Many nurses throughout history contributed to the profession by establishing precedence in healthcare where they found a need.
These nurses had an immense influence on the patients in their care. They also laid the foundations to improve the profession by fighting for greater efficiency.
Dorothea Dix (1802-1887)
Dix gained notoriety as the fearless nurse who fought for better care of the mentally ill. Her mission began when she spent Sundays providing classes to female inmates at the East Cambridge Jail.
Dix immediately noticed the conditions endured by the mentally disabled. She brought the problems she encountered to the court system, and won battles to improved the conditions in almshouses and jails.
She continued to strive to help the mentally handicapped and took her fight to Europe. In 1881, she established the Trenton State Hospital in New Jersey, where she worked until her death in 1887.
Florence Nightingale (1820-1920)
Considered the founder of modern nursing, Nightingale began her training in Alexandria, Egypt in 1849. When the Crimean War began in 1854, she used her knowledge and skills to treat the wounded.
Nightingale tended to the soldiers in Scutari military hospitals where she soon discovered deplorable sanitary conditions. Soldiers shared accommodations with vermin and underwent unhygienic surgeries. Many developed cholera, typhoid and other diseases.
She used her knowledge to monitor and correlate the survival rates of soldiers while improving sanitary conditions. Considered a hero, a fund was established in her name. She shared her knowledge with other medical facilities and created the Nightingale Training School in 1860.
Clara Barton (1821-1912)
Known as the founder of the American Red Cross, Barton was initially a teacher when she became involved with delivering supplies to the battlefield during the Civil War. Barton worked to raise money for medical supplies, and then traveled by military ambulance to distribute the supplies where they were needed.
She comforted soldiers, cooked meals and assisted in locating missing men. Barton also kept families informed of the status of ill and wounded soldiers. Her efforts soon spread to times of disaster, at which time her organization became known as the American Red Cross.
Realizing that her work would benefit people in other countries, the International Red Cross became a reality.
Elizabeth Grace Neill (1846-1926)
Remembered for initiating the System of Nursing Registration, Neill began her nursing career by receiving her education at the St. John’s House Sisterhood in London.
She later served as the superintendent of the Pendlebury Hospital for Children. In 1891, the couple ventured to New Zealand where Neill returned to nursing. She established the New Zealand Department of Health. In 1901, she rallied to draft a bill designed to protect patients from nursing malpractice.
The bill became known as the Nurses’ Registration Act. She further geared her efforts into establishing the Midwives’ Registration Act and set up the country’s first maternity hospital in 1905.
Three more facilities followed. Neill’s knowledge and experience in nursing garnered her recognition in the field of international nursing politics.
Mary Breckinridge (1881-1965)
In her lifetime, Breckinridge established the New Model of Rural Health Care & Frontier Nursing Service. She was raised in an affluent home. However, despite her wealth, she lost two children to illness.
She then decided to put her efforts into a healthcare career. Breckinridge became a registered nurse in 1910 and worked as a public health nurse. She served as a nurse with the American Red Cross during WWI. Breckinridge continued her education at Columbia University and turned her focus to the rural areas of Kentucky.
Working in areas not serviced by physicians, she began evaluating the health status of the women and children. Breckinridge found high maternal mortality rates secondary to a lack of adequate prenatal care.
She went to London and Scotland to obtain an education as a mid-wife. Breckinridge returned to Kentucky in 1925 and established the Frontier Nursing Service. Through her efforts, mortality rates began declining.
Jason Kane is a professional blogger whose mother has been a nurse for the past 20 years. He currently writes for AEDs Today, a leading supplier of automatic external defibrillators.