How Nursing Education Has Changed

Written by Sandra Kleiman, MSN RN On Thursday, 07 September 2017. Posted in Academic Advice, Nursing

How Nursing Education Has Changed

The nursing profession has existed for hundreds of years, so you can imagine just how much it has evolved over time. It wasn't until the late 1800's that Florence Nightingale proposed the idea of organized education for nurses—before that, women took on jobs as caretakers with no formal training at all.

In the first half of the 20th century, nurses were taught basic health care skills as well as hospital etiquette, such as how to speak to patients and how to dress—a far cry from the rigorous training (and job expectations) that nurses take on today.

But even when I look at how things have changed within a much shorter timeline—from when I first entered nursing school compared to what I see now as an advisor for the RN to BSN program at Madison School of Healthcare—it's amazing to see how different nursing educationand the profession itself has become. 

Highly Educated Workforce

When I first started working as a nurse, a BSN was seen as an advanced degree—one that was only necessary if you wanted to advance to a higher role in a hospital setting. In more recent years, it has become a necessity for most nurses to eventually earn their bachelor's degree. In the last 10 years, the percentage of the RN workforce holding a bachelor's degree or higher increased from 50 percent to 55 percent, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

This push for a more educated workforce is driven by a focus on patient safety. Studies have found that hospitals with a higher percentage of RNs with BSNs or higher degrees have better patient outcomes, according to the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN). As hospitals continue to focus on improving patient care, the demand for BSNs will continue to rise. 

The Rise of Online Learning

Online learning has become more common across all of higher education, but this form of degree program has been particularly beneficial to nurses and their employers. With the current nursing shortage, RNs are expected to work grueling 12 hour shifts, and most professionals can't afford to stop working in order to return to school. 

Flexible online RN to BSN programs have become the easiest and most efficient way for RNs to go back to school while working full-time. Online education has also proven beneficial for nurses seeking advanced degrees—I myself completed my master's degree through an online program, and I'm currently working on a doctorate.  

New Learning Resources

Beyond the shift to online education, technology has changed the way nursing students learn in many facets. Video has become a large component for of assignments from instructors. Even when students seek out additional information on their own, video plays a role—we definitely did not have YouTube when I was in my first round of nursing school. Technology has also changed the way nurses experience hands-on learning through the use of patient simulation models. 

Additionally, other digital tools, such as academic apps have changed the game, particularly for nurses who are returning to school after being in the field for many years. Some students initially struggle with writing academic papers, but apps that help with APA formatting, grammar and other challenges students face are making it easier to transition back into being in an academic environment.

Best Practices and Responsibilities

As best practices for patient care are always changing, the training nursing students receive must also evolve. Recently, there has been a shift toward preventative care for patients—identifying interventions early on to avoid more serious health issues. Evidence-based practice has also become the standard of care for nurses. Before, nurses were focused primarily on bedside careand followed basic principles. Now, their role has expanded to make treatment decisions based on information that will best treat the individual patient. 

This shift is in part due to the heightened judiciary responsibility for healthcare providers to discharge patients as soon as they are healthy. Heightened pressures from healthcare insurance providers and other influences have played a role in this change. 

Through all of the healthcare industry's transformations, one thing that has remained the same is the heart of nursing. The students I work with genuinely care about their work and their patients. As long as that element remains, nurses will continue to do what they do best—provide the best possible care for the people they treat.

About the Author

Sandra Kleiman, MSN RN

Sandra Kleiman brings to Madison School of Healthcare the knowledge and experience of a practicing nurse and an educator with a passion for teaching. Sandra's nursing background includes oncology, neonatal intensive care, emergency room case management, utilization review, denial and appeals management, correctional health, and nursing education. She earned her Bachelor's of Science degree in Nursing with honors from Chamberlin College of Nursing and a Master's in Nursing Education from Western Governors University.