Nursing is a critical component of the healthcare system that not only oversees the care of patients, but also offers significant leadership services in the health sector. There are an estimated 3 million nurses in the United States, who offer services in various settings ranging from basic frontline healthcare provision to acute-care nursing in post-surgery and ICU departments. Typically, nurses are seen as healthcare providers of admitted patients. However, since its inception, nurses have been crucial in offering care services to patients at home and, in the modern setting, nursing homes all over the world.
Historical Development of Nursing
The history of the development of nursing dates back to the early 300AD Roman empire, in which the fairly civilized towns and cities of Rome endeavored to build hospitals to take care of their sick citizens. With the rise of the Catholic Church in the middle ages, there was a more significant push for proper medical attention, during which a more formal healthcare setting took shape. Spanish hospitals are believed to have been built as early as 500 AD, and by the 11th Century, hospitals had become a central part of religious missions (Smith). Still, nursing was not as prominent as it is today, noting that the word ‘nurse’ emanates from the Latin translation of suckling or nutire. Nurses were mostly seen as wet-nurses in the period leading up to the 16th Century, after which the definition morphed into that of a person that took care of the sick.
The commencement of modern nursing began with Florence Nightingale, who came into the limelight following the British and allied powers’ war in Crimea, Turkey in 1854. Nightingale was a ‘well-bred’ British woman, who led a team of female nurses in taking care of the British soldiers injured during the war. At the time, it was uncommon for a well-educated British lady of her lineage and wealth to be at the forefront of caring for strangers; typically, such women were accustomed to taking care of their family members at home (D’Antonio and Buhler-Wilkerson). However, Nightingale’s intervention in the Crimean war led to the development of what are today known as the ‘Nightingale Principles,’ which form the foundation of the nursing profession.
Nightingale opined that with a good education formed on the tenets of scientific principles, women could be taught to provide optimum care to the sick, which could improve the chances and success of complete recoveries. Before her intervention, some practices in hospital and homecare environments negated the efforts to properly care for patients, since factors such as poor hygiene precipitated further infections for the sick. In the Crimean war hospital facilities, she led fellow nurses in sanitizing and disinfecting walls and surrounding areas, which drastically reduced the number of reinfections and death of soldiers (D’Antonio and Buhler-Wilkerson). Upon her return to Britain, Nightingale began formal nurse education courses in local hospitals, which was targeted at scientifically improving the level of care offered to patients. Soon, Nightingale Principles spread across the world.
In the United States, like-minded individuals began organizing knowledge around the subject of nursing in the late 1700s, a practice that continued until the development of fully-fledged nursing schools in the 1800s. In 1798, for example, Dr. Seaman created a course for maternity care nurses in New York. In the early 1800, Dr. Warrington spearheaded the formation of the Nurse Society of Philadelphia, which taught women skills to care for pregnant and new mothers, especially on issues regarding birth and postpartum complications. Warrington was also responsible for a related book that was published in 1839. America formally began nurse education in 1873 through three schools located in Boston, New York, and Connecticut (Whelan). The curriculum employed in these schools was based on the foundations of Nightingale principles, which proved to be so effective that over 400 schools were in operation by the early 20th century.
A career in nursing has diverse dimensions of practice, including education, research, as well as specialist fields. However, all nurses begin at a general practice level before specializing in various fields. In the US, one must have achieved at least a high school diploma to pursue nurse education. Still, nurse education depends on the specific nursing path that one wishes to pursue. For instance, while some people prefer to start right away at the Registered Nurse (RN) level, others begin with nursing diplomas, and build their career paths from that level.
The choice of one’s career path in nursing also depends on the availability and affordability of institutions offering accredited nursing programs. For example, community colleges and vocational institutions offer nursing diplomas and associate’s degrees in nursing (ADNs), while more sophisticated programs such as bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees are offered in colleges and universities. In these institutions, nurse students obtain fundamental theoretical concepts in nursing as well as practical sessions where they interact with patients (McKay). The latter helps them to put into practice the knowledge acquired in classrooms, as well as to build soft skills when interacting with patients. At the end of these nursing programs, graduates undergo exams and certification exercises with the relevant state bodies to obtain registration and license to practice.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a career in nursing appears to be very promising for current and future nurses. In 2019, nurses’ median pay was about $35 per hour, with the average annual salary for RNs grossing at about $73,000. The bureau also reports that most registered nurses’ entry-level education is a bachelor’s degree, and that most job openings do not require much work experience or conversance with a related occupation.
As of 2018, there were slightly over 3 million nursing jobs. The bureau estimates that between 2018 and 2028, there will be an increase of about 12% in the number of jobs available, which culminates into an employment change of about 371,000 positions (“Occupational Outlook”). This positive outlook is attributed to an increase in the demand of healthcare services as the population of old people increases. In addition, chronic illnesses will be on the rise due to poor lifestyles. Lastly, economic conditions may force hospitals to discharge their patients as fast as possible, leading to numerous openings for nurses to provide long-term care in nursing homes as well as people’s houses.
Prominent Nursing Personality
One prominent personality in the field of nursing was Clara Barton. Clara was born in 1821 and was the daughter of Stephen and Sarah Barton. Mr. Barton was a captain in the state militia, while Mrs. Barton was a housewife, and the family lived in Massachusetts. From an early age, Clara was shy, albeit intelligent. Sadly, the loss of a family member brought out the helping nature of Clara. While attending to a bereaved member, Clara realized that she had great passion at helping others in times of need (Clara Barton). Notably, she was so interested in nursing activities that at the age ten, she properly nursed her brother back to good health.
Clara was also intrigued by patriotism and was interested in helping her country. Following an opinion from her military father regarding contributions necessary to help in winning the Civil War, Clara resolved to help wounded soldiers at the battles’ frontlines. The death of her father saw her relocate to Maryland, where she helped establish and run several battle hospitals. In addition, her organizing skills helped her secure the assistance of several volunteers and well-wishers, who collected and stocked food and medical supplies for the injured soldiers (Michals). Clara’s desire to help the injured and passion to nurse them back to good health was the main drive in her profession.
Following the end of the Civil War, Clara met a revolutionary group of health workers called the International Committee of the Red Cross, which shared similar values with hers. The group helped offer medical assistance and care to wounded soldiers in Europe, and was interested in expanding its horizons to America. Although Clara agreed to the task, it was difficult to convince the political leadership to fund and support a war-relief organization (“Clara Barton”). Apparently, after the end of the Civil War, most Americans doubted the possibility of the country engaging in a similar event in the future. Nonetheless, Clara’s persistence and focus on her mission led to the establishment of the first American Red Cross office in 1881.
The nursing profession demands more than skill and experience from an individual – it requires persistence, care, and resilience to offer the best services to patients. These attributes are evident in Clara’s professional journey. Her concern for the welfare of the community are an epitome of community health nursing, which is espoused by the activities of the Red Cross Society, as well as her activities with soldiers in the battlefield (“Clara Barton and Her Impact on Nursing”). Clara demonstrated resilience by joining soldiers in the battlefield, despite the gory scenes and immense danger to which she exposed herself. She is an inspiration to many nurses and challenges nurse professionals to be steadfast in their resolve to help others.
“Clara Barton and Her Impact on Nursing and the Community.” Nursing Era 1880-1900, sites.google.com/site/nursingera18801900/samantha2
“Clara Barton: Founder of the American Red Cross.” Nurse Journal, nursejournal.org/community/clara-barton-founder-of-the-american-red-cross/
“Occupational Outlook Handbook: Registered Nurses.” Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, 10 April 2020, www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm
D’Antonio, Patricia and Karen, Buhler-Wilkerson. “Nursing.” Encyclopædia Britannica, 22 February 2019, www.britannica.com/science/nursing
McKay, Dawn R. “How to Become a Nurse: Education, Licenses and Other Qualifications.” The Balance Careers, 2019, www.thebalancecareers.com/how-to-become-a-nurse-525845
Michals, Debra. “Clara Barton (1821-1912).” National Women’s History Museum, 2015, www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/clara-barton
Smith, Yolanda. “History of Nursing.” News Medical Life Sciences, www.news-medical.net/health/History-of-Nursing.aspx
Whelan, Jean C. “American Nursing: An Introduction to the Past.” Penn Nursing, www.nursing.upenn.edu/nhhc/american-nursing-an-introduction-to-the-past/