As National Nurses Week ended on May 12, amidst the entire world going through a medical crisis, now is the perfect time to look back at some of the most pivotal points of nursing history and culture. It is important that we do not forget the struggles and achievements which finally led us here into the modern era of nursing and healthcare, especially in light of the present pandemic. These are to be kept strong in our memories, so as to provide us with the strength and courage to go through tough times such as what is happening right now.
The Pre-Nursing Days
It is quite difficult to determine when nursing in its crudest form first came into being, but the task of caring for the sick and the infirm is thousands of years old, if not even older.
In recorded history, the pre-nursing days refer to a time when wings of the military took care of their own with battle medics and healers. Among the general public in Europe, the Christian nuns performed similar duties in medieval times, which can be called somewhat akin to a crude form of nursing.
Although medicine and methods were mostly absent, to both Christianity in Europe and Islam in the Middle East, nursing was considered to be a holy pursuit and relied on primary patient care, praying, and religious practices of their respective cultures.
Nursing as a profession began to take form in the early 1800s, but at that point in time, it was little more than housewives getting uniforms and some pocket money! Nursing in its somewhat proper form as a profession came into existence alongside war.
The American Civil War
It is both ironic and tragic that it took the death of thousands and the suffering of millions during the American Civil War and the First World War for everyone to realize the importance of establishing this noble job as a profession that the women were doing for decades. The following highlights should help you get a gist of what happened during the Civil War that resulted in the whole nation realizing how important nurses were to soldiers and families alike:
- A total of 600,000-700,000 people died during the civil war and millions were left injured
- Those that did not die on the battlefield were brought into makeshift hospitals in droves
- This was the first time the US felt a strong need and absence of sufficient nurses
- The present nursing force of women did a remarkable job, in spite of their low numbers and the minimum training they had received before facing such a great calamity
- Their efforts and their roles in providing constant aid during the national tragedy made way for newfound respect for the profession
- Although it was a tragedy, the American Civil War did help to a great extent towards ushering in the new age of modern nursing
The Role of Florence Nightingale
One of the most iconic and legendary names in the field of nursing has always been and will forever be that of Florence Nightingale, aka, The Lady with the Lamp or The Angel of Crimea. The first formally titled British nurse is also known as the founder of modern nursing. Here’s a small list of facts about Florence Nightingale and the revolutionary work she did, that in time laid the foundations for modern nursing.
The Crimean War
As Russia and England clashed against each other to gain control of the Ottoman Empire in the Crimean War, English soldiers were not doing particularly well due to three primary problems:
- Lack of supplies
- Unfamiliarity with the territory
- Absolutely appalling conditions in understaffed military hospitals, where over 18,000 British soldiers were being kept
Florence Nightingale’s Experience During the Crimean War
After being chided by the English uproar, which was raised against the fact that English soldiers were left in such unsanitary conditions to suffer, Sidney Herbert, who was the Secretary of War at that time, hired Florence Nightingale to aid the ailing soldiers, post the battle of Alma in 1854. In accordance with recorded history, Nightingale and her crew of 34 nurses saw the following inhumane and unsanitary conditions as being the standard at Constantinople:
- The medical building where the soldiers were being kept was built on top of a gigantic cesspool
- The cesspool was infecting the water, which resulted in soldiers frequently dying of cholera and typhoid
- More soldiers had already died from waterborne diseases than war-related injuries
- Soldiers incapable of moving were kept unwashed and uncleaned in their own urine and feces
- Rats and cockroaches were in large numbers, infesting the hospital building
- Bandages, soap, medicine and even clean, drinking or dressing water wasn’t available in enough quantities
How Florence Nightingale Reacted to the Nightmarish Situation
In a time and a place which had even the bravest of men scurrying for their lives to get away from the literal cesspool, Florence Nightingale and her 34 nurses took control and stayed. She employed the following measures and with time, produced results that forever changed the way people saw nurses in Britain:
- She brought in and even made scrubbing brushes by the hundreds, along with bringing in cleaning supplies
- The healthiest of the soldiers were identified, and then put to the task of cleaning the whole building up with the scrubbers
- Her connection with the Minister of War and the government brought in some of the supplies which the soldiers badly needed
- Nightingale and her nurses cared for every patient during the day and the evening
- At night, she would carry a lamp and visit as many of the patients as she could, to see how they were doing
- A separate kitchen came into being, where food for the invalid was prepared specially to cater to their specific dietary requirements
- A laundry facility was created to wash clothes and keep everyone in clean linens
- A library and even a classroom were created to encourage reading for entertainment and education among the injured soldiers
- Soon after her arrival, the rate of death in the building was decreased by roughly 67%
- Her 830-page report on what she saw and how the healthcare system needs to be reformed was the basis on which the Royal Commission for the Health of the Army was formed
- Her work as a statistician later contributed towards making massive changes in the British healthcare infrastructure of the time
Florence Nightingale’s Role in Revolutionizing the Profession
The impact of Florence Nightingale on modern nursing remains one of the most important and pivotal points in the profession’s history to date. The following should help us get a better idea of how important the work she did in Crimea and her post-war activities turned out to be for the medical profession as a whole:
- She had put the nursing profession in a position where it was now a noble and highly respected career choice for women of the time
- Queen Victoria’s gift of $250,000 was used by her to build the St. Thomas’ Hospital and the Nightingale Training School for Nurses inside it
- Even during the American Civil War, Nightingale’s advice on hospital maintenance and management was crucial in improving healthcare
- Her role as a statistician is thought to be more important than even her work in Crimea, as it improved the entire healthcare system of the time
National Nurses Week (May 6th – May 12th)
National Nurses Week is not a point in history, but a celebration of the many achievements through which nurses have contributed to improving and maintaining healthcare in human history over the centuries, as well as the 365 days a year service which nurses provide to their patients without complaint. It started as a struggle initially, when President Eisenhower even refused to recognize a single Nurses Day in 1953. In its struggle to be recognized, the celebration itself has contributed to the growth, development, and awareness of nursing culture, history and the profession itself.
As of now, Nurses Week is also expanded into National Nurses Month – not for celebration alone, but for actually helping to encourage more potential candidates in joining the noble profession, or for helping the present nurses pursue higher goals in their careers and patient care. The four-part program will be headed under Self-Care, Recognition, Professional Development, and Community Engagement.
The rich history and culture of nurses is meant to be remembered for honoring the heroes of medical care throughout history and the ones in the present day that provide year-round care, but that is not all it is. It’s a practice that is necessary to also inspire more young men and women towards joining the profession, which has become highly sought-after and lucrative in its many opportunities today. If there was ever a time for such inspirations to take effect, now would be that time, as the world, and especially the US is going through a difficult and alarming medical emergency.