Nursing as a profession has a history spanning centuries. Over hundreds of years, nursing has become a part of our ever-evolving health care systems worldwide as is a vital role for patients, their families, and entire communities.
While there have always been doctors and medicine, nursing as a profession has a much shorter history – and is one that has evolved hugely before becoming the role it plays today. In this guide, we look at the history of the nursing profession and some key individuals who had particular success in this field.
When did nursing begin?
Before nursing became a paid role, patients were often looked after by family and friends – or tribe members and clansmen. During the early years of Christianity however, health care, in general, began being much more of an organised system. The church would often assign women who had an education to be deaconesses. These women would take care of people who were ill in their community. For a long time, religion and medical care went hand in hand. The first hospitals were created by monks, nuns, and other religious communities during the Middle Ages.
Nursing in the 18th century
During the 18th century, nursing was not considered to be a profession at all, let alone a respectable one. Any woman who worked as a nurse was often from a working-class background and was poorly disciplined and ill-trained. Nuns who worked as nurses were often more respected due to their background, however.
Historical events in nursing – Florence Nightingale
Florence Nightingale is famed for being a pioneer of nursing and for influencing the healthcare system to turn nursing into a profession.
Despite having wealthy origins, Florence Nightingale eschewed the life of leisure expected of typical upper-class women in Victorian times. Instead, Nightingale became devoted to nursing the sick even though this wasn’t considered to be a real job for people of her social standing at the time.
Nightingale and the Crimean War
Following the start of the Crimean War in 1854, Florence Nightingale travelled with a group of fellow nurses to Crimea. There, she was responsible for revolutionising the health care provided to the army. As well as nursing the injured and sick British soldiers, Nightingale and her group of nurses used their scientific knowledge and dedicate time to cleaning, sanitising, and ventilating the hospital wards and barracks. It was realised, thereafter, that this had a positive effect on the numbers of people being affected by infectious diseases and there were fewer deaths too.
When Florence Nightingale returned to England, she was deemed a heroine and a trust fund called the Nightingale Fund began as a result. Nightingale used this money to start a ground-breaking nursing school in London at St. Thomas’ Hospital. Unlike previous nursing education, this offered real-life experiences alongside theory classes. Thus, modern, evidence-based nursing was born.
In the UK there are various nursing specialities that nursing students can choose. Included in these are emergency nursing, mental health and psychiatric nursing, assisted living nursing, cardiovascular nursing, neonatal and obstetric nursing, and many others. Any aspiring nurse should why the history of nursing is important to current practice.
Aspiring nurses have lots of professional organisations they can join for support. There is a wealth of educational materials and online training available, including support with university courses. Student nurses can even get help with nursing papers through a qualified nursing essay writing service in the UK to help with those tricky assignments, or on other subjects like mathematics, formulas, and integrals.
Interesting facts about changes to nursing in the 1900s
Nursing continued to develop as a profession throughout the 20th century. There were lots of advancements in knowledge and medical research, which meant that nurses began to play a vital role in treating illnesses. After the discovery of bacteria and germs causing infectious diseases, nurses were taught essential practices to prevent diseases from spreading.
In industrialised nations, professional nursing registers and associations were becoming more established. As well as this, nurses pushed for nursing care to improve, and big improvements were made with the emphasis being put on primary nursing and the introduction of hospital critical care wards.
The NHS and its role in changing nursing
The 20th century is considered to be one big nursing timeline of historical events. Before the formation of the NHS, nurses were very much responsible for meeting the demands put upon them by doctors. Doctors were seen as being professional and authoritative while a nurse was perceived as almost unskilled and subservient.
After the NHS began in 1948, nurses were managed by ward sisters and matrons. Nursing started to be seen as a job worthy of respect. However, it was still not considered to be a high-status role, which meant there were hardly any male nurses.
During the latter half of this century, there were significant changes to nursing as a profession and hospitals became the biggest nurse employers. As a result, hospital-based training started to wane, and gradually, nursing became a profession with requirements to attend nursing programs at community colleges or universities.
Why is the history of nursing important to current practice?
As evidenced in this article, we’ve seen just how quickly nursing can evolve as a profession. So, what can trainee nurses expect from their careers? As the nursing profession strives to have nurses with bachelor, master’s, and even doctorate degrees, the role of nursing is constantly gaining credibility and respect. Now, learning through education is.
With the development of new cures and technologies, nursing education and practice will continue to adapt just as it has done over the centuries. Understanding just how quickly nursing has evolved will make aspiring nurses be better prepared for an ever-evolving role in the nursing profession.