History of Nursing- Things Every Nurse Should Know

The history of nursing dates back to Roman times, although for tens of thousands of years women have tended to the sick and injured in their tribes and communities.

In some societies medicine and shamans were assigned this role but the caring and nurturing role of women has long been a part of human history.

A Christian deaconess named Phoebe is mentioned by the Apostle Paul in Romans 16:1 as the first visiting nurse because of the expert home nursing care she provided.

Home care was typical in those times and it was not until nuns and monks began caring for the sick that the concept of hospitals began to take shape. Probably the best example of this is the convent hospital at Beaune in France, where sick patients were cared for in beds placed against the walls surrounding the altar.

Another classic example is the Hotel-Dieu in Paris, founded by the Bishop of Paris in 651 AD and run under the tutelage of the Augustinian sisters. The roots of this early nursing care can be still found today where nurses in the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other Commonwealth countries are still referred to as “sisters”.

Nursing In The Middle Ages Was Chaotic At Best

Nursing care in the Middle Ages was nothing like we know today. It was quite common for two patients to share a bed so a patient with a broken leg could be placed in the same bed as a patient with smallpox or tuberculosis.

Nursing in early modern Europe was chaotic at best. Care of the sick in those times often fell to poor, uneducated women who were often too old or too ill themselves to do any other work. Drinking, fighting, swearing, petty theft and the extortion of money from patients was commonplace.

Florence Nightingale Changed Nursing Forever

However, all this changed with the arrival of FlorenceNightingale (1820-1910), the woman who single-handedly reformed nursing and laid the foundations for modern nursing as a profession.

Born into a wealthy British family, Florence dedicated her life to the service of humanity. When the Crimean War broke out in 1854, she was dismayed to learn that the mortality rate of British fighting troops was 41%. Most were dying from disease rather than injuries caused on the battlefield.

With other British nurses, Florence traveled to the Crimea to care for sick and wounded British soldiers. She then began a campaign to thoroughly clean the soldiers’ barracks and hospitals wards and to let in sunshine and fresh air.

Florence believed that it was dirt rather than microscopic pathogens that was causing so much death and misery. She also carefully documented the results of her care which laid the foundations for today’s evidenced-based medical care.

Within months of her arrival, the mortality rate dropped significantly and when she returned to the UK after the war she was hailed as a heroine.

The grateful British public established a Trust Fund in her name which she used to establish the Nightingale School of Nursing at St Thomas’ Hospital in London for the education of professional nurses. There students undertook classes in nursing theory along with clinical experience on hospital wards – much like today’s modern nursing training.

Within a decade of Florence Nightingale’s return from the Crimean War, the American Civil War broke out. It is estimated that more than 3000 women served as nurses during the Civil War caring for sick and wounded soldiers on the battlefields, in field hospitals, in hospitals away from the fighting and even in their own homes. These Civil War nurses laid the foundation for professional nursing in the United States.

The First US School Of Nursing Was In Philadelphia

The first permanent school of nursing in America was the nurse training school of the Women’s Hospital of Philadelphia in 1872. It followed the Nightingale model and had a set nursing study curriculum, paid nursing instructors, equipment to practice nursing skills, a nurses’ library and arranged for students to gain experience in other Philadelphia hospitals.

By 1883, the number of nursing training schools in the United States had grown to 35. In 1896 the Nurses’ Associated Alumnae of the United States and Canada – which later became the American Nurses Association (ANA) – was founded.

By 1900 there were 432 nursing schools in the U.S and the push began to raised the standards of nursing training across the country. States began to adopt laws regulating the practice of professional nursing. World War 1 (1914-1918) and World War 11 (1939-1945) then pushed nursing to the forefront of public consciousness and they gained new levels of respect.

Severe Nursing Shortage After World War Two

The U.S faced a severe nursing shortage of the Second World War as nurses returned to their roles as wives and mothers. This coincide with dramatic change sin health care in America as medicine and nursing was becoming more specialized.

It was around this time that the two-year Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) program was initiated to train more nurses quickly. The program was a huge success and by the end of the 1970s, the number of nurses graduating from ADN programs was greater than those from nursing baccalaureate and nursing diploma programs.

The 1970s also saw an increase in nursing graduate programs focusing on clinical specialties which was a the beginning of advanced practice roles in nursing such as clinical specialists, nurse practitioners, researchers and nursing administrators. The title of Nurse Practitioner (NP) was first used during this time.

The role of nurses continued to evolve through the 1980s, 90s and 2000s until today. There are over three million nurses practicing in the United States today and this will be closer to 4m by 2020 as the demand for registered nurses picks up.

The history of nursing as been one of caring and trust and, in this respect, nothing has changed from centuries ago when nuns and sisters cared for the ill and infirmed. But today’s nurses face different challenges too.

Technology is changing the landscape of modern nursing as the next stage of the history of nursing evolves. Nurses of today and tomorrow will call on changes in technology and huge leaps forward in medical and scientific knowledge to care for their patients.

But these are the challenges that nurses have faced for centuries to provide the comfort and care that have had an impact on countless millions of patients around the world.