Thursday, May 19, 2011

Nursing Has Changed, Yet Remains the Same

This past Mother’s Day, my son and I had a rousing conversation/debate about health care in this country and its problems. About the only thing we could agree upon is that there are lot of problems and things must change, but how to effect those changes is where we diverged.

Cost, of course, is one major issue, and my son challenged me to name some reasons why health care is so expensive now as compared to “back when.” I chose to interpret “back when” as in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. I can remember some of these years, so can speak with some authority – at least when it comes to debating with my son.

One of my main points was that there wasn’t much health care to pay for in the mid-20th century. There were no MRIs, CT scans, angiography, arteriography, mammograms, organ transplants, fertility treatments, robotic surgery, dialysis, disposable supplies, high-tech lab tests, trauma care or ultra-expensive drugs.

I explained to my son that if you had a heart attack in 1960, you usually died. (Even CPR hadn’t been invented yet.) If you contracted cancer, you usually died. If you developed diabetes (make that type 1; there weren’t many people with type 2), you died young. If you were born with a heart defect, cerebral palsy, spina bifida or any other serious abnormality or disability, you died young. If you had a serious accident, you generally didn’t survive. And if you were seriously injured in combat, you rarely made it home.

I even pointed out that his 1970 birth cost $600. The price tag for my 4-and-a-half-year-old grandson’s birth was $22,000.

The choices for diagnosing, treating and/or curing illness and disease have changed and expanded greatly in the last five decades – which, after our conversation, made me think of all the corresponding changes in nursing. I think it’s safe to say that about 90 percent of today’s job options didn’t exist in 1960. Still, despite the changes, one thing remains the same: the advocacy of the patient.

The nurses of yesteryear would probably have a hard time recognizing themselves in today’s workplace, but putting the patient first is still nurses’ main mission.

If you are a veteran nurse, what are some of the experiences and stories you could share with younger nurses or those who have come recently to the profession?

What are some of the lessons you have taken from your past experiences?

Tell us about them.

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