When I began my nursing career 33 years ago, I knew I had chosen the right path. Caring for patients and their families and guiding them through their hospital stay was meaningful life work. What I didn’t know at the time was how much the nursing profession would change and how blessed I would be to continue to practice during this fast-paced ever-changing world we call health care.

Where we are today

Among the changes I’ve seen, in addition to patient care, nurses are now involved in crucial decisions to improve the system and make it efficient and effective.

Today’s nurses are in the boardroom planning health care strategy. We are at the bedside, collaborating with physicians and other professionals to make life-saving decisions. We’re helping to run hospitals in executive positions. We’re leading research and education programs at universities. Last but not least, we’re coordinating and innovating patient care every single day.

I’m also glad to say, nurses practicing today have a voice. They have respect and power. And everyone in the country is benefiting from that, from legislators in Washington, DC, who are listening to us about policy to patients in community hospitals who need a knowledgeable and caring provider.

Nursing to better health

Quality nursing care is tied directly to quality outcomes. Nurses have helped improve care greatly by applying high-level skills to reduce hospital readmissions and prevent complications like falls and hospital-acquired pressure ulcers.

“The health care industry today is recognizing that nurses are the force behind the care coordination that makes safe discharge from a hospital possible.”

How do we do this? I always say, “Nurses have the video, other health care disciplines have the snapshot.” We’re at the bedside 24-hours a day. We’re the boots-on-the-ground providers, working directly with patients, planning their care and listening to their concerns and answering their loved ones’ questions. In addition, nurses look at data, determine best practices based upon current research and incorporate these ideas into practice.

Meet the med-surg nurse

I’m a medical-surgical nurse. Med-surg nurses are familiar faces, although many don’t know us by this title. Our specialty is the single largest nursing specialty in America. In fact, out of the estimated 2.9 million practicing registered nurses (RNs) in America, 600,000 are med-surg. You’ll see us in hospitals, clinics, long-term care facilities, home health agencies, universities and urgent care centers.

The changes described above didn’t come about quickly or easily for nurses—of any specialty. For our specialty, however, it’s meant better education programs and a certification specific to med-surg. And nursing certification is not only good for nurses; it’s good for the entire health care industry, the country, hospitals and facilities and, most of all, patients. Care is better. The system is better.

Facilitating the training we need

To help nursing evolve and for our voices to continue to be heard, we must mobilize nurses by educating and inspiring them. This is achieved with formal degree programs, continuing education and lifelong learning.  Over the course of my career, I’ve seen changes in technology, safety, privacy and cutting-edge treatments. However, we still struggle with issues like sending patients home without access to home care, or seeing patients who need IV nutrition to heal but it isn't covered under their insurance.

The good news: the health care industry today is recognizing that nurses are the force behind the care coordination that makes safe discharge from a hospital possible. Our responsibility does not end at the hospital doors; it truly is a continuum of care. Nursing has been, and will continue to be, a very rewarding career and profession. We have compassion and commitment and will never stop using our brains and hearts to change the landscape of health care.