By Linda S. Smith, MS, DSN, RN, CLNCProfessor and Nursing Program Director, Idaho State University
To venture the task of discussing the great people and events that have made American nursing the powerful profession it is today, is to undertake an impossible task. I do firmly believe, however, that a taste of history is somewhat like eating one Idaho potato chip - it will stimulate and support a lifelong interest in the subject.
We in nursing are fortunate indeed to be able to emulate the leadership and political savvy of Florence Nightingale. She, more than any nurse before or since, shaped and expanded quality health care throughout the British Empire and world. Most people, however, think of Florence Nightingale only as the founder of nursing education. Though this is true, her contributions exceed far beyond nursing and into the realm of illness prevention, health promotion, and community health and safety.
Florence Nightingale (born 1820) was better educated than most men of her day. She was an accomplished linguist, mathematician, statistician, philosopher, and historian. She understood that contrary to the belief of the day, forward thinking people could alter their destiny. She had an insatiable curiosity and a probing, analytical mind. But her greatest handicap by far was being a woman.
Despite this handicap, Nightingale created and developed a system of education affording women a respectable profession. Additionally, she used her strong political powers to enact hospital and military reform. She reformed health care for the British Empire, including India. Nightingale presented rationale for her decisions and needs with expert mathematical skill. She used the power of the press and her own outstanding prolific writing abilities to keep public health issues in full view of the people.
Nightingale was a national heroine and she used this popularity, along with her expert health care and political knowledge, to influence major leaders, including the queen of England.
In the early 1900s, American women did not have the right to vote nor were they allowed political status. Though nursing was almost exclusively female, nurses as a group were enormously conservative in their approach to the women's movement. In 1907, at the 10th annual convention of the Nurse's Associated Alumnae of the US (now known as the American Nurses Association), the question of women's suffrage (right to vote) was hotly debated and a resolution in support of the women's movement defeated.
Nurse Lavinia L. Dock, however, stands out as one of the strongest, most pro-feminist American nurse of all time. She marched in Washington and went to jail for her belief in equal rights for women. When, in 1920, congress passed the 19th amendment to the constitution giving women voting rights, Dock continued her equal rights crusade in opposition to countless other discriminations against women. Her basic premise, until she died, was that all people are equal.
The power of the press was the motto and mission of Nurse Sophia Palmer, first Editor and Publisher of the American Journal of Nursing. Palmer had great insight into the need for nurses to control their own profession. Her editorials helped create the first American nursing licensing laws and boards in 1903. Palmer took risks and made a major difference for us all. Because of her and others, boards of nursing govern American nurses and American nurses have legal standards for practice and education. These standards forbid unqualified, unlicensed persons from calling themselves registered nurses or RNs.
This is an exciting time to be a nurse! Because of increasing population census, a growing number of elders, expanded technology, health care reform, and emerging nursing roles, many new nursing jobs in Idaho will surface. These new jobs will require well-educated, dedicated, competent, caring, decision-makers and client advocates. Nationally, the healthcare system will require more than 1.2 million new nurses over the next decade. That means that the second largest number of new jobs among all occupations will be for RNs.
RNs work to promote health, prevent disease, and help patients and families cope with illness and disability. They are advocates and health educators for patients, families, communities. RNs develop and manage patient treatment plans; instruct patients and families in proper care; and help individuals and groups take steps to improve or maintain health and quality of life.
Though there will always be a need for hospital nurses, in the future, a growing number of nurses will be employed in home health, long-term care, hospice, parish nursing, prison care, community care, surgical centers, and ambulatory clinics.
This week, please stop for a moment to thank a nurse who has helped you or someone you love find health, wellness, strength, and an improved quality of life. Individuals, families, communities, organizations, specialties, and health services have discovered the importance of quality nursing. Florence Nightingale, we are proud to be walking in your nursing shoes.
Patient Modesty: Volume 82
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