Nurses: From Bedside Care to Healthcare Leadership & Beyond

From the early days of modern nursing, especially during times of war and epidemics, nurses have worked on the frontlines, often without the recognition they deserve. Long gone are the all white uniforms — full-length skirts, high collars, fitted aprons, and caps. And while nurses have always been critical to healthcare, it’s only in recent years that they have come to embody the “unsung hero” of the profession. As many of us who work in healthcare have long known, nurses are now receiving their due acknowledgement as the backbone of the industry. 

Still, there remains stark misalignment between our societal appreciation for critical roles like nurses and how we assess their value. As nurses’ roles continue to evolve in clinical care, telehealth, and strategic leadership positions, it’s time to gain a deeper appreciation for all that’s included in this complex and highly needed profession.

The Backbone of Healthcare Delivery

In the U.S. there are 10 nurses for every three physicians. This clearly demonstrates how healthcare institutions simply wouldn’t function properly without nurses. Those in what are traditionally considered caretaking roles, such as teachers and childcare workers, play a vital but often “invisible” role in society, even though they are the ones at patients’ bedside day and night. Despite their indispensable contributions, they are frequently underappreciated. 

Nursing as a Predominantly Female-occupied Profession

It’s also worth noting that the nursing profession is predominantly composed of women, with approximately 90 percent of all nurses being female. Historically, roles primarily held by women, both in families and communities, have been undervalued. This critical issue is tied to larger questions about gender roles, labor market dynamics, and devaluation of professions traditionally associated with women. Caring for the sick and vulnerable was (and often still is) considered an inherent aspect of women’s natural abilities. This, in turn, contributed to broader societal disparities that still remain today.

The Evolving Role of Nurses

In recent years, nurses have shown remarkable adaptability, tenacity, and versatility in the face of increasing patient demand, an aging population, and extreme physical, mental, and emotional demands. They have embraced the changing landscape of healthcare, particularly during the pandemic, taking on leadership roles not only in hospitals, but also in post-acute, ambulatory, and home care settings. They have become integral to the strategic decision-making within healthcare institutions, bridging the gap between the clinical world and healthcare management. 

It’s crucial that society recognizes and values these contributions accordingly. Nurses continue to prove their worth as adaptable and empathetic professionals. It’s high time that we acknowledge and respect their evolving and expanding role, both in word and in action.