Although there were nurses before her time, Florence Nightingale is generally credited with bringing pride and respectability to the nursing profession. And while the “Lady of the Lamp” might relate to the compassion and dedication that continues to be the core of the nurses’ code, she would hardly recognize today’s nurses, nor would she understand one fraction of their duties and responsibilities.

No longer relegated to emptying bedpans and changing the bedding, the modern nurse works in a variety of settings including hospitals, doctors’ offices, schools, industry, governmental offices, businesses, at people’s homes, and as administrators or faculty members in nursing schools. Nurses must be knowledgeable about sophisticated electronic wizardry, complicated therapeutic instructions, and the effects and dangers of new drug treatments as prescribed by a physician. They are often assigned an incredible patient load and encouraged to work extended hours, while being expected to clean up after accidents, be courteous to visiting family and accommodate sensitive patients graciously.

And of course, nurses look far different from when Florence pursued her dream. For decades, nursing was considered, stereotypically, a woman’s domain; not so today, as men are now claiming their share of this rewarding profession. And also for decades, nurses wore distinctive uniforms that identified the institution at which they were trained (when hospital training was the vogue) or educated, once degree programs in nursing were established. Today, they wear scrub suits, lab coats or business suits. For identification, nurses now wear badges that should display their name and their level of expertise.

A Licensed Vocational Nurse has completed one year of undergraduate study and has passed the LVN licensure examination. The LVN does not have the responsibilities or knowledge of the Registered Nurse who has a two or four year degree in nursing from an accredited institution and who has passed the requisite state examination for RN status.

A more recent entry into the profession, however, is the Nurse Practitioner. This is a great opportunity for RNs who want to pursue advanced education, while continuing to apply their skills in direct patient care.

The nurse practitioner enjoys a great deal of independence and can serve in the doctor’s place for certain functions such as medical histories, physical examinations and follow up examinations. The nurse practitioner works closely with a physician.

A primary advantage for nurse practitioners is that they are registered nurses, simply attempting to add to their expertise through additional training. Many have worked with doctors in a clinical setting throughout their professional life, and this proves to be invaluable experience for those who choose to seek nurse practitioner status. It’s worth noting that some of the best and most compassionate doctors were nurses who decided to enter medical school.

As a physician, I welcome the help and expertise of nurses. Their presence helps to make health care more accessible to those who are finding it more and more difficult to see the doctor. As a patient, it’s to your advantage. Enjoy!

Dr. Michael M. Warren is Ashbel Smith professor of surgery at University of Texas Medical Branch Division of Urology.