Happy Nurses Day! Let’s be honest, nurses are awesome. They respect their elders enough to give thousands of them sponge baths in hospitals all across the country. Nurses are like the one guy in a construction crew that everyone watches do the “heavy lifting” just in time for doctors to swoop in and take credit for it. If you’re a nurse, then you already know how awesome you are. You probably even know that this isn’t a new thing. For literally hundreds of years nurses have been working hard at saving humanity from itself.
While the term nurse may be new in the last several hundred years, nursing as a concept has been in existence in almost all the cultures and civilizations since forever. Historical references point out to the role played by nurses even several centuries ago. It was around the 15th century that the concept took a professional connotation with it emerging as a full-fledged profession.
While the role of a nurse was recognized as being important, for a good part of its early days, the profession was looked down upon as belonging to the lowest strata of the society. There used to be rumors floating around that it was a profession where people were always drunk and arrogant. It is said that doctors during the time of 17th century wanted to amplify this view since they did not want someone else taking over their role or being considered more important by the patients. Not until the Crimean War and Florence Nightingale’s famous appearance on the scene did people even consider the possibility of hospital conditions having an effect on the mortality rate. It is hard to imagine now the sort of appalling experience she and other famous nurses throughout history must have had.

So in honor of Nurses Day (May 6), we’re sharing a little background on some of the most badass nurses of all time.

1. Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale was a well-educated woman from a reputed family who became a nurse out of choice and began to serve humanity. It was in 1853 that a hospital was set up by Theodore Fliedner where he employed nursing professionals and the hospital got a good name. The popularity of the hospital gave a fillip to the popularity of the profession as well.
Prior to nursing becoming a profession by itself, these kinds of services were usually provided by the military or nuns. Even today the military or religious roots of the profession are clearly evident in several countries. One of the best examples can be found in the United Kingdom or in countries where it ruled. In all these countries, anyone in the nursing profession is always referred as ‘sister’.

Florence Nightingale’s pioneering concepts were used to establish the early guidelines for the nursing profession. Her influence in the Crimean War helped save the lives of thousands of soldiers. According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Nightingale reduced the death rate of wounded soldiers in her hospital from 42% to just 2% during her service in the Crimean War. Over a period of time, there have been changes brought about in the training programs meant for nurses around the world. These days there are several institutions which specialize in offering nursing programs. No longer is nursing seen as a lowly profession. In fact, today a nurse is accorded high importance in any hospital and by all patients. The profession has been responsible for the reputation of many a world famous hospital and its importance is growing by the day.

Over a period of time, there have been changes brought about in the training programs meant for nurses around the world. These days there are several institutions which specialize in offering nursing programs. No longer is nursing seen as a lowly profession. In fact, today a nurse is accorded high importance in any hospital and by all patients. The profession has been responsible for the reputation of many a world famous hospital and its importance is growing by the day.

2. Clara Barton

Clara Barton founded the American Red Cross. When Clara Barton was a little girl she dreamed of being a nurse. She wanted to help the sick and the wounded, homeless and hungry, no matter what side they might be on in a war. The American Red Cross has carried on her work ever since. Clara Barton was born in Oxford, Massachusetts in 1821.

When she was 15 years old she became a schoolteacher, and when the Civil War began in I860 she became a nurse. Soon after that, she started an organization that sent needed things to soldiers in camps and hospitals. President Lincoln asked her to attend to the letters written by relatives of soldiers missing in action. Many of these soldiers had been killed, but their bodies had not been identified. By the time Clara Barton had finished her job she had been able to identify almost all of 13,000 graves at a National Cemetery in Georgia.

After the Civil War, Clara Barton went to Geneva, Switzerland, where she learned about the International Red Cross. During the war between France and Germany in 1871-2, she helped provide refugees with food, clothing, and shelter. In 1873 Clara Barton came back to America. Her hope was to start an American Red Cross.

Many of these soldiers had been killed, but their bodies had not been identified. By the time Clara Barton had finished her job she had been able to identify almost all of 13,000 graves at a National Cemetery in Georgia. After the Civil War, Clara Barton went to Geneva, Switzerland, where she learned about the International Red Cross. During the war between France and Germany in 1871-2, she helped provide refugees with food, clothing, and shelter.

In 1873 Clara Barton came back to America. Her hope was to start an American Red Cross.It took her eight years to do it. People were not very charitable in those days. But Clara Barton finally convinced America that it is as important to help people who suffer in peacetime as it is to help them in wartime. She served as president of the American Red Cross until 1904 and died in 1912. Because of her work, we know that whenever there is a war, flood, hurricane, earthquake, or other disasters, the Red Cross will be there to help.

3. Mary Elizabeth Carnegie

 

In 1949 Mary Elizabeth Carnegie was the first black person elected to the Florida Nurse Association with full rights. In 1954 the University of Pittsburgh offered one of the first PhD programs in Nursing. 1956 saw the Columbia University School of Nursing grant the first master’s degree in clinical nursing specialty. Then in 1965, the first nurse practitioner role was established by a nurse educator and a physician at the University of Colorado. In 1971, the hospice movement started under Florence Wald when she opened Hospice, Inc. By 1980, the master’s degree in nursing became the requirement for advanced practice nurse certification. Those nurse practitioners prior to 1980 were grandfathered in and didn’t lose their certification. In 1992 Eddie Bernice Johnson was the first nurse elected to the US Congress.

Honorable Mention:

  • Eddie Bernice Johnson
  • Mary Seacole
  • Dorothea Dix
  • Mary Eliza Mahoney

These nurses and many others have led the way for crucial improvements to the field of nursing. It’s no coincidence that these nurses were smart and well educated. The nurse profession requires a lot more than just a good education. A successful nurse also has to be kind and loving, loyal and hard-working, and much like these badass nurses courageous. Today, we honor the thousands of hard-working nurses across the country for everything they do.