Nurses of the future

I’m certainly willing to see robots in healthcare work doing tasks where humanity, both frail and complex, is a fault. When tasks at hand are dangerous and laborious, or where people are too slow, too inaccurate or perhaps difficult to motivate due to, for example, repetitive nature of the task.

If robots invade the healthcare work, how do the education, training and requirements of nursing work change? Practical nurses would do less physically straining work such as lifting objects or patients, but instead their job would include operating and monitoring robotic assistants.

Operating such devices is a skill of its own, so do nurses become enginurses in the future? I even wonder, if this change could actually deliver the long-anticipated aspiration of smoothing out gender division in certain fields of work. Engineering and nursing are archetypical examples of female- and male-traditional professions. Indeed, it has been implied that robots reproduce concepts of social order that favor a status-quo such as gendered notions of work.

In fact the technological skills of nurses are in pretty good shape as it is. In Finland nurses use different information technology systems and mechanic assistive tools on daily basis. Moreover, Finland stands out as a country of nurses with prominent technological skills. This is an advantage compared to for example Japan, where most of the nurses don’t even use computers at work.

Admittedly, robots are a different story, though. There is a gap between documenting patient information on the computer and programming and using a mechatronic device such as a service robot. That brings us to the other question of who should have the operating manual in robot-human interaction. We have used to the idea of purchasing a machine, reading the manual and then knowing how to use the machine. By the developments of artificial intelligence, we soon might find ourselves in situation, where the robot has an operating manual on us. There is still a long way before this level of technology will be achieved, but in this scenario robots change from tools and slaves to a learning and autonomous assistants. There will be no need for enginurses, but nevertheless nursing still won’t be the same as it is today.

Tuuli Turja