As reported by the Farmington Patch, May 2, 2011.

As Health Care Changes, So Does Nursing

Once Undervalued, Nurses Now Take on an Advanced Set of Responsibilities

By James Casciato

In the 50 years since the UConn Health Center was established, the field of health care has undergone monumental changes. From advances in technology and medicine to the way patients utilize hospitals, the interaction between patients and caregivers has been transformed in virtually every aspect.

Just as the role of doctors, medical students and administrators has changed dramatically in the last half-century, perhaps no health care role has changed quite as much as that of nurses.

Whereas once, they were often tasked with many of the menial health care responsibilities like changing bandages and bed sheets, the modern nurse is called upon to undertake a much wider and complicated array of jobs such as operating advanced medical machinery, assessing and monitoring patient health and planning a patient’s recovery.

Jeanne Lattanzio worked as a registered nurse at the UConn Health Center for over 30 years including a 7-year stint as director of nursing. She explained how the responsibilities of nurses have grown alongside that of physicians.

“As doctors grew and learned more, nursing came right along,” she said. “Growing demand on physicians and a changing role for residents meant that nurses had to become adept at more and more complicated and intricate procedures.”

As technological, medical and administrative changes facilitated the advancement of nursing, the role of the advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) emerged. APRNs practice a greater set of skills, often diagnosing patients, determining a plan of treatment and absorbing many of the responsibilities previously held by physicians.

The advanced and vital set of tasks assigned to APRNs requires a post-graduate education, typically a master’s degree and often, APRNs choose a specialization in a given field such as pediatrics, oncology or neonatal care. According to Lattanzio, the Health Center has excelled at promoting this advanced role of nursing.

“As a teaching hospital, the Uconn Health Center encourages and pushes nurses to continue their education while working,” she said. “I think we are fortunate here because I don’t think every hospital is so adamant about fostering education and advancement like that.”

According to Lattanzio, the changing role of hospitals and the way patients take advantage of them has been fundamental in advancing the responsibilities of nurses.

“A significant change from 30 years ago is that if you’re in a hospital now, you’re definitely sick and there’s a serious problem to attend to,” she said. “As hospitals took on a more serious role, so did the nurses.”

Although their responsibilities have grown by leaps and bounds, in one important aspect, the role of nurses has not changed according to Lattanzio.

“Nurses are still the primary patient advocates,” she said. “They are on the front lines of patient care and they still interact with patients more than anyone else.”

There is still room for the role of nurses to grow and according to Lattanzio, they can have an even greater impact on the way hospitals administer care.

“I’d like to see hospitals make a greater effort to listen to nurses and ask for their input on how to care for patients,” she said. “I’d like to see nurses play a more vital role in the decision-making process.”

Despite how the role has changed in the last 50 years, according to Lattanzio, the reward of nursing has stayed constant.

“The satisfaction of doing hands-on care is what draws people to the job,” she said. “For me, the most rewarding part of the job is being able to help someone in a vulnerable position, when they need it the most.”