Throughout the history of nursing, nurses have served their communities and continue to fill many essential roles in healthcare and population health. Nurses promote healthy lifestyles, advocate for patients and provide health education. They also provide direct patient care. As key members of healthcare teams, they provide our communities with the knowledge needed for healthy living. The exact roles of nurses have changed somewhat over the years, but their importance in healthcare remains strong and continues to grow.

Overview of Historical Nursing Roles

Caring for the sick has always been an important part of everyday life, but the evolution of the nursing profession into its current state is a more recent development. Until a century ago, medical knowledge was very primitive, but caregivers throughout history did what they could to provide comfort to seriously ill and dying people.

In the 1800s, with multiple wars such as the Civil War and Crimean War causing injuries and spreading disease among soldiers and civilians alike, the nursing profession as we know it today began to develop. The modern hospital, growing knowledge of sanitation practices and other recent developments made it easier for nursing to make a meaningful difference to patient survival and health, which decisively shifted the role of nurses from comforters to healthcare professionals who provide evidence-based treatment and wellness education.

Nursing Roles Today

Nurses in the modern era do so much more than care for hospital patients at the bedside. In every aspect of healthcare, nurses work to provide education, promote healthy practices, share their expertise and help patients heal. Guiding patients and their families, nurses can provide people in a community with referrals for other services, resources and classes.

Nurses also serve as leaders in healthcare facilities not only by managing departments but also by serving in other administrative positions. Many nurses are also teachers — from teaching diabetes education classes to lecturing at the university level. Serving patients and improving the health of our communities can lead nurses to pursue a wide variety of different roles.

Nursing is still evolving. Demand for qualified nurses is growing in many regions across the country. Nurses are becoming more skilled and knowledgeable as nursing research and education continue to advance. The roles that nurses serve in healthcare are becoming even more significant. In the United States, the challenge of serving more patients and providing healthcare to underserved populations may increase the opportunities for nurses to become primary care providers.

Around the world, nurses continue to make a difference for citizens and communities. Historically, there were people who cared for the sick and the dying with the resources and knowledge available to them. This concept of caregiving was a pre-cursor to the modern nursing profession. As the need for qualified nurses grew and as scientific knowledge of medicine advanced, nursing became correspondingly more effective. Nurses became the highly skilled and well-educated professionals they are today.

Learn about the EMU online RN to BSN program.

Sources: The Civil War and Nursing

The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing: Historical Perspectives on an Expanded Role for Nursing