The health sector has undergone a series of transitions. While change is inevitable, stakeholders often need to adapt or, even better, participate in making a difference through innovations. At the center of this change are nurses who actively act as implementers of new technologies primarily because they are the principal caregivers in the healthcare space.
A global community of nurses is doing their best daily to complete their duties, with many going out of their way to deliver quality care. With this comes advancing knowledge and stretching into other vital areas, such as telemedicine, electronic health recording and artificial intelligence. This article highlights a few notable names in the nursing profession.
Florence Nightingale is often the name that pops up first whenever someone asks for the most influential nurse. She goes down in the history books for championing human rights. She began her nursing career in her 20s despite strong objections from her mother, who felt she should settle for the role of a classy housewife.
She hailed from a relatively affluent English family, which meant she could settle for a less demanding job or, better yet, get married to a rich man. However, Florence persisted and started pursuing medical training at a Lutheran religious community during her travels in Germany. During this time, she was able to work with the sick and laid down a robust foundation for her future in nursing.
Nightingale marked her first footprint in nursing when she and a group of 38 volunteer nurses went to a military hospital in Scutari during the Crimean War. She was moved by the terrible sanitary conditions, which led more British soldiers to succumb to cholera, typhus and dysentery than their wounds. These conditions motivated Nightingale to establish a radical hygiene and sanitation program. She also pushed for holistic nursing, which centered on promoting evidence-based care for the most vulnerable members of society. Throughout her career, Florence Nightingale implemented statistics and histograms, which inspired overall improvements in the health sector.
Florence Nightingale’s humanitarian efforts and contribution to the military led to the recognition of nurses in the military, which resulted in the creation of the Army Nurse Corps. Additionally, nurses became more than military assistants and were promoted to military ranks.
Clarissa Harlowe Barton, simply referred to as Clara, is a significant figure in American medical history. She risked her life repeatedly to support soldiers during the Civil War by bringing them supplies.
Barton’s gift as a caregiver began very early in her life after two years of caring for her brother David who fell from a barn roof. She responded to the nursing call later during the Civil War. Driven by her compassion, she offered to tend to wounded soldiers and lobbied for support from the public for more nurses to work on the battlefields. Eventually, Barton was promoted to lead army hospitals. The role earned her the honorary title: “Florence Nightingale of America”.
During the war, Clara Barton did a lot of humanitarian work, which included travelling in ambulances to distribute supplies, comforting the soldiers and cooking for them. She also helped families locate their loved ones lost at war.
Barton’s efforts to improve the world went on long after the war. During a visit to Geneva, Switzerland, she developed an interest in the Red Cross, which earned her a spot as one of the Founders of the American Red Cross. She is also remembered for fighting for women’s rights by demanding equal pay and suffrage.
George Dunn is the first state registered nurse from Liverpool in history. The nursing career has always been under intense scrutiny. The first challenge was establishing a register for nursing care. The first register was reserved for women, with a supplementary register for men. There grew a demand for male nurses to care for male patients, which led to the creation of the first male register in 1922.
By the time a register for male nurses was in effect, there were nearly 10,000 female nurses.
While most celebrated nurses worldwide are female, it is worth recognizing the first male nurse in the world. George Dunn was the first male state registered nurse (SRN) of the list of 15 men who together trained in the Royal Army Medical Corps.
Virginia Avenel Henderson
Virginia Henderson, popularly known as the “First Lady of Nursing”, was a nursing theorist and an educationist. Virginia attended a community Army School of Nursing and progressively advanced her knowledge in nursing. She eventually earned a Master’s degree in 1934.
During her career, Henderson worked as an instructor and was employed in senior administrative roles.
Her core principle was to assist patients in gaining their independence as quickly as possible or to help them transition into death peacefully. She also significantly revised a nursing text and created theories that guide nursing schools throughout America. Her research has shaped modern nursing practices and earned her an induction into the American Nurses Association Hall of Fame. Her texts have impacted the nursing curriculum for nurses and non-nurses. Today, it is easier for people to transition into a nursing career without going back to school full-time thanks to unique programs such as Elmhurst University’s MSN for non-nurses, which provides non-nurses with the skills to quickly transition to a career in nursing. Henderson was also recognized by the International Council of Nurses and awarded the Christiane Reimann Prize.
Dorothea Lynde Dix was the brainchild of the first mental asylum. The civil war activist passionately advocated for proper care for mentally impaired persons. Although she was not professionally trained as a nurse, she spotted a colossal dysfunction in the system, and brought it up with legislative houses, including the United States Congress. She presented her position in courtrooms.
Dorothea’s advocacy began after witnessing the mentally ill’s wretched living conditions at the East Cambridge Jail during her visits as an educator. Such scenarios empowered her with extensive evidence of the dismal conditions and helped her win support and many court battles for the poor.
Her efforts to advocate for the wellbeing of the mentally ill hit a wall when the then-President Franklin Pierce threw out her proposal for a five-acre facility for the mentally challenged. Nevertheless, she continued to champion reform ideas and researched mental health treatments. Dix fought to her last breath to create awareness of the inhumane treatment of the mentally ill. Her push for legislative reforms led to the creation of several mental institutions across Europe and beyond.
Mabel Keaton Staupers
For a long time, racial prejudice has created significant obstacles in various sectors, including the nursing profession. Mabel Staupers, like many other black nurses before and after, had to fight racism to earn a place in nursing. She is a crucial part of the advocacy for integrating black nurses. Amid World War II and the period of the Great Depression, she led the battle against racial prejudice and access to equitable treatment for her community.
Staupers worked her way up to attain noteworthy accolades, such as graduating with honors from Freemen’s School of Nursing. She served as the executive secretary for the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses, where she laid solid groundwork for black nurses through community coalitions. Mabel Keaton Staupers successfully ended segregation in the Armed Forces Nurse Corps and earned an induction to the ANA Hall of Fame.
Elizabeth Grace Neill
Elizabeth Grace Neill founded the System of Nursing Registration. The nurse and social reformer was born to a wealthy Scottish family and had the privilege of studying nursing at the St. John’s House Sisterhood in London. She took a long break from healthcare but realigned with her purpose in New Zealand’s Department of Health.
Elizabeth Grace Neill became a New Zealand nurse and engaged in activism, pushing for nursing reforms. She was instrumental in drafting a bill to regulate nursing care in New Zealand. The bill led to the signing of the Nurses’ Registration Act into law, followed by the Midwives Registration Act. Neill became the first lady inspector of hospitals and deputy inspector for mental health institutions.
Through her contribution to the New Zealand parliament, Neill also founded the uniform training and national examinations systems, which have been adapted widely globally.
Self-educated poet, essayist, journalist, teacher and later a nurse, Walt Whitman was a man that could wear different hats to suit the circumstance. It was during the Civil War that Witman transitioned into healthcare. He began as a journalist seeking to give wounded patients a voice through his work.
Within no time, Whitman became genuinely concerned, especially since his brothers were enlisted in the Union Army. He took advantage of his position to visit his military friends and informally offer caregiving services to them. As the war progressed, the demand for medical professionals grew, and Whitman gladly helped physicians and patients, even during surgery.
At some point, Whitman came across an article about a wounded soldier who turned out to be his brother, George Whitman. He set out to look for his brother and, along the way, encountered more wounded soldiers that needed assistance. He naturally assumed the nurse role and eventually went into active duty, tending to soldiers on the Virginia and Washington battlefronts. Whitman’s contribution to the nursing career transcended into an immortalization of his experiences via a poem: “The Wound Dresser”.
The COVID-19 pandemic exposed medical practitioners, especially nurses, to hazardous working conditions. It is worth acknowledging the first ER nurse to come face to face with the novel virus, Amy O’Sullivan. The 18-year-old dutifully cared for the first patient to die from coronavirus without understanding the nature of the illness or resources.
Without adequate protection, she cared for the patient and risked her life. Eventually, she contracted the virus and battled the symptoms, which left her breathing on a ventilator for several days. After receiving proper care, O’Sullivan recovered, spent some time at home and returned to join the fight in one of the United States hotspots.
Amy was the first of many nurses who risked their lives daily in service. Her story is similar to that of thousands who dedicate their time and lives to keep hospitals running. The recognition of Amy O’Sullivan brought attention to the compassion of nurses and other persons operating in the medical ecosystem, inspiring empathy for their role. It also significantly impacted the support offered to nurses and the medical fraternity, shining a new light on them as modern-day heroes and heroines.
Bonnie Castillo is another modern-day name receiving praise for her profound efforts in patient advocacy. She is the executive director of the California Nurses Association and National Nurses United and has received various prestigious honors, including a New York Times profile for fighting for nurses’ protection.
Castillo used her position to draw attention to nurses’ needs, especially during the coronavirus pandemic. She showed the world the risk of working on the frontlines through labor movements and unions. She lobbied for adequate personal protective equipment, making a massive impact in creating safer working conditions for the frontliners.
Bonnie Castillo also fought vehemently against mass layoffs and pay cuts for medical staff. Her efforts led to a quick response from the government and healthcare organizations and highly motivated the prioritization of emergency and ICU departments. Through her work, Castillo has proven that she is a visionary leader and intends to care for patients and heal society as a whole. Castillo continues to use her influence to fight for changes in the nursing profession and the entire medical field.
A nurse’s job goes beyond cleaning and dressing wounds; to most, it is a calling driven by compassion and empathy toward human suffering. The people noted in this article did their job extraordinarily, left indelible marks and laid a solid foundation for others in the best way they knew how.
While some of these nurses were formally trained and others inspired by circumstance, they all shared a genuine concern for better treatment. They contributed immensely to revolutionizing the nursing profession and innovating systems that sought to improve the quality of service and medical environment for various medical fraternities and their patients.