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A History of Health Care and Nursing
There was a time that nursing duties fell to nuns and during wars to the military. Before the end of the 19th century, most nurses did not have any formal training, and many lacked any education. Nurses were typically women who provided the sick, injured, and wounded with comfort, but not necessarily good or medical care. Seeing how everything has been changed and evolves in the healthcare system, I believe that Florence Nightingale, Lillian Wald, and Mary Breckinridge would have no regrets for the sacrifices made in the 19th century.
Before Nightingale, nurses learned from experience with no formal training. Nightingale raised the standard of nursing by incorporating education and responsibilities, paving the path for a respected and appreciated profession (OAAPN, 2015). Not only did she improve the standard of the nursing profession, but she also enhanced the hospitals in which they worked. While working in a filthy facility during the Crimean War, Nightingale made recommendations for sanitary improvements and established standards for clean and safe hospitals. These small changes decreased the death rate for soldiers being treated in hospitals (OAAPN, 2015). However, Nightingale would undoubtedly be shocked by the scale of global health inequalities today, the nursing shortage, the threat of AMR, the resurgence of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, and the emergence of new threats such as HIV, Ebola, cholera, to our health security. Moreover, she would call on all nurses to take leadership of hygiene and antibiotic stewardship.
Mary Breckinridge dedicated her life to rural public health care. However, it was not until after she suffered a series of personal tragedies, including the deaths of her two young children, that she heard the call to nursing (Maria. T., 2017). Breckenridge gained notoriety for her efforts in Appalachia, improving the maternal mortality rate significantly, one of the highest in the country. The Rural Healthcare Pioneer would be amazed to see how her legacy continues today as someone who cared deeply about improving infant and maternal healthcare and wanted to improve child welfare in impoverished areas in the U.S.
Nurse Lillian Wald taught at-home nursing and good hygiene to immigrant women on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the 1890s. After witnessing first-hand, the unsanitary conditions and lack of adequate medical care in the tenement neighborhood, Wald was moved to found the Visiting Nurse Service (Maria. T., 2017). As a public health pioneer, Wald was instrumental in getting nurses placed in American public schools and helped establish the National Organization of Public Health Nursing, the National Women’s Trade Union League to advocate for working women, and the Children’s Bureau to help end child labor. Her goal was to ensure that women and children, immigrants and the poor, and members of all ethnic and religious groups would realize America’s promise of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Lillian Walt would be satisfied to see how her work in the past pays off by how our nurses and doctors are working to keep their patients alive.
The technology used in the 19th century may be different from the one used nowadays, but the goal for all healthcare workers remains the same: safety for all patients. I believe that these pioneers would be amazed, satisfied, and pound to see every healthcare worker trying their best to keep up the hard work they started in the past. Parallelly, they may be disappointed at some points, which I consider normal since no one is perfect.
Rafferty, A. M. (2020, May 11). Is Florence Nightingale still relevant today? Feature from King’s College London. Retrieved January 4, 2022, from https://www.kcl.ac.uk/is-florence-nightingale-still-relevant-today.
Copy Maria Trimarchi “10 Most Famous Nurses in History” 16 April 2012. HowStuffWorks.com.
OAAPN (2015, May 12). Florence Nightingale’s Influence on Nursing. Retrieve from https://oaapn.org/2015/05/florence-nightingales-influence-on-nursing/