During the Crimean War of 1853, when socialite Florence Nightingale treated soldiers, the career of nursing was born. She defied conventions and proved that nursing was more than filling in for doctors and established the principles of nursing. Her book “Notes on Nursing” is still considered the bible for nursing today. She opened the first nursing school at St Thomas Hospital in 1880 and within a few years, schools to train secular nurses appeared throughout Europe and other parts of the world.
When we are ill waiting to see a doctor, we seldom appreciate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, and the listening ear of the attending nurse. Yet even this small act of caring often marks the beginning of the healing. They take our vitals, check our meds and document our complaints. They are trained to be judge and jury to decide which ones need to be treated, and which ones are sour grapes. A great nurse can turn your life around; and even an average one will make you feel better.
The career of nursing has changed throughout the decades to meet new challenges and to utilize improved technology. It has also grown more diverse. The NAACP helped desegregate the military nursing corps during World War II, while trained male nurses saved lives on battlefields. Hospital training schools were replaced with programs at community and technical colleges and universities. More specialized training was introduced to prepare nurses for expanded responsibilities. And in 1965, with a critical shortage of doctors, it took an act of Congress to legitimize our nurse practitioners.
The nurse practitioner rose out of a need to meet a rising demand for doctors in our underserved areas. At first, doctors looked down on them. But with the passage of Medicare and unable to serve the influx of new patients, they ceased lobbying against them and the deployment of trained nurse practitioners grew exponentially. But it took another act of Congress for them to become legitimate physicians and to align their salary with their training and the services they provided.
We’ve become dependent on the resilience of our nurses, their ability to deal with the unanticipated and make adjustments to move forward without skipping a beat. We depend on their conviction, to us as patients to treat us with their clinical excellence and deliver that care with compassion. We seldom have a chance to show them our gratitude when they are making a real difference in our lives. Since they’re in the throes of understaffed hospitals and doctor offices, they never stop long enough for us to thank them for their work. This is especially true during a major healthcare crisis.
Tedros Ghebreyesus, director of the World Health Organization, told reporters, “Some 9,000 front-line nurses have contracted COVID-19. While it is true that only a fraction of those who get it expire from it, these nurses are putting their lives on the line each day to treat the sick and dying. It is this kind of dedication that sets them apart from people in all other professions who can go home and self-quarantine until this pandemic is over. Our nurses are the forgotten heroes during this crisis.”
Much like Hippocrates, the father of medicine, Florence Nightingale is equally revered. Nightingale believed educated women using scientific principles about health could improve caring for the sick. Nightingale felt nursing was a calling for women who wished to make meaningful and extraordinary societal contributions. That is why Nightingale’s benefactions to medicine are honored from May 6th through her birthday on the 12th, during National Nurses’ Week around the nation by local chapters of The American Nurses Association. They acknowledge nurses for their dedication to their work.
Nurses have always been the first responders and have forever sacrificed to make us feel better although they cannot cure us. This year has dramatically increased those needs and has elevated the dangers also. Nurses have the same obligations as we do, but don’t have the luxury of staying home until it is safe to return to work. To them it is never safe to go to work since they are always exposed to every current illness by each patient who walks through the doors of a medical office.
Since Florence Nightingale was born exactly 200 yrs ago, 2020 is a perfect time to pay tribute to the insightful greatness of this inspired lady that spent her life formulating modern nursing. It is also an opportune time for us to show our appreciation for every working nurse who has gone, and will be going the extra mile to see us through this current healthcare crisis and beyond. Their jobs will remain just as challenging, pandemic or not. Next time you’re in a medical office and see a nurse, why not make their day. Thank them for their work.
William Haupt III is a retired professional journalist, author, and citizen legislator in California for over 40 years. He got his start working to approve California Proposition 13.