As the School of Nursing looks forward to celebrating its 50th anniversary this fall, we asked the keynote speaker for the November celebration how nursing has changed and what she foresees for the future. Afaf I. Meleis is dean of the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing.

How has the field changed in the last half century?
I would say most significant is the scientific development of the discipline.

Initially, nursing was based on experience and tradition. Now, we’ve developed a theoretical basis for nursing and coherent programs of research, which enable us to produce fundamental evidence for quality care and the best models for nursing practice. That has helped us influence healthcare policies nationally and internationally.

How has nursing education evolved?
The goal of nursing education today is to prepare graduates for leadership positions—to give them a voice to influence healthcare policy and increase their impact on patient care.

Nursing education began as an apprenticeship and lacked the coherent curriculum we have now. Thanks to the revolution of nursing science, nursing education is now based on evidence and research.
Technological advancements have also changed the way we teach. Through simulation, students learn to manage real-life, complex situations without risk to themselves or patients.

What’s next for the profession?
Thanks to research and evidence, we now know that well-functioning healthcare teams are the best for optimum quality care.

This means that interprofessional education is the future. Educating physicians, nurses, and other health professionals together helps them understand each other’s perspectives and prepares them to be well-functioning members of teams. There is no way we’ll be able to successfully meet the needs of growing populations if we do not implement this approach.