15 Startling Statistics About the History of Nursing

If you think about nursing, you might think about Florence Nightingale, but Florence (who was named after the Italian city of her birth) is just one small piece of history within a complex profession. You might not know, for instance, how many women served as nurses in the Civil War, or that women weren’t able to serve as nurses aboard military ships until 1978. The following 15 statistics about the history of nursing reveal the complexity involved in this age-old profession — one that once began with motherhood and that evolved into a nursing shortage today that could affect the health of millions.

Nurses in caps

  1. 1895 Nursing Abundance: An article entitled, “Ambulance Work and Nursing,” published in 1985, stated that there was a nursing abundance at that time: “It was the popular fad of the day, and women all over the country became ‘nursing mad.’ They abandoned their household duties and eagerly sought for admittance into the various training establishments. They donned more or less appropriate costumes, and astonished their stay-at-home sisters by the facility with which they employed abstruse medical terms, and by their gruesome stories of the horrors of the operating room and wards.”
  2. Civil War Nurses: Approximately two thousand women, North and South, served as volunteer nurses in military hospitals during the American Civil War. Seeking convention and direct involvement in the national struggle rather than the domestic support roles to which social minimum career opportunity had traditionally confined the majority of their sex, they experienced at first hand the grim constants of war — amputated limbs, mutilated bodies, disease and death — and provided invaluable aid to the sick and wounded soldiers and medical authorities on either side.
  3. Criminal Nurses: In 2003, House Bill (HB) 2208 mandated criminal background checks (CBCs) on all applicants for initial licensure. A study conducted in Texas between 2002 and 2006 showed that a total of 1,508 nurses were disciplined by the Texas Board of Nursing for criminal histories. Three hundred and thirty nurses were sanctioned due to a criminal history prior to the mandated CBCs; and 1,182 nurses were sanctioned due to a criminal history after the mandated CBCs.
  4. Geneva Convention: The United States had not been a party to the Geneva Convention of 1864, which made the International Red Cross possible. Clara Barton saw the need for the Red Cross in America and plunged into the task of creating it. She carried out this enterprise practically single handed, educating the public through brochures and speeches and paying calls to cabinet heads and Congressmen.
  5. Magnet Nursing: Hospitals with a record of providing the highest quality of nursing care and advancement are awarded with Magnet Recognition status. It is considered the highest honor in nursing and 15 of the top 21 hospitals in the United States are Magnet hospitals, according to the American Nursing Credentialing Center (ANCC).
  6. Male Nurses: Most folks know that Walt Whitman, poet and writer, served as a volunteer hospital nurse in Washington, DC during the Civil War. But, few people know about James Derham, an African American man who worked as a nurse in New Orleans in 1783. He was able to save enough money to but his freedom from slavery. He went on to become the first African American physician in the United States.
  7. Nurses in 1915

  8. Musical Nurses: Old sheet music is a great collectible and many nurses collect sheet music with songs about nurses or that portray images of nurses on the covers. Both the lyrics and illustrations can be subjects of content analysis for historical research or they can simply be enjoyed as a unique artifact.
  9. Navy Nurses: The Department of the Navy announced in October 1978 that it would begin assigning women to duty aboard ships. The action was in accord with Navy-sponsored changes to legislation governing the assignment of women contained in the Fiscal Year 1979 Defense Authorization Bill. The action also was in accordance with an applicable judicial decision.
  10. Nurse Informatics: Nurses were proficient in utilizing and adapting complex technology into caring nursing practice for decades, at least since the time of Florence Nightingale in the United Kingdom and even earlier, when Jeanne Mance (1606-1673) founded the first hospital in Montreal, Canada, in 1642. Various forms of machinery such as ventilators and physiological monitors were first used in intensive and critical care settings, and are now currently used in adapted form in less acute areas, even in home care.
  11. Nurse Uniforms: Until the Army and Navy Nurse’s Act in 1847 established the Nurse Corps as a permanent staff corps, nurses were recruited for the Military Medical Department by the American Red Cross. Upon graduation, all nurses were expected to join the American Red Cross Nursing Service and thus enter the reserves for the Army and Navy Corps.
  12. Nurse’s Cap: The nurse’s cap was derived from the nun’s habit and developed over time into two types: A long cap, that covers much of the nurse’s hair, and A short cap, that sits atop the nurse’s hair (common in the United Kingdom). While nurse caps all but disappeared in the U.S., nurses’ caps can still be found in many developing nations, as well as some countries where women still make up the overwhelming majority of nurses.
  13. Nurses in Vietnam: Nurses often shared the same psychological problems as soldiers following this war. “But for those of us who went to Vietnam there was no end, only departure. In middle age we now have other friends, loving relatives, meaningful work. But behind the facade we share the same demons and angels and when we are together we are code talkers who share an emotional shorthand.”
  14. Nurses in Africa during World War II

  15. Nurses with Tuberculosis: In 1910, Catawba Sanatorium, located outside Roanoke, established a two year program to train tuberculosis nurses. In 1911, Catawba Cottage at Catawba Sanatorium was established for the care of nurses with tuberculosis. The Graduate Nurses Association of Virginia (GNAV) raised $5,000 to build the cottage.
  16. Nursing Origins: Many people believe that Nursing started with Florence Nightingale, however nursing itself dates back to the beginnings of motherhood when nurses were traditionally female. In fact, nursing schools and medicine have been closely intertwined throughout the ages. The history of nursing has its origins in the care of infants and children, so all mothers were in fact nurses. Gradually an evolution started developing into dedicated caregivers who practiced the art. In fact, nursing has been called the oldest of arts and the youngest of professions.
  17. Nursing Shortage Stats: According to the American Public Health Association’s educational campaign, which addresses shortage of nurses, history has shown that the growth of the nursing supply has not kept pace with the evolving needs of the healthcare industry. Demand for nurses will grow by 40 percent between 2002 and 2020, while the supply will increase by only 6 percent over that same period. Factors that drive the growth in demand for nurses include an 18 percent growth in the population, a larger number of the elderly, and medical advancements. Alternative job opportunities have contributed to the slow growth of people entering the nursing profession as well.
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