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The Fascinating History of Nursing

The principles of nursing can be dated back as far as the Roman empire, taking on numerous forms throughout history before becoming the esteemed profession that we know it to be today. Whether you’re an aspiring healthcare worker yourself or just a curious history buff, it’s a good idea to look back and understand the origins of nursing.

As you can probably guess, the word nurse has its roots in the practice of wet-nursing. It was some time in the 16th century that the Latin term started referring to someone who cares for the sick. But only in the 19th century did nursing lose its direct relation to religious or spiritual matters, subsequently becoming a secular profession.

Let’s start by exploring the very beginnings of nursing.

Nursing in Ancient History

The earliest documents we have recording the nursing profession place its inception at just over 1,700 years ago when the Roman empire began building healthcare facilities in its cities. This led to demand for “nurses” who would help doctors care for patients. Innovation continued during the rise of the Byzantine empire.

At that stage, the city of Constantinople saw the development of more advanced hospitals where both male and female healthcare workers were employed. Back then, the male and female nurses were known as hypourgoi and hypourgisses respectively.

As Catholicism spread through Europe, nursing became a more widespread practice during the middle ages.

Side Note:

The Charaka Samhita, which is one of ancient India’s two foundational texts, was written in 100 B.C.E. and stated that good medical practice required physicians, medicines, cleanliness and nurses.

Nursing in the Middle Ages

In this period, we can see some of the foundations of modern nursing being laid through advancements in medicine, research and treatment. The healthcare industry was largely religious during the middle ages, so most nurses were nuns. As hospitals started housing a wider range of people, the responsibilities of a nurse began to grow.

The Catholic church started supplying Spain’s first hospital with nurses during around 500 AD. They were tasked with caring for those who needed it, with no discrimination of nationality or faith. These kinds of hospitals began to fall apart some 300 years later before Emperor Charlamagne implemented measures to restore them to working order.

It was also requested that more hospitals be established around religious buildings, which increased demand for those in the nursing profession. In the 10th and 11th centuries, nurses were commonplace in France and Germany, which is when traveling to patients’ homes started becoming a widespread practice.

During some conflicts in the 17th and 18th centuries, nurses diminished in numbers for some time while their role remained largely unchanged. As we will see below, things started to change in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Side Note:

Going back to the 7th century for a moment, Rufaida Al-Aslamia is said to be the first Muslim nurse. She was a contemporary of Muhammad and is remembered for leading a group of women into the frontlines to treat wounded soldiers. As you can see, nursing has its roots well beyond Europe.

The Beginning of Modern Nursing

We can’t look at the origins of modern nursing without mentioning who is arguably the most famous nurse of them all, Florence Nightingale. This historical figure spent a good part of her illustrious career caring for injured fighters in the Crimean War and Civil War. Injuries were commonplace at this time and the lack of hygiene only made matters worse.

This caused a massive spike in demand for the likes of Nightingale, who upon noticing the hygiene issue, requested that the British government improve conditions on the battlefield and invest in the provision of more hospitals. The government obliged and death rates decreased a great deal, which is one reason why Nightingale is so revered today.

Modern Nursing in Europe:

Another reason for the aforementioned figure’s fame was her opening of the world’s first nursing school in 1860. Situated in London, the institution was aptly named Florence Nightingale School for Nurses. It helped aspiring healthcare workers receive an actual education and learn the important skills required to be a proficient nurse.

Famous Nurses:

While it can be agreed that Nightingale is deserving of her fame, she wasn’t the only notable figure in the field of modern nursing. Here are a few more that you might be less familiar with:

  • Clarissa Harlowe Barton, founder of the American Red Cross.
  • Linda Richards and Agnes Elizabeth Jones, creators of many nursing schools in the United States and Japan.
  • Theodor Fliedner, who popularized nursing in Germany in the 1830s.
  • Mary Breckinridge, founder of Frontier Nursing Service.

Modern Nursing in America:

As you can probably imagine, it was during the first and second World War that demand for nurses skyrocketed and with it, the innovations related to medicine and healthcare. Schooling also proliferated during these times. In fact, by the late 1920s, the United States was home to almost 300,000 trained nurses.

Nursing Today

As technology started playing an ever-larger role in healthcare, the decades after World War II saw the introduction of more and more innovations. Even after the wars ended, the demand for nurses continued as people required treatment for illnesses and injury. The rise of surgical procedures saw an increase in demand for assistants to help surgeons.

Between the 1950s and 1970s, additional nursing courses and degrees were introduced, including Masters and Doctorate nursing programs. It was around this time that the American Journal of Nursing began publishing scientific research to help healthcare professionals stay up-to-date with the latest information related to the field.

At the dawn of the 20th century, we saw the introduction of more roles within the nursing profession, such as those in orthopedics, trauma, pediatrics and neonatal nursing. Today, an astounding 200 different healthcare specialties are available for nurses to pursue training in.

Special Events

To celebrate the tremendous contributions that nurses have made to society, special events such as National Nurses Week are held on an annual basis.

Here’s an in-depth look at nurses week history and all it entails. In the post, you’ll find that its proposition dates back to 1953, and this year, we celebrate Florence Nightingale’s 200th birthday. Each week, you can participate in the event in numerous ways, such as by paying tribute and participating in webinars.

Nursing Education

At the dawn of the 19th century, becoming a nurse was relatively simple. You would attend school, achieve your nursing certification and start working. Today, the requirements are naturally more stringent, such as to ensure that only the best nurses enter the field and that they know how to work with today’s technology to care for patients.

It has been possible to pursue a diploma in nursing for some time now, but more recent degrees include a bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate. You can even pursue special fields such as those related to business. Moreover, nursing degrees can be obtained from home thanks to online universities and courses, making it easier for students to enter.

Modern Nursing Careers

As we touched on earlier, there are a myriad of different specializations to enter as a nurse today. Demand for professionals in the field continues to grow, offering high salaries and excellent job security. There are also many advancement opportunities, giving motivated individuals room to reach higher.

Here are some of the top modern specialty nursing careers that you can pursue today:

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist

A CRNA is responsible for administering and maintaining the sedated state. This includes performing physical assessments, preparing patients and analyzing their wellbeing. They work in operating rooms, surgery centers and private institutions. Typically, a master’s degree with specialization in anesthesia is required to work in this field.

Nurse Practitioner

These are advanced practice nurses who care for patients of all ages, providing physical exams, treating conditions and helping people live a healthier, more prosperous lifestyle. Not only do nurse practitioners work in hospitals, but you can also find them in college campuses and government agencies helping people from all walks of life.

Nurse Researcher

For aspiring healthcare professionals who want to make a difference while practicing their curiosity, nurse researcher is an ideal position. In this line of work, you study human anatomy, illness and medicine to perform analysis, uncover new findings and report them to healthcare services to drive innovation.

Certified Legal Nurse Consultant

To prove the versatility of nursing, you have jobs like the certified legal nurse consultant. In this position, you will utilize your intricate knowledge of the legal system to handle complex lawsuits related to medical matters. CLNCs are employed in hospitals, as well as insurance companies and law firms.

Some other noteworthy modern nursing careers include certified dialysis nurse, clinical nurse specialist, nurse informatics analyst, pediatric oncology nurse, and certified nurse midwife among many others. If you’re looking to become a nurse, rest assured that there will be a specialization that suits your lifestyle.

Hopefully, you now know a little more about the nursing profession. Perhaps it’s time to make a career change?

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