacher approached me who had a bachelors degree and asked if she could follow me and observe an insertion of a Foley catheter! She never had the opportunity in her 4 years at an accredited university. We worked the night shift in the last 3 months with a minimum wage… Read more »

Patricia Eastaugh, RN
4 years ago

So many of these comments brought forth giggles along with a lot of memories. 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… Read more »

Cindy Arth
4 years ago

Graduate of diploma school 1974. Graduated Friday and started work the following Monday as a GN Worked in peds with newborns to 3 year olds. Team leading. 16 children on a team. 1 aid and an LPN Passed all meds, did percussion treatments,passed trays, transcribed orders, gathered all charts for rounds. No pumps for IVs. Had to closely monitor drips, rates as low as 5 cc per hour and certainly couldn’t let too much fluid infuse by mistake since patients were children. Parents didn’t always stay with children. Babies had to be fed, and older children helped with food. Didn’t… Read more »

Galen F. Richmond, MS, ANP-BC, PCPNP-BC, PMHCNS-BC
4 years ago

I graduated from my Diploma program in 1974. As a man, I was told that they always need nurses in Urology and Psychiatry. Fortunately I and Nursing have come along way.

I’m An “Old School Nurse” And Proud Of It! | Modern Nurse Magazine
4 years ago

[…] 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 […]

4 years ago

Talent given by and called to from God Himself. I never knew a nurse. I never had a family member admitted to a hospital. I never knew anything about it. My HS Guidance Counselor said you are good in math and science maybe you should look into something in the healthcare field, and said “my wife is a nurse and she went to X school”. So I applied to X school and went into Nursing. It was a journey and a huge challenge for me. But since the very proud day I graduated in 1983 I have loved my profession!… Read more »

4 years ago

Thank you so much for this story and the comments below. Priceless! I laughed and I cried because I’ve been there, too. I graduated in 1982. I’ve done the nurse’s cap and remember bumping it on everything tearing out a few strands of hair each time. Lol. The support hose and the nurse mates shoes, too. I started out working med/surg which was that plus overflow from every other floor in the hospital when or if they were full. There were no detox or rehab facilities back then so we got Etoh abusers, DTs, ODs ,etc. I remember leather restraints.… Read more »

Rose Marie
5 years ago

I started as a CNA in 1971 and graduated as an RN in 1974. Currently I am a licensed nursing home administrator . But, I always tell my patients that “I am a nurse first and an administrator second”. I still answer call bells, put patients on bedpans and give meds when the staff is busy. Over the years, I have been disappointed with what I call “clip board nurses”- students who think that when they graduate, they will automatically become a manager and not have to ever get their hands dirty. I try to mentor the students by involving… Read more »

Joan Aeschlimann
5 years ago

I am truly old school and proud . Please and thank you without having to be prompted. I loved my cap and I was proud of it. I have been an RN for 40 years. Still working full time. I love my career, I love being a nurse. I may be be computer challenged and I may slip and say Albino instead of suffers from Albinism. But I can still insert a catheter , give a bed bath, and cry when you need me too hold your hand and get you you through a tough time. I am a nurse… Read more »

Jean Giannone
4 years ago

Jean Giannone. I graduated 1992 from a diploma program and I was an older student, age 39. I believe my schooling was at the end of the “old school”. I did have a brief experience spiking glass IV bottles, flush IVs when hanging a piggy back and using those short metal rods with a loop on each end. Wore dress uniforms and white nurse shoes, stood inspection before each clinical. Pants were permitted in our last year. Received our caps and proudly wore them. Used the Kardex and had the three color pens. Learned so much in three years, I… Read more »

4 years ago

Read this article while in the Cardiac Care Unit of a major teaching hospital. 30 years as a Critical Care Nurse. Never did a patient of mine go to sleep in tears because of a life altering diagnosis , last night this fifty year old nurse went to sleep in tears for that exact reason. My nurse was in the Hall at her portable nurses station talking about her date. There is something to be said for old school.

4 years ago

Oh I love these comments!! And YES, Nursing is a CALLING! Anyone who is in it for “the money” will not last long!! Please, go work at WAWA!
p.s. I still struggle over calculating !V drips by hand! It was not my forte’ in nursing school, but I am now a Neurosurgical Nurse Practitioner and I have worked in hospitals all my life. I LOVE CARING FOR MY PATIENTS!

Kathy Mason
5 years ago

Answert call bells. Seems today that new nurses today do not want to answer call bells especially in LTC facilities.

5 years ago

Graduated in ’76; worked at VA for 32 years (bedside and administrative) and during that time also did registry on occasion. The ‘newbies’ r scary but a few of them allowed me to mentor them..what a relief! I suggested to a few of them that maybe nursing isn’t for them cuz it isn’t a JOB! It’s from the heart!! Still working FT for a small ortho hospital with plans to retire December 2018..will definitely miss Nursing however have told my friends that they will be the only nurses taking care of me if ever I am hospitalized!!!

6 years ago

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… Read more »

1 year ago

Thank you all for your great comments. I enjoyed all of them, especially in regard to nursing as a calling. I do believe that nursing is “in our blood”. My mother, now retired, graduated ADN in 1970. Having always been my role model, she was so proud of me when I followed her into nursing. She placed my nursing pin on me in 1990. I am doubly proud of my daughter, who will graduate soon with her BSN and follow in this great calling. As I told her recently, the practice of Nursing has given me personally and spiritually more… Read more »

Kathy Peebles
1 year ago

I got my “calling” when I was allowed to go to work with my mom. She started as a nurses aide, then became an LPN. She “retired” when my dad retired from the military. I started my work, also, as a nurses aide, then LPN, and after my divorce, and moving back home, obtained my RN degree from Bacone College in Muskogee, Oklahoma. I graduated from my LPN program exactly 10 years after my mother. I obtained my RN 13 years after my LPN. So, in total, I have been a nurse for 30+ years. So, yes, I am old… Read more »

1 year ago

I am guilty of making hospital corners at home. But those of us who have been around 40+ years have had to evolve or move on. It’s very technology-oriented now and patients rarely spend more than a day or two in the hospital. Some days I think tech really has advanced nursing practice. Other days I long for the days when a patient was hospitalized on your floor for months and months until they were fully rehabed and walked themselves out the door. There were no rehab floors or SNFs or discharging them home with wound vacs and a PICC… Read more »

2 years ago

It is a bit fallacious to just use ‘her’ in all of this. Small point but it all adds up. I like it, nice laugh but really? Some of us RN’s are not female.

Katie S.
2 years ago

I graduated in 1992 but was an LPN for 1.5 years before that and was “called” at about age 13 to be a nurse. I was in the Military for 8 years too and get annoyed when younger nurses look at me like they know it all. I have probably forgotten more than some of them know!!

3 years ago

Yes, I’m an old school nurse with an MSN and proud of it. I also am contracted by State Boards of Nursing to provide education to those nurses whose license were suspended when they decided to “break the rules when it is in the best interest of the patient.”
I have considered unsubscribing from this ans I now will do it. You are advising that it is okay to break laws and place patients in danger. New nurses, please do not take this advise.

4 years ago

I think I’ve actually met SOME of you. Do you remember me? I’m the student you dismissed during clinicals before you even said Hello, if you even bothered to say Hello. You were jaded and cold and threatened. You had made up your mind before you had taken the time to get to know me. You were so busy complaining about the new nurses and practicing your Old School nursing, (some of which is just plain dangerous) that you couldn’t find time to even smile at me or my classmates. We couldn’t possibly have been worthy. You are the Nurses… Read more »