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Nurses—Why Do We Need Them?

Nurses—Why Do We Need Them?

 Nurses—Why Do We Need Them?

“Nursing is one of the most difficult of arts. Compassion may provide the motive, but knowledge is our only working power.”—Mary Adelaide Nutting, 1925, world’s first professor of nursing.

IN ITS simplest form, nursing goes back thousands of years—even to Bible times. (1 Kings 1:2-4) Throughout history, many outstanding women have nursed the sick. For example, consider Elizabeth of Hungary (1207-31), daughter of King Andrew II. She organized food distribution during a famine in 1226. Thereafter, she arranged for hospitals to be built, and there she cared for lepers. Elizabeth died at a mere 24 years of age, having spent most of her short life caring for the sick.

It is impossible to speak of the history of nursing and not mention Florence Nightingale. With a group of 38 nurses, this intrepid English lady reorganized the military hospital at Scutari, a suburb of Constantinople, during the Crimean War of 1853-56. When she arrived there, the mortality rate was nearly 60 percent; when she left in 1856, it was less than 2 percent.—See box on page 6.

Another strong influence on nursing was the Institution of Protestant Deaconesses at Kaiserswerth, Germany, which Nightingale had attended before going to the Crimea. In time, other outstanding nursing groups developed. For example, in 1903, Agnes Karll founded the Professional Organization for German Nurses.

Today, nurses make up what is considered to be the largest professional group in our health-care system. The World Health Organization reports that currently there are well over 9,000,000 nurses and midwives serving in 141 countries. And what a  vital work they perform! The Atlantic Monthly notes that nurses “weave a tapestry of care, knowledge, and trust that is critical to patients’ survival.” Thus, we can rightly ask regarding nurses, What would we do without them?

The Nurse’s Role in Recovery

One encyclopedia defines nursing as “the process by which a patient is helped by a nurse to recover from an illness or injury, or to regain as much independence as possible.”

Of course, much is involved in that process. It is more than just the performance of routine tests, such as checking the pulse and the blood pressure. The nurse plays an integral role in the patient’s recovery. According to The American Medical Association Encyclopedia of Medicine, “the nurse is more concerned with the patient’s overall reaction to the disorder than with the disorder itself, and is devoted to the control of physical pain, the relief of mental suffering, and, when possible, the avoidance of complications.” In addition, the nurse offers “understanding care, which involves listening with patience to anxieties and fears, and providing emotional support and comfort.” And when a patient is dying, this source notes, the nurse’s role is “to help the patient meet death with as little distress and as much dignity as possible.”

Many nurses go above and beyond the call of duty. For example, Ellen D. Baer wrote about her experience at the Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. She did not want to rush through her morning work with the surgery team. “I wanted to stay with the patients,” she writes. “I wanted to work with them on their breathing, help them ambulate, do a good dressing change, answer their questions, explain things to them, and offer some personal comfort. I liked the intimacy of connecting with and relating to patients.”

No doubt anyone who has spent time as a patient in a hospital can recall a sympathetic nurse who had that same spirit of self-sacrifice. But what does it take to become a proficient nurse?

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Florence Nightingale

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Courtesy National Library of Medicine