Nurses are some of the most fundamental healthcare professionals, yet they can often be overlooked. LifeBrite Early wants to take a moment to appreciate our fantastic nurses by revisiting the profession’s long and detailed history.
The nursing field has roots dating back to at least 300 AD — as far as currently-available documentation tells us. Even then, nurses provided essential patient care, and helped innovate the field. Nursing made a particularly notable impact on Europe during the Middle Ages, when there was a significant demand for medical attendants from the Catholic Church, as caring for patients fell largely to monks and nuns.
From the 500s to early 600s, the first Spanish hospital was built in Merida, where the nurses in service were instructed to tend to all patients, regardless of their national or religious affiliation. This empathetic model continued to expand across Germany, France, and other countries through the tenth and eleventh centuries, opening the door for the all-encompassing care nurses give today.
Much of modern nursing is attributed to Florence Nightingale, who tended to injured soldiers during the Crimean War of the 1850s (more below). Her efforts toward better hygienic practices significantly reduced death rates and influenced a huge increase in nursing popularity.
Demand for fully trained, educated nurses increased during World Wars I and II in the 20th century. Modern nursing largely stems from the technological advancements made in the medical field during this time. Since the turn of the 20th century, nursing has branched out to specific medical fields like oncology, critical care, and pediatrics.
According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, “With more than three times as many RNs in the United States as physicians, nursing delivers an extended array of healthcare services, including primary and preventive care by nurse practitioners with specialized education in such areas as pediatrics, family health, women’s health, and gerontological care.” Education and expansion has also advanced significantly, with many nurses performing primary care tasks independently (i.e. prescribing medications), and directing the complexities of entire nursing care systems.
Prominent Figures in Nursing History
Florence Nightingale (1820-1910)
Arguably the most famous nurse in history, Florence Nightingale is credited for initiating the concept of modern nursing. Nightingale witnessed a shocking lack of hygienic practices on the battlefield during the Crimean War, and her careful attention concluded that more soldiers perished from unsanitary healthcare practices than from their wounds.
She proceeded to advocate for immense healthcare reform, much of which has been continued and expanded upon today. Although Nightingale is modernly criticized for biases that contributed to harmful practices against indigenous people, our modern sanitary practices are often credited to her original research.
Mary Eliza Mahoney (1845–1926)
Mary Eliza Mahoney was not the first Black woman to perform nursing duties, but she was the first to earn a professional nursing license in the U.S.. She grew up with free parents who were formerly enslaved, gaining nursing experience throughout her entire life.
Mahoney enrolled in the nursing program at the New England Hospital for Women and Children at the age of 33, and graduated 16 months later. A passionate advocate for increased access to nursing education and anti-discriminatory policies, she supported the founding of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN) in 1908.
Hazel Johnson-Brown (1927-2011)
Seven years after former president Harry S. Truman integrated the United States Armed Forces, Hazel Johnson-Brown enlisted in the military in 1955. She had been previously denied access to her local nursing school in West Chester, Pennsylvania due to racial discrimination. Instead, she enrolled in a nursing school in New York while enlisted in the Army.
Johnson-Brown became the director of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Nursing. She was twice named Army nurse of the year, and nominated as the 16th chief of the Army Nurse Corps in 1979. She was later promoted to brigadier general: the first Black woman to earn the honor. Following retirement, Johnson-Brown served as a nursing professor at George Mason University and Georgetown University.
Learn More About LifeBrite:
Atlanta-based LifeBrite, led by CEO Christian Fletcher, operates LifeBrite Community Hospital of Early, LifeBrite Community Hospital of Stokes, and Lifebrite Laboratories. For more about our specific services and facilities, visit our website or call 229-723-4241.