The History of Nursing
Nowadays, nursing is growing in popularity as a career because it has been voted as the most respected profession for 19 years in a row.
There are Universities such as Maryville that are offering online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs to prepare experienced nurses to advance their career in nursing.
However, nursing was not an established profession in the early days. Nursing has been around for thousands of years, but it wasn’t until the 1800s that nursing became an established profession.
For centuries, people cared for each other during illness and injury by providing basic needs such as water, food, comfort, protection from the weather, and help with hygiene. It was only in the mid-1800s that this caring role became the profession of nursing.
Early nurses, both men, and women who cared for family members, often were drawn from the ranks of farm wives and daughters. These women had experience in dressing wounds, setting bones, and calming fevers with herbs or cold compresses made of vinegar-soaked clothes. Many also learned about the medicinal properties of plants that grew in fields and forests. They passed their knowledge on to other relatives or friends, who then became informal nurses for neighbors and fellow church members.
Through the years, many people have played a significant role in helping to transform society’s view of nurses. These individuals were not only important during their time but are currently recognized as influential leaders today. A person that has most often defined the history of nursing is Florence Nightingale (1820-1910).
Nursing Began with Florence Nightingale
Nightingale spent most of her life fighting for the education and development of nurses and establishing a plan for public health that was used during the Crimean War (1854-56). After observing the conditions at a military hospital during this war, Nightingale wrote Notes on Nursing: What it is and is not. This book is considered the basis of modern nursing because it presented nursing in a new, more humane light based on science rather than religion. It also provided strategies for successful patient care.
Edith Cavell (1865-1915) was another influential nurse in the history of nursing. During World War I, she served as a matron at Berkendael Medical Institute in Brussels, Belgium. She used her position to help approximately 200 Allied soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium. Although she was arrested and jailed, the Germans found out about her background and executed her for treason.
The last influential nurse of this time period was Lillian Wald (1867-1940). She was the founder and head of Henry Street Settlement in New York City, which later became known as “the Nation’s First Nurse”. Wald organized visiting nurses and public health services throughout the city, becoming a leader in nursing service delivery.
The Mid-1800s – Mid 1900s: Nursing Education
In 1860, Nightingale established the first school for nurses, St. Thomas Hospital in London, England. However, this was not an official school but rather a “day training centre”. It was called the Nightingale Training School for Nurses, and it opened to train nurses for St. Thomas’ Hospital. This training school is now known as the Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing and Midwifery at King’s College London.
The first official school for nurses was established in Philadelphia by Linda Richards (1841-1930). The training program was only three months long but is now known as the Nurse’s Training School at Memorial Hospital, part of the University of Pennsylvania. Graduates earned a certificate that was equivalent to a year of college. The first graduating class consisted of 18 students, all women.
The modern-day nursing education system is divided into levels. Nurses are required to obtain an associate degree before beginning their bachelor’s degree. A bachelor’s degree will prepare nurses for the NCLEX exam and obtain licensure as registered nurses. A master’s degree in nursing is required to become a nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, or nurse anesthetist, and doctoral degrees will allow nurses to teach and conduct research.
The 1950s: The Move Towards Hospital Care
Before the 1950s, nurses were primarily responsible for home care and working with doctors in clinics and offices. However, during this decade, more and more patients started to move into the hospital for extended periods of time. This created a dramatic increase in patient care needs, leading hospitals to hire additional nurses.
Although there were still not enough nurses available to meet the patient care demands of hospitals, many hospitals at this time began giving annual cost of living raises to nurses.
The 1960s-1970s: The Fight for Improved Working Conditions
During this decade, nurses began to organize themselves into labor unions in order to improve their working conditions. They protested unfair wages, long working hours and mandatory overtime for both RNs and LPNs. Although the protests were not always successful, they led the profession to gain credibility with both the public and legislators.
For nurses, things were improving until President Nixon introduced his New Economic Policy, which included a mandatory wage freeze on all federal employees. Nurses were considered federal employees and, as such, felt that they did not receive their fair share of benefits and work opportunities. This led to protests and strikes across the country.
The 1980s-1990s: The Focus on Diversity
During these decades, the number of nurses entering the profession declined. Many nurses were unwilling to work in understaffed areas where patients had little care access. It was difficult for them to gain experience due to inexperienced staff taking on shifts. This led to hospitals continuing the practice of mandatory overtime.
By the 1980s, there were more than three million nurses in the US alone. This would be considered almost half of the available positions today if this number had not declined since then. The same held true for minority groups. Only 2% of African Americans worked as nurses during this time, and this number had not increased since the 1960s.
There were many calls for the country to implement a mandatory national board exam, which was successful in other countries such as Canada and Great Britain. The US finally answered these calls and implemented the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) in 1990. This exam is still used today and is required for nurses to receive their licenses.
The New Millennium: Increased Focus on Nurse Educators
This decade has seen the introduction of Executive Nursing Fellowships, which the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation established in 1997. This organization helps nurses transition into faculty positions at universities and colleges. The fellowship lasts one year and is intended to help nurses transition into teaching roles by gaining experience in the classroom, working with faculty members and other nurses.
Although there are still many opportunities for current nursing practices, finding full-time positions is becoming increasingly difficult due to the high demand for care that requires skilled professionals. The US Bureau of Labor statistics believes that about 30% of these vacancies will need to be filled by nurses with graduate degrees.
The history of nursing has provided many advancements for the profession today. The implementation of mandatory licensing exams has increased the safety of patients by reducing the number of untrained nurses entering the workforce. This has also played a large role in allowing more individuals to enter the profession, which has helped fill job vacancies that are becoming increasingly common today.