The History of Nursing

Discuss the changes that have occurred in nursing over the last two centuries

Nursing through the years has improved dramatically due to factors such as the way women were perceived and social reforming.  With the advancement of medical knowledge the nursing profession has grown from strength to strength with society understanding the need to train, educate and establish sanitary standards.  All of which we can be grateful to many pioneers throughout the years such as Florence Nightingale and Ethel Bedford-Fenwick.

In earlier centuries nursing care was usually provided by volunteers who were untrained or those who possessed little training.  During the reign of Henry VIII, nurses were seen to be the ‘dregs’ of society and nursing was considered an unsuitable occupation for ‘proper’ women, this was undoubtedly due to the fact that hospitals in those days were dirty pest houses were patients usually died and the people who were ill were seen to have brought it about upon themselves.  Although prior to this, nuns and monks nursed the sick in monasteries until their king abolished all of the caring institutions.

(Encarta Encyclopedia,  accessed 09 October 2004)

Modern nursing improved throughout the nineteenth century, one major development being brought about by pioneer Florence Nightingale who during the Victorian era changed the way that society viewed nurses and gave them the respect and high stature that was deserved.

Nightingales impacts began when she volunteered her services during the Crimean War addressing the needs of wounded soldiers.  It was during her time her that she revealed the appalling hygiene conditions in which the soldiers were living and she noticed that death rates were not down to injuries and infections but due to bad sanitary practice.

Being a keen statistician and researcher she analysed and documented the data that she discovered producing the ‘polar-area diagram’, this is a statistical model which helps compare data, this showed that nursing care decreased the mortality of soldiers, and with the help of her contact John Delane, the editor of The Times, she published her findings.

Nightingale proposed reformation and was encountered by military officers and doctors objecting, although after she withdrew her services it was recognised that the abominable conditions that she had improved whilst there by cleaning the kitchens, wards and patients, suddenly returned and subsequently she was begged to return and help.

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(Anglin, L.T. 2000)

It was found that due to the sanitary reforming during the Crimean War, mortality rates dropped from 40% down to 2% with thanks going to Nightingale.  On her return to Britain she decided to campaign to improve the quality of nursing and in 1856 Nightingale had a long interview with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, consequently leading to her giving evidence at the 1857 Sanitary Commission.

To get her opinions on reform heard, Nightingale went on to publish two books with the support from her wealthy friends, from this she raised £59,000 and ...

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