A profession resting soundly on a foundation of humanity and compassion, nursing has existed for thousands of years. Historians believe the earliest nursing school may have been founded in ancient India around 250 B.C. This school, however, only admitted male students, effectively barring women from the practice. A few centuries later in 300 A.D., Roman nurses found employment in early forms of hospitals, surprisingly complex establishments that helped shape the world’s vision of the occupation.
While the profession of nursing saw many advancements and improvements during the Middle Ages, the development of modern nursing largely occurred within the last two centuries. British nurse Florence Nightingale is often credited with spearheading the formation of this new breed of nurses. Nightingale earned her claim to fame when she led a group of female nurses to aid British forces engaged in the Crimean War. Following the conclusion of her service, Nightingale channeled her thoroughly tempered skills to found nursing schools in hospitals across Great Britain.
The Civil War profoundly shaped the face of American nursing. In 1862, during the middle of the conflict, the New England Hospital for Women and Children in Boston, Massachusetts, became the first American nursing school to open its doors to female prospective nurses. However, the Civil War also inspired a surge of informally trained nurses. Both men and women flooded to bloodstained battlefields to bring hope and comfort to wounded soldiers. First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln served as a volunteer nurse for injured troops as did famous poet Walt Whitman. Former schoolteacher Clara Barton is arguably the most famous nurse of the Civil War although her admitted field of expertise centered around the collection and distribution of vital supplies and the location of missing soldiers following the surrender of the rebellious states.
In the late 1800s, more nursing schools were founded on American soil, forging what was formerly a ragtag spread of loosely trained nurses into an effective force of experts in practical healthcare. Both World Wars further intensified the demand for professional nurses. Nurses began to serve as official military personnel to care instead of humanitarian volunteers. Additionally, more nurses became a more critical element in clinics and hospitals while others found their niche practicing as nurse-midwives in the ranks of America’s poorer working classes.
Today’s nurses continue this rich tradition of excellence. A field comprised of over three million people of all races, ethnicities, and backgrounds, nursing is constantly ranked as one of the best careers to pursue. A recent Gallup Survey indicated that the nurse is the most trusted professional in America, to boot. While nursing offers a plethora of financial and emotional rewards, this occupation harbors challenges daunting enough to intimidate even the strongest of hearts. Besides serving as a constant witness to pain and suffering, a nurse’s duties are physically unforgiving as the average nurse walks five miles per shift. The need for nurses proves perpetual, making it ever more imperative that new heroes rise up to meet the challenges of a world crying out for compassion.